Colour me impressed — using iTunes to stream music to multiple devices simultaneously

Back in 2006 as part of a post on a new iPod Nano, I vented on how broken iTunes was for my workflow. Well, time has passed and iTunes has improved, but it’s still not as intuitive or simple for me and my centralized music setup:

  • File server storing my music
  • Remote playback systems in various rooms (Mac mini, Apple TVs, Airport Express, etc)
  • Remote control of said music stream

My big beef then was organization. iTunes was a pain and wanted to sync/manage my music on my behalf in a way that didn’t make sense to me. Well, that’s since been fixed.

My next beef was with the lack of sound synchronization across multiple devices as you play back. For example, if I wanted to play a song back on my Mac Mini, and have it stream *as well* to my kitchen Apple TV, and my desktop computer simultaneously.

Previously, to achieve this I had to run a 3rd party application set on all my devices — a cool little app called Airfoil. Basically you had the Airfoil ‘broadcast’ app running on whatever computer was actually doing the playing. Airfoil grabbed the audio stream and sent it out to all the devices that it recognized either via the Airfoil Speakers app, or an Airplay device, or an iPhone / iPad. A minor pain, but it worked.

Back to iTunes

So, this morning I discovered something new in iTunes, you can now stream music to multiple devices simultaneously. Yes, this may have appeared in a previous iTunes update but I hadn’t noticed it — so it’s new to me 😉

One of the neat things is that the Apple Remote app — a free iOS app to control Apple TV or iTunes over a network — also passes through the multiple device playback feature. This means you can sit on your couch and control the sound on any of your playback devices through out your home.

Second neat thing

iTunes Airplay connects to the Airfoil Speakers app running on my Windows PC, letting me add my home office desktop into the sound mix.

Yes, it’s pretty cool to have music streaming through the entire house, in sync, as you walk from room to room.

 

 

How-To: Streaming stuff around your house

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In this increasingly wireless world, it seems odd that it’s actually kinda difficult to get music or other media from one device to another.

In my case, I have photos, movies and music all stored on a central storage device on my network — a Network Attached Storage device, or NAS.

Getting to that media easily with other devices means I have to have a something running and acting as a server to manage access to the media. In my case, it’s a small windows based computer that acts as the server.

Or should I say ‘servers’ because to get my media streamed around the house is a feat that requires more than just one piece of software.

ituneslogo.jpgLet’s start with iTunes
I have that running  and sharing its library (which is pointed at the media on the NAS). iTunes allows any other copy of iTunes running on my network (and that I’ve enabled Home Sharing on) to see the shared library and use the media on it.

So now any computer running iTunes can play music from my shared iTunes library. This means my Apple TV (2nd Gen) can see my media library too.

But moving a computer from soundsystem to soundsystem is a little clunky, so read on, gentle reader, read on.

iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone
It’s fairly easy to plug your iDevices into most home sound system these days, so I won’t go into details on that, but that’s how I get the music to the room I want listen in.

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WiFi2HiFi

Now things get a bit more complex. Streaming media to these devices requires another piece of server software running on that server box. And a matching application on the iOS device.

The iDevice is the receiver, and the Server is, erm, the server.

There are currently three solid iOS receiver apps (and matching free server software):

With all three, the basic principal is the same:

1) Point the server software (on the PC) at the directories you want to share with the iOS devices
2) Let the server software build a catalogue

Now things get a bit different
With Air Video and Stream To Me, you just:
3) Point the app (on your iOS device) at your server (usually using an IP address).

If you’re using WiFi2HiFi, it’s easier — you just start the server software, and it automatically detects your iOS device with the app running and streams all your computer’s audio to it. So whatever you’re playing on your computer will be streamed to the iOS device.
4) With Stream-To-Me and Air Video, you have more control. The matching server software lets you view your media libraries and select the media you’d like to stream.

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Stream-To-Me

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Air Video

As of this writing, Air Video only streams video (with on the fly conversion or queued conversion), while Stream-To-Me sends most video and audio formats without conversion.

So depending on your needs, you’ve got hardware and software options for getting your media to you using your existing devices. Very cool, and convenient way to get your stuff to where you are.

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Speed up your Internet experience by using the right DNS server

Last week I saw this LifeHacker article (via AppleInsider) about NameBench, a window utility that tests the speed of your system’s DNS servers.

And I was wondering if my DNS was as fast as it could be…

Previously, I’d switched my DNS services over to OpenDNS, a free alternate DNS Provider that adds value as:

  • Ultra-reliable, globally-distributed network
  • Industry-leading Web content filtering
  • Easy to use for families, schools, and businesses of all sizes

Google also has free public DNS services available, which NameBench scans and includes in the results.

But recently I’d noticed that often videos and other streaming media just wouldn’t play back smoothly, so after reading this bit in the life hacker article I thought I’d give NameBench a try.

“When millions of users all tap into the same DNS server addresses to resolve domain names, as Google DNS does by design, Akamai and other CDNs route content to those users along the same path, preventing the network from working optimally. This causes problems not only for Apple’s iTunes, but also any other media streaming or download service that uses a similar CDN strategy to distribute downloads.”

As an added benefit, NameBench checks to see if your DNS servers are vulnurable up to security standards, and if your DNS requests are being censored or redirected (WikiLeaks, for example).

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WOW.
According to NameBench, By switching back to my ISP, I’d get an amazing DNS speed improvement of over 100%!! Remember, this doesn’t speed up my internet connection, just the speed that the Internet translates domain names into those cryptic Internet IP addresses.

So, by making the recommended changes to my systems DNS settings, NameBench was happy with my settings. Now to see if I actually notice any improvement…

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In Real Life.
Well, I’m not too sure if I am noticing any difference yet or not. There’s so many different factors that can contribute to network speed that one change rarely makes a huge difference.

But still, every small improvement you make adds up, and contributes to a more efficient online experience.
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