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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Introduction to uPnP AV for streaming Audio to Hi-Fi

What Used to Happen

A few years ago digital music was usually confined to a single machine. For example you might download files from iTunes on your Apple mac and then play them on the same mac. You may well have an iPod, in which case you would copy your files onto to your iPod and they would exist as separate files.

At the same time Hi-end audio system typically consisted of a CD player, a DAC (Digital to analogue converter), Amplifier and Speakers.

There was little cross-over between the two


Better networking 

Then we started to get hi-speed internet and wi-fi throughout our homes. Network  attached storage (NAS) allowed us to just have one copy of our music , videos and photographs which could then be accessed by multiple devices. 

Everything then started to become networked, not just computers but TVs, set-top boxes, Cd players and stereo systems. A way of having this wide range of different devices talk to each other was required. Microsoft had already developed Universal Plug and Play or UPnP for computers, gaming consoles and network devices such as routers. So it became the obvious choice as a standard for providing services between devices




What is uPnP AV

AV refers to Audio Visual  - this takes UPnP and develops standard for audio and visual, i.e hi-fi systems, televisions, set-top boxes and the like. When people talk about uPnP they usually mean uPnP AV, on this blog we are interested in the A part.

Hi-end audio manufacturers such as Naim and Linn started to see the potential of using hard drives to store music rather than always playing from the original CD. But customers wanted to play music in multiple rooms this meant a way was required to stream music to players that could reside in different locations to where the music was stored, and they wanted to be able to control this from a single point, uPnP AV addresses these issues.


uPnP

uPnP AV has three main components

1. Media Server
2. Media Renderer
3. Media Controller

The media server streams music to media renderers, control of the media renderers is via the media controller

Media Server

The media server is software that could be running on a computer, a NAS or a purpose built hi-fi server such as the Melco N1 or the Naim UnitiServe

The most popular media servers are Asset, MinimServer, Twonky and JRiver . The choice of media server is important because the Media controller can only see the metadata that the media server presents it with, and the media renderer can only play the files that the server provides.

We think MinimServer is by far the most flexible media server, offering a significantly more powerful approach to metadata then the others that let you harness all that metadata added by SongKong and Jaikoz, and we delve into MinimServer in more detailing starting here


Media Renderer

The Media Renderer either plays the music itself or converts it so it can be played by something else further down the line. So the media renderer is usually a piece of hi-fi hardware such as the Linn - DS Series or the Naim NDS


Media Controller

The Media Controller is better known by the curious title of Control Point. Since customers want to be able to control their music where-ever they are in the house the focus of media controller development is definitely for iPads and Android based tablets. But control points are available for
the Mac and PC as well.

Control Points fall into three categories:

1. General purpose software that is designed to work with any compatible server and renderer such as PlugPlayer and SongBook

2. Hi-Fi Branded software that actually seems to work fine with any server, an example of this is Linn Kinsky

3. Hi-Fi software tied to particular hardware such as the Naim App

The choice of control point is not as critical as the other components, at the moment they all work in quite a similar way with not much to distinguish between them.

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