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Apple’s AirPlay 2 Wireless Streaming Protocol Has Finally Arrived

by June 19, 2018
Apple Airplay2

Apple Airplay2

Apple’s AirPlay 2 wireless streaming protocol was first announced, along with the company’s HomePod smart speaker, at last year’s Worldwide Developer Conference. Multiple delays pushed the HomePod’s launch from its original target date of December 2017 into the early months 2018, but the speaker was still not ready for prime time when it began to ship in February. Without the framework of AirPlay 2 running behind the scenes, a user with multiple HomePods was unable to sync music throughout the house, and unable to configure a pair of HomePods to play in stereo mode. Now, a full year after its introduction at WWDC 2017, AirPlay 2 has finally arrived as a component of iOS 11.4, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. The HomePod now has the multi-room audio capabilities for which it was designed, and it’s just the first of many audio devices that will populate the AirPlay 2 ecosystem. One advantage to the late start for Apple’s multi-room audio solution is that numerous hardware partners have had the time to incorporate AirPlay 2 into their latest designs. But before we get into hardware, let’s take a look at AirPlay 2’s basic functionality.

AirPlay 2 allows iPhone and iPad users to stream audio (and, in some cases, video) to multiple networked devices around the home. If you’re having a party, you can play the same music all over the house in perfect sync. You can also play different music in different rooms, and move music from one room to another as you go about your day. Using either the iOS Control Center or the Home app, you can see what’s playing where, and adjust the volume for each device independently. The HomePod and the Apple TV 4K can also be used to control a whole houseful of AirPlay 2 devices. If your hands or eyes are otherwise occupied, Siri can control the music for you. Just say, “Hey Siri, play ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys in the kitchen,” or, “Hey Siri, play some Michael Jackson on all speakers,” and Apple’s virtual assistant will do the rest. 

In order to prevent glitches and dropouts, the AirPlay 2 protocol relies on a relatively high amount of buffered data; this also helps to ensure a perfect sync when music is being streamed to multiple devices at once. Unlike some other streaming protocols, such as DTS Play-Fi, AirPlay 2 can operate independently of the other audio on the device being used to stream. That means that you can receive a phone call on your iPhone, or a FaceTime call on your iPad, without interrupting the music that may be playing on an AirPlay 2 device in another room.

Best of all, AirPlay 2 is coming out of the gates with an impressive list of hardware partners. Sonos has confirmed that its Play:5, Playbase, and One speakers will all receive an update to accommodate AirPlay 2, and the company’s new Beam soundbar will be ready for AirPlay 2 at launch. Speakers from Bang & Olufsen, Bluesound, Bose, and Bowers & Wilkins will also be getting the AirPlay 2 treatment (and that’s just the “B” names). New receivers from Denon (the AVR-X3500H, AVR-X4500H, and AVR-X6500H), Marantz (the NR1509, NR1609, SR5013, SR6013, and SR7013), and others will arrive this year with AirPlay 2 compatibility built in. AirPlay 2 may not have any truly game-changing functionality compared to other multi-room audio solutions, but the tech will reach so many devices across so many platforms, that it might become the new standard for audio distribution in the home. Do you plan on jumping aboard the AirPlay 2 bandwagon? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below.

About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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