Google announces AirPlay competitor Google Cast for Audio

Google is now expanding its Chromecast to audio devices. Does it stand any chances against Apple's AirPlay?

google cast audio
Credit: Google

You can actually stream just audio to any device connected through Chromecast. I use Pandora, Google Music, Plex, etc. to stream music to devices with HDMI ports. However the Google ecosystem lacks features that allow me to stream audio to networked devices without using Chromecast.

That is going to change.

Google has announced something called Google Cast for Audio. Unlike Chromecast it doesn’t need dedicated hardware for streaming. The technology will be built right into the hardware such as soundbars, speakers, and receivers. Just like Apple’s AirPlay.

And Google Cast for Audio will work just like AirPlay or Chromecast. There will be a ‘Cast’ button on compatible apps and clicking on that button will start pouring the music through the supported device.

Google has partnered with three leading hardware companies -- Denon, Sony, and LG -- to bring the technology to their hardware. I assume the list of partners will grow with time.

I have networked A/V receivers from Sony and Denon. The latter one has AirPlay built in and I have often wished there were an easy way to stream music from non-Apple devices. I learned that Denon will be using the Broadcom audio platform, which is built on top of StrataGX processor and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo, to offer a high-end solution.

Comparison with AirPlay?

There is a big difference between the two approaches. With Apple’s AirPlay I can send any data to my receiver, whether it's online or local. There is a ton of of purchased music sitting on my hard drive and I can stream any of that music to my Denon A/V system without it ever leaving my local network.

Google Cast is different: It’s all, and only, about cloud. My Chromecast pulls content directly from the web. Unlike AirPlay, it will not play any local content. This has been the biggest criticism of Cast from the very beginning. And things won’t be different with Cast for Audio.

That’s where the problem starts.

Let me share an anecdote. We had our wedding anniversary party at a community center. We were planning to bring my whole Denon setup for entertainment. I bought a lot of tracks from Amazon (because I was able to download and save them locally). I was planning on using the ChromeCast, so could control the music remotely with the audio system locked inside a cabinet. The first problem I encountered was the LTE was very poor in that area and there was no WiFi in the Center. There was no way I could use content from my Google Play. So what to do? How to manage entertainment? Chromecast left me high and dry.

AirPlay came to the rescue. I brought my WiFi router, created a local network and connected the Denon and MacBook to it. I used apps for Denon and Retune to control the music system and manage the playlist from my Android phone.

I wish I had been able to do that with Chromecast.

I have a similar set-up at home where I have terabytes of purchased music and movies sitting on my NAS drives. I can’t play any of that data using Chromecast. The only way is to put that huge amount of data in the cloud, which is out of the question.

Developers have been trying hard to add the capability of playing local content but the experience is not optimal. Google could have done it easily with a few lines of code.

The problem is that Google doesn't much care about what we do offline.

Google wants us to move everything to the cloud. They are the world’s biggest ad agency: that’s their primary product. They want us to do more things online, and that’s fine. But… but, it doesn't hurt to give the capability of playing local content for those of us who want best of both worlds.

So in my experience, due to offline capability, Apple's AirPlay actually works better between my iPad, MacBook and Denon A/V system than Chrome Cast when it comes to music playback. But AirPlay isn't perfect either. The biggest annoyance is that it is tightly locked to the Apple ecosystem, which makes its totally useless on non-Apple devices.

Google Cast is an excellent, and much more open solution. Google could flip the switch and Google Cast would become the de facto entertainment solution -- if Google makes the playback of local content a built-in feature.

Will Google do that? I don’t know, but I wish they would!

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