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    DTS Play-Fi Has Major Design Flaws

    Most HiFi manufacturers license certain technologies from other companies to enhance their products. These manufacturers either don't have the in-house engineering capability or they'd rather not reinvent the wheel, when it can be purchased for a moderate fee. This has never been more apparent than now, with the rise of computer audio. HiFi manufacturers started licensing Gordon Rankin's Streamlength(™) asynchronous USB code, StreamUnlimited's and ConversDigital's network modules as soon as computer based digital gained a foothold.

     

    One technology that has gained more market share in HiFi lately is DTS Play-Fi. Several manufacturers have licensed Play-Fi as the core of their network audio offerings. The Play-Fi Products page lists a who's who of manufacturers from small to enormous. Play-Fi appears to offer quite a bit to manufacturers and their customers, such as network connectivity, and services such as Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, Amazon Music, SiriusXM, and DLNA. In addition, each manufacturer can offer customers a custom version of the mobile app for iOS and Android. To most end users these apps appear to come directly from the manufacturer rather than something the manufacturer licensed and logo'd. What's not to like?

     

     

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news or the dream crusher, but once in awhile something irks me and feel compelled to write about it. I'm writing this article in an effort to both educate potential consumers and hopefully nudge DTS into making some adjustments. Given the size of its business, I don't think DTS really cares much about CA, but at least we can try.

     

    hi-res-100px.jpgFirst, the good things about DTS Play-Fi. The platform supports many services, both large and small. It also supports interoperability between manufacturers. For example, a single iOS app can stream music to Pioneer, Polk, and Paradigm speakers all at once. This is great for most consumers who like to mix and match components or pick up whatever is on sale at the local BestBuy. If it has a Play-Fi logo, it'll work with one's existing Play-Fi components. Play-Fi also supports lossless audio and high resolution playback. It will play up through 24/96 bit perfect. When streaming higher sample rates it will downsample on the fly. This is actually nice, given that Sonos won't even play music at rates higher than 44.1.

     

     

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    Now for the items that everyone should consider before purchasing a Play-Fi enabled device.

     

    1. All music, with the exception of Spotify, must stream through the device on which the app is located.

     

    2. DTS lists the DLNA logo on its site and writes that Play-Fi is compatible with DLNA, but the devil is in the details. I can see a politician saying Play-Fi works with DLNA, but DTS should put a very large asterisk next to the DLNA logo on its website.

     

     

     

    Music Through Mobile

     

    DTS requires that all audio sent to a Play-Fi device route through the mobile device controlling playback. For example, when using a Play-Fi iOS application from any manufacturer and streaming music from Tidal, Pandora, Deezer, SiriusXM, etc... all the music must first stream from the Internet to the iOS device, then from the iOS device to the Play-Fi device. The only exceptions are Spotify and the Play-Fi desktop application.

     

    Think about that for a second. It's like we are back in 2008 when Apple's AirPlay was the only option. By the way, Apple's AirPlay works just like Play-Fi. Not only is this subpar for most novice music lovers, it's unacceptable for technically inclined audiophiles.

     

    The one device in a home that requires batteries, doubles as a flashlight, is used to notify the authorities when there's a fire or a prowler, receives frequent interrupting SMS messages and calls, is also the single device that all DTS Play-Fi audio must route through.

     

    Even if the music originates from within one's home network, on a DLNA server, the audio still must route through the mobile device. Imagine if televisions routed all DVD, Blu-ray, and cable TV service through the remote control. Talk about showstopper. This would never happen.

     

    Compare DTS Play-Fi to Google's $30 Chromecast Audio device. Chromecast Audio doesn't route a single song through the mobile device. It communicates directly with the cloud. Start playing music and shut off your phone. Nothing happens to the music. Try that with a Play-Fi device. The party stops along with the phone.

     

    I see this as a problem for all users of the DTS Play-Fi platform. Many times I'm disappointed by technology, but I chalk it up to my own strange edge cases. Play-Fi is different in that it's in millions of consumer devices and all mobile phones suffer from battery life issues, text message interruptions, and phone calls.

     

     

     

    DLNA (Except When It Isn't)

     

    My other big complaint with DTS Play-Fi is it's DLNA support. All over the Play-Fi website and knowledge base, DTS claims DLNA support for all Play-Fi devices. This is borderline fake news. The only way to use DLNA with Play-Fi, is to use a DLNA server, stream the audio through the mobile device running a Play-Fi app, and on to a Play-Fi certified piece of hardware. This is antithetical to how DLNA is supposed to work. Sure, DLNA is the most nonstandard standard and it has issues, but come on DTS. This isn't even close to DLNA support.

     

    True DLNA requires three components. 1) A DLNA server, 2) DLNA control point, and 3) DLNA renderer. Any of these three devices can be from any manufacturer and serve audio to any other DLNA device. At home I have a Synology NAS (DLNA capable) that sends audio directly to a DLNA capable dCS Network Bridge, all controlled by a DLNA capable app on my iPad from Linn. Any of these three components can be replaced by another DLNA device or app from any manufacturer.

     

    If Play-Fi was a true DLNA technology, one could stream from a Synology NAS directly to a Play-Fi certified piece of hardware, while controlling playback from the Linn application. Also, the music wouldn't route through the iPad or other mobile device.

     

    The only way Play-Fi works with DLNA is when using a DLNA capable server such as one from Synology or JRiver or QNAP, and using a Play-Fi iOS or Android app and a Play-Fi certified piece of hardware. Did I mention that the audio must route through the mobile device? Oh yeah, a couple times.

     

    Note: The Play-Fi audio devices appear on one's network as true DLNA devices. Apps such as JRiver can see the Play-Fi devices, but can't send audio to them. This ads even more confusion to the mix and will only serve to frustrate consumers.

     

     

    Wrap-Up

     

    Consumers should educate themselves on DTS Play-Fi before purchasing a Play-Fi capable component. The platform may be a perfect fit for one's lifestyle and needs. Or, it may be a nightmare with hidden problems that are really there by design. Other platforms have been streaming directly from the cloud to a playback device or from a DLNA server to a DLNA renderer for many years. Requiring a battery operated mobile device to be the audio traffic cop, is nothing short of silly, inconvenient, and counterintuitive.

     

     

     

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    I recently started using the Hi-Fi Cast Android app to stream FLAC files gaplessly from my DLNA server to Chromecast Audio. It works great but like Play-Fi runs all data through the controlling device. Fortunately it has the option to turn off gapless playback, then it streams directly from the server to the Chromecast, taking the phone out of the equation and working like casting is supposed to. My understanding is that DLNA has no innate gapless capability and that using intervening software (in this case on the controlling device) is the only way it can be accomplished. Is gapless playback from/to a variety of devices the reason Play-Fi chooses to do it this way? With Spotify of course, gapless playback is controlled by the Spotify server.

     

    Even though this "pass-through" approach annoys the audiophile in me, I have to admit I notice no quality issues when using Hi-Fi Cast. It supports up to 192/24 but I have only tried it with 92/24 and 44/16. The first thing I listened to was Glenn Gould's 1981 Goldberg Variations, which absolutely needs gapless.

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    I recently started using the Hi-Fi Cast Android app to stream FLAC files gaplessly from my DLNA server to Chromecast Audio. It works great but like Play-Fi runs all data through the controlling device. Fortunately it has the option to turn off gapless playback, then it streams directly from the server to the Chromecast, taking the phone out of the equation and working like casting is supposed to. My understanding is that DLNA has no innate gapless capability and that using intervening software (in this case on the controlling device) is the only way it can be accomplished. Is gapless playback from/to a variety of devices the reason Play-Fi chooses to do it this way? With Spotify of course, gapless playback is controlled by the Spotify server.

     

    Gapless support is optional for DLNA renderers. Chromecast, stupidly, doesn't support it.

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    I was mildly interested in Play-fi when I recently heard about it. Don't need it now, but filed it away for future reference/consideration.

     

    Thanks for the heads up. Thats pretty much unacceptable design and a giant step backwards.

     

    Dlna and chromecast work great for me. See no need to reinvent the wheel. And then make it oblong.

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    I'm using Play-Fi on a McIntosh MB50 streamer. A few more problems to add to the list. I'm not sure if these problems are unique to my streamer or present in all versions of Play-Fi. Deezer on Play-Fi is a "watered down" version. It is missing many features that are in the iOS version. Spotify has "popping/crackling" noise on frequencies above 1000Hz. I first noticed the distortion on Norah Jones songs (when she hits the higher frequencies). Eventually I searched for some test tones, and sure enough, the popping/crackling appeared on every tone above 1000Hz. I tested Spotify through my SONOS Connect and all test tones are clean. There's also no MacOS version of Play-Fi. Again, I'm not sure if my problems with Play-Fi are unique to my particular streamer. Can someone please test Spotify and let me know if you hear the distortion? Thank you.

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    I have a love/hate relationship with Play-Fi. I have a set of wired outdoor speaker powered by the Paradigm PW Amp. The Paradigm amp and speakers sound great and work well streaming my hi-res files across my network. My Sonos speakers cannot do this. Awesome. However, the speakers are located on my back deck adjacent to the back yard. Because the music runs through the device, as detailed above, I cannot go into the back yard with my phone on me while listening to music because my phone will lose Wifi connectivity cutting out the music. This necessitated me leaving my phone on the deck while in the yard, missing calls, texts, etc. I forgot to mention that when I control my music with th Play-Fi app on my Samsung S8 Edge, the music stalls out after only a couple soungs, for some reason. I've gone round and round with Play-Fi/Paradigm tech support on this and they don't have a clue why this happens. Paradigm is awesome, BTW. I don't blame them for Play-Fi's shortcomings. My Nexus 7 tablet, works fine with it though! No song stalling. So if I want to listen to my outdoor setup, I have to go upstairs, which is where the Nexus 7 is usually located (hopefully it's charged) and bring it downstairs and outside to operate Play-Fi. Oh, definitely do not forget that the tablet is outside when you are done or else it might get rained on!! And don't get me started on updating Play-Fi components!! It takes like 10 minutes on average to do this, seemingly every other week, and may or may not work. I've had to re-attempt this up to 10 times to get the update to take. Ugh. Ok, now I feel better.

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    I recently started using the Hi-Fi Cast Android app to stream FLAC files gaplessly from my DLNA server to Chromecast Audio. It works great but like Play-Fi runs all data through the controlling device. Fortunately it has the option to turn off gapless playback, then it streams directly from the server to the Chromecast, taking the phone out of the equation and working like casting is supposed to. My understanding is that DLNA has no innate gapless capability and that using intervening software (in this case on the controlling device) is the only way it can be accomplished.
    No, it's the Google Chromecast device that doesn't support gapless. Google Cast streaming has nothing to do with UPnP/DLNA streaming and anyway, as @mansr has pointed out, UPnP/DLNA devices can natively support gapless playback.

     

    Chromecast devices do not support UPnP/DLNA and it is only through bridging apps, like the Hi-Fi Cast, that you are able to use Chromecast devices to stream audio files from UPnP/DLNA media servers.

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    I think DTS Play-Fi is fine, but you need to have a dedicated device to serve the music. I have an older Nexus tablet that was sitting around doing nothing, so it runs DTS and nothing else. You can also load DTS on your Windows device and use that. Since it has more computing power, dropouts will be minimized. DTS also recommends keeping all your devices on the 5Ghz network, or connect via ethernet.

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    Sure, it'll play 192, but I was told 96 is the max and everything higher is downsampled.

     

    But if you read their tech stuff its also notes " Optional downsampling of Hi-Res content" . So when you get a component, test it and let us know what it really does.

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    But if you read their tech stuff its also notes " Optional downsampling of Hi-Res content" . So when you get a component, test it and let us know what it really does.

     

    For sure. I did with one component but the digital output wasn't spec'd for high res. I'll keep trying.

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    You can also load DTS on your Windows device and use that. Since it has more computing power, dropouts will be minimized. DTS also recommends keeping all your devices on the 5Ghz network, or connect via ethernet.
    Does that mean you can run the DTS software on a Windows machine and use the DTS app on a handheld device at the same time, with no audio passing through the handheld device & therefore no resulting battery drain (so all required audio 'handling' done by DTS software on Windows machine)?

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    Does that mean you can run the DTS software on a Windows machine and use the DTS app on a handheld device at the same time, with no audio passing through the handheld device & therefore no resulting battery drain (so all required audio 'handling' done by DTS software on Windows machine)?

     

    When you load the DTS app, on your Windows machine, you set the Windows sound default to DTS (it will show in your settings once installed.) The Windows app connects to whatever DTS device you have. You can then start up Spotify, Tidal or whatever on Windows and it will play the music to your DTS device. You can then use your handheld DTS capable device (IOS or Android) to control volume, it will show as a Zone. However, if you press connect on your handheld device, it will take over the DTS device and stream from there. The windows app costs $15 by the way.

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    On 17/03/2017 at 2:37 PM, The Computer Audiophile said:

     

    Sure, it'll play 192, but I was told 96 is the max and everything higher is downsampled.

     

    Some manufacturers seem to badger DTS (and design-in the required hardware) more than others, to get the platform to do what it promises....

    For example, I know the Rotel T14 will pass native 24/192 content to its digital out.

    You have to click the 'Hi-Res Audio' button in the app before connecting to the Play-Fi device, to put the platform into 'Critical Listening Mode'.

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    Just wondering if you are using the dCS Network Bridge as an alternative to the microRendu and Berkeley Alpha USB combination.  My assumption is that it would be attached via AES/EBU to the Berkeley Reference DAC.  Are you planning on reviewing the dCS Network Bridge?  I understand this device also operates as a Roon compatible device, as does the microRendu.  

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    This article is 100% correct.  

     

    IMHO DTS is either not serious about developing this software or don't have deep experience or resources to do so.  

     

    In the world of color grading software like Davinci Resolve, there is significant improvement often and taking into account user feedback and suggestions.

     

    Even the development of Jriver shows a focused capable effort.  

     

    I contacted DTS many many months ago about DLNA support and got nowhere.   Definitive was quite responsive but beholden to DTS to make changes.   

     

    I lost days of time trying to get Jriver to render to play Fi, since I saw it listed in the network.   And Definitive thought it should work 

     

    It it seems their recent focus is to stream 5.1 wirelessly, which is commendable but If your DLNA media browser doesn't even have an alphabet to quickly navigate to different artists, etc, ........

     

    I bought into playfi only because I got some great deals on a Definitive tech W9 and. W 7.   They both sound fantastic for their size and cost at discount .  Definitive claims an eq will be rolled out at some point so speaker boundary effects can be evened out.   

     

    And since they are corner placed, at least the W7 requires eq to remove the bass hump that happens in the small spaces, on walls and corners where these devices are likely to be placed.   

     

    also also I can only seem to stream from Jriver library transcoded to MP3.  Not uncompressed or 24/96 as they seem to indicate.  

     

    I mostly use it for serius XM due to its limits.  

     

    I

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