Google has announced a device that lets old hi-fis and speaker systems stream music and podcasts over wi-fi.
Owners can use it to listen to Spotify, iPlayer Radio and other selected apps on Android and iOS devices, and audio streamed via the Chrome browser on PCs. The Chromecast Audio dongle costs £30, making it cheaper than many other similar streaming add-ons.
It also poses a challenge to speakers with built-in wi-fi, whose makers often charge a premium for their products. At an event in San Francisco, Google said it had sold more than 20 million units of the original Chromecast, which streams media to TVs.
“The original Chromecast did really well because of Google’s brand, which meant people trusted it would do what it said on the tin,” said Stuart Miles, founder of the Pocket-lint tech website.
“We have seen similar devices to this before. “But it will probably be quite successful because it will encourage people to upgrade their old hi-fis – which are still very good from an audio perspective.” The launch coincides with the release of a flagship “smart speaker” from Sonos, one of the bestselling brands in the sector.
Its kit is many times more expensive than Google’s accessory, but Sonos says it delivers a superior “room-filling listening experience” that can be fine-tuned by new software. Google also announced a second-generation Chromecast TV media streamer, which now has a third antenna to create more robust data connections and supports more apps than before. The products are going on sale at a time when Apple, Amazon and Roku are also launching audio-visual streaming devices of their own.
Chromecast Audio can be connected to existing stereo equipment via standard 3.5mm audio jack, RCA or optical cables. Once installed, compatible apps display an extra icon allowing them to “cast” sound to nearby dongles without the need for a separate pairing process. This means visitors to the home will be able to stream material of their own once they join the local wi-fi network. “As long as the devices are on the same network, proximity isn’t an issue,” Chromecast executive Dan Saunders told the BBC. “It’s not the same as the Bluetooth experience, where if you leave the room you break the [connection].”
Tweaking the sound
One feature that Google’s product will not offer at launch is the ability to stream audio to multiple speakers at once, although the firm says it hopes to add that functionality by early next year. This is one of the key selling points of Sonos’s speakers, which allow owners to extend music playback into whichever rooms of their home they place its equipment. As one of the sector’s bestselling brands, it stresses the sound quality of its systems alongside their wireless capabilities to justify prices that range between £169 and £599.
Google also announced the launch of two new smartphones:
- the Nexus 6P, made by Huawei
- the Nexus 5X, made by LG
Both feature a 12.3 megapixel camera, a fingerprint sensor and the new USB C port. The search firm also unveiled a tablet, called the Pixel C, which will go on sale later this year. All three products run Android Marshmallow – the latest version of its mobile operating system – which has now been released.
Although older Nexus devices should be able to install the new OS immediately, it will take months before it is tested on and ready to be released for other Android products – many manufacturers will never offer customers the update.
“The manufacturers compete to make them – despite the costs involved and limited sales – because it gives them a tremendous advantage to have early access to the new code and features Google is developing.