Will the New Chromecast Audio Kiss the Sky?

by Brad Russell | Sep. 29, 2015

Codenamed “Hendrix” during development, the newly announced Chromecast Audio streaming media device from Google enables users to broadcast music over Wi-Fi to speakers, televisions, and car stereos that have the device plugged into their standard 3.5 mm audio port, RCA port or optical input.

With its product launch today, Google seeks to further solidify its position in the streaming media space.

Here are a few quick observations that suggest why Chromecast Audio may or may not garner adoption (whether you interpret kissing the sky to be a good thing or a bad thing):

  • The streaming audio segment is currently in an in-between stage where device makers have not quite caught up with incorporating new audio streaming technologies into their devices, beyond Bluetooth. For consumers wanting to stream lossless audio content to legacy speakers that do not support the new wireless technologies, Chromecast Audio meets a need. Google asserts that only 5% of U.S. speakers are connected to the Internet. The number of connected speakers is rising fast, though. New products are starting to hit the market that integrate a variety of Wi-Fi protocols as well as other bridge devices for legacy components.
  • Wireless home audio is gaining momentum, not only with the deep penetration of Bluetooth-enabled devices and the well-established Sonos and AirPlay technologies, but also with the rollout of several newer Wi-Fi-based streaming technologies, including Google Cast, DTS Play-Fi, Qualcomm AllPlay, and home theater standards from the Wireless Speakers and Audio Association (WiSA). Parks Associates data shows that among wireless speaker owners, 81% own a Bluetooth speaker and 48% own a Wi-Fi speaker. Among owners of speakers of all kinds, 59% own at least one wireless speaker. Bluetooth’s long-held advantage has been quick pairing for mobile device delivery of streaming content but it has been nagged by device interruptions, range limits, and single destination support. The Chromecast Audio device is a logical extension of the one-touch Google Cast button being incorporated into a number of streaming service apps since its announcement at CES 2015.
  • Renewed interest in high-fidelity audio, whether CD quality or higher-resolution formats, is stimulating consumer demand for devices that support high-resolution audio (HRA). While the  Bluetooth standard was developed for lossy compressed files, an increasing number of Bluetooth speakers support higher-resolution files via audio input to the audio port, typically hard-wired from legacy components. Assuming a higher-resolution music source, new Chromecast audio brings higher resolution music to the large number of speakers like this on the market, in addition to high-fidelity legacy speakers.
  • Finally, the growth of the whole home wireless audio experience that enables streaming of music to multiple speaker destinations supports adoption of the Chromecast Audio which will support multiple destinations from a single music source and enables multiple devices to act as controllers. A separate Chromecast Audio device is required for each speaker, however. The relatively low price point of the Chromecast Audio ($35) is designed to make this economical, though it remains to be seen how many consumers will buy several dongle bridge devices, rather than invest in newer integrated technologies.

Google may make Jimi Hendrix proud and “blow our minds” with the Chromecast Audio. However it shakes out, more and better music is a good thing.

To learn more about the wireless home audio segment, see Parks Associates’ recent report, Digital Audio for the Connected Consumer.

Next: Next Generation TVs & Projectors: Parks Associates at CEDIA 2015
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