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Open standards for network audio streaming to local devices, Many closed-box solutions but any open-source? / uPNP recommendations?
post Apr 15 2012, 16:56
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Some years ago, I had a room mate who had an Airport Express, which we hooked up to the stereo in the living room so any of us could stream music from our own iTunes-compatible PC's. Needless to say, I absolutely fell in love with the functionality even though it meant I couldn't use fb2k for it. But since we don't live together anymore, i've been missing this kind of functionality at home. Also there were some things that were missing out on the Airport which I think could be done better.

I don't wanna mess around with buying cheap 10-meter cables every time the last one breaks, and having it lie across the living room whenever I want to listen to music from my laptop in my couch, or changing it over to my PC if I want to watch a movie or play a game from there, etc. Hope you get the picture. Having cables lying around the house is something i want less of.

There are, as mentioned before, commercial closed-box devices which have been engineered well and probably work really good. But they cost money and are all dependent on the manufacturer to think up and implement new features and improvements. They cost money for each receiver and, correct me if I'm wrong, do not have good cross-platform support. I have a Windows 7 PC for gaming, Ubuntu laptop for work, small Linux server for local media hosting, and my girlfriend has a Windows laptop. In the future, who knows, one of us might even get a smartphone or some other fancy network-capable device that would need hooking up to the sound system. Suffice to say, in such conditions a closed-source implementation is lacking in flexibility.

What about reciever devices? Currently they cost money for each receiver, based on a model of embedded devices which need their own power source, not possible to just install the capability on any network-enabled device with quality sound output capabilities. An open-source solution could open up the possibility to use virtually ANY device as a sound reciever.

Also I'd like to install my old amp/speakers in the kitchen and have the ability to change sound destination seamlessly to either location or both synchronously.
Because of the wish for playing video games and watching movies, the solution would have to be absolutely low-latency. Thanks to extreme bandwith and processing power available to us today cheap, I think it could be possible.

And maybe my always-on linux media hosting device could double as a networked media jukebox, in which guests of a party could connect to a web interface with their phones and enqueue a local mp3, stream music from their own device, or even enqueue a youtube music video? I'm talking quite some years down the road for this idea, of course.

Does anyone know if there are any projects to make this (or something similar) happen?
I once looked through the documentation of PulseAudio and think I understood that they support the capability for networked sound outputs but had such a hard time understanding the documentation that I never got as far as trying to hack something together. Maybe there are other audio server software implementations that could be willed into a similar configuration?
Are there perhaps cheap and partly open commercial solutions available that I haven't come accross? I have to admit, I haven't even spent that much time researching the subject, but a quick google search yields me nothing worth examining further, other than the commercial solutions and the pitfalls they have.

Maybe there's something I just haven't thought through here? Please, any ideas, criticisms, contributions, suggestions. I'm just posting this idea here to see if it makes any sense and to find out if anyone has had similar thoughts.

Thank you for reading smile.gif

edit: This is so embarrasing. I've completely glossed over implementing the features via UPnP.

This post has been edited by alive: Apr 15 2012, 17:05

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post Apr 17 2012, 17:54
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Thanks phofman! That is one of the things I was aiming for. Actually I was thinking of a mix between what you described, and what is possible using UPnP today.

Man, I wish the future could be here soon.

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post Apr 18 2012, 13:38
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I think I'm doing some of what you want to achieve on my home network and audio system.

Here's what I use:
- Linksys NSLU2 de-underclocked at 266MHz running Debian Wheezy (requires good linux knowledge to get up and running). This can be replaced by any computer that supports Linux and with enough horsepower and RAM to decode compressed audio formats.
- A good quality USB soundcard hooked up to the linux machine, acting as a DAC. This needs to be supported by ALSA (do a google search before you buy something). I use a Terratec Producer Phase 26 USB.
- Rygel uPNP mediarenderer. Does not require X/Gnome/etc. to run. In other words, it can run on 'the bare metal' of a headless machine and work as a media renderer for your networked devices. Much like Philips streamium devices, but without an interface to control the mediarenderer locally. You will have to send music from a remote device using UPNP. This can be windows, linux, etc. Rygel uses the gstreamer multimedia framework, and thus can play anything gstreamer can play. Which includes OGG, WMA, MP3, AAC, etc.
- minidlna can run as UPNP Mediaserver. My NSLU2 doesn't have enough RAM (32MB) to run both at the same time, but if you use any hardware that is less ancient than my NSLU2 it should work just fine. I like minidlna because it is very light on resources, and supports things like streaming subtitles to Samsung televisions (which is not yet? in the DLNA/UPNP specs).
- As a controlpoint for Windows Vista, I use either eezupnp or leia. If you have Windows 7 you can just use WMP12 as controlpoint (I've tested it and it works fine). Leia and eezupnp are actually ported Linux applications, so you could use the same from a linux client. I'm sure there are plenty of controlpoints for Apple or cellphones. I've read that cellphones running Nokia's Symbian platform come with integrated UPNP stuff. No idea about other platforms.

Right now my issues with this setup:
- Rygel doesn't support reading and applying replaygain tags
- Rygel doesn't support gapless playback
- my NSLU2's 32MB RAM is on the extremely low side for playing back AAC (disk swapping causes breaks in playback at times)
- the lack of hardware floating point in the ARM CPU in my NSLU2 makes it too slow for floating point decoding of formats. Most formats have fixed point decoders available, but I haven't been able to find a fixed point WMA decoder that works with the gstreamer framework yet. The Rockbox project has done tremendous work in creating/optimizing fixed point decoders, but are not as good at backporting their decoders to the project they originate from (and sometimes the people running the originating projects are not interested in fixed point decoders either).
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