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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