An AV receiver is the ultimate home theater manager for all of your audio and video devices. But did you know that AV receivers are great for streaming media? There are plenty of things you can stream videos and music on your new AV receiver.
You can stream content from manufacturer platforms, receiver functions, and media streaming devices on AV receivers. Each method offers its benefits and drawbacks. However, most of these methods boast the top streaming services available.
Read on to learn the different ways you can stream content on an AV receiver.
What Built-In Streaming Options Do AV Receivers Have?
When you hear of streaming options, your mind probably goes to music services like Spotify or Pandora. However, how you stream your music is much different than what service you use to listen to music. There are many ways to stream music on an AV receiver. Manufacturers can rely on functions from other companies or create their own. When a manufacturer develops a built-in streaming option, they make a platform. Here are some common platforms:
The makers of the codec, DTS:X, designed DTS Play-Fi. The platform utilizes a private app that gives the user access to streamers, personal files, and internet radio. Some of the streamers that DTS Play-Fi runs include Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz. The app supports multi-zone playback. However, Play-Fi cannot play physical media sources in multiple rooms.
DTS Play-Fi is a robust app that offers many streaming services and high-res support. However, critics cite that the app is not the most presentable out there. Receiver brands that offer DTS Play-Fi are Pioneer/Onkyo, Integra, and Anthem.
Flareconnect is a gateway platform that connects the users to functions like Chromecast and apps like Play-Fi. The platform offers support for internet radio streamers, like TuneIn, Tidal, and Deezer. It is also possible to stream music files from specific devices on Flareconnect. There is multi-zone playback on Flareconnect that supports physical sources. However, operating the multi-zone feature can be a little complicated.
Flareconnect is often compared to other manufacturer platforms, like HEOS and MusicCast, which will be covered later. While multi-room functionality is slightly confusing, the app provides a smooth and accessible user experience. Flareconnect is a platform exclusive to Pioneer/Onkyo.
BluOS is a streaming platform offered by the Bluesound family of products. This operating system excels at multiroom playback, which is no surprise since Bluesound is known for its multi-room speaker systems. NAD receivers, and other products grouped with Bluesound through Lenbrook, run BluOS. Older versions can install the platform via a plugin MDC card. The remote control is possible through the clear and concise BluOS app.
Bluesound’s streaming platform supports many music services, including Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz, and Tidal. The ability to play all of these services over a multiroom speaker system is rather impressive. There are some limitations, though. For example, You can couple a receiver with a pair of Bluesound speakers, but you cannot use them to create surround channels. You can avoid this setback by pairing Bluetooth to the receiver to Bluesound speakers.
The BluOS platform also supports a lot of file formats. HomeCinema Magazine lists “lossy formats (MP3, AAC, WMA, and OGG), lossless PCM formats up to 192 kHz / 24-bit (FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF) and WMA-L up to 96 kHz / 24-bit [and] the MQA format.” Still, despite its extensive file support, BluOS does not recognize DLNA servers. However, it does support sharing via AFP and SMB, so file sharing works a little differently.
Lastly, the cherry on top for dedicated audio lovers is BluOS’s Roon support. This feature means you can use the app to create a multi-zone setup using Roon supporting devices from other manufacturers.
HEOS is a streaming platform included in Marantz and Denon receivers. What is more, HEOS products also include custom install products like wireless speakers, meaning you can use HEOS products to design a multi-zone system. Multi-zone playback is a significant focus for the HEOS app. This user interface organizes all of your HEOS products by zone, music device, and designated device (pertains to selected zone).
The HEOS app is relatively comprehensive. For example, if your surround sound speaker system includes multiple wired zones, each one will be displayed on the app. While there is no option to play different media in each zone, you can disable certain zones when you desire.
HEOS also assists in managing your media as well. You can send audio from an outside source to a different zone, as long as it is 2-channel PCM. The only other exception is Blu-ray audio that uses the Dolby Atmos codec. Another neat feature is the ability to transfer media from a USB stick to other HEOS devices in your home theater. You can operate some of these features with voice commands via Amazon Alexa.
Many streaming services work on the HEOS, including Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn, and SoundCloud. As far as file formats go, HEOS can play lossy formats, hi-res lossless PCM formats (up to 192 kHz / 24 bit), and DSD (up to 5.6 MHz).
Yamaha’s platform, MusicCast, is perhaps the most user-friendly platform out of this list. Yamaha goes out of its way to produce a seamless and highly flexible experience. MusicCast is integral to Yamaha’s products, which means a MusicCast receiver can interact with other MusicCast products. This functionality is similar to HEOS while adding much malleability, which is excellent for designing a multi-room audio system with ease.
Here are some examples of how customizable the MusicCast family of products is. Unlike other platforms that offer limited multiroom streaming, a MusicCast receiver can process music over Bluetooth and then send it to a MusicCast wireless speaker. Or, if you are designing a surround sound system of five speakers and one subwoofer, you can sub MusicCast wireless speakers as your rear speakers.
Another plus: you can control audio zones separately!
MusicCast sounds stellar so far, but how are the controls? MusicCast uses an app that runs on either a smartphone or tablet. There are numerous nuanced features here, including changing volume in different speaker zones without any accidental noise explosions caused by swipes. However, since the menus are so detailed, this app suits the tablet more than a smartphone. Still, this is a minor flaw of a high-quality app. MusicCast can also be voice-controlled via Alexa.
Here are some more quick specs: MusicCast supports the streaming services Spotify, Deezer, Quboz, and Tidal. The platform’s supported formats include lossy music, hi-res lossless PCM formats (up to 192 kHz / 24 bit), and Apple Lossless (up to 96 kHz / 24 bit). Additionally, MusicCast enabled AV receivers can play DSD (up to 11.2 MHz).
Works With Sonos
‘Works With Sonos’ is an initiative that was introduced by Onkyo and Pioneer last year. Unfortunately, unlike systems like HEOS and MusicCast, the service is not as interconnected yet. First, the receiver connects to Sonos Connect. From there, you can use the Sonos software to manage input and volume control. However, that is about it. You cannot even stream TV audio and other sources to Sonos speakers with this program. It seems to be unfinished.
What Can You Beam or Cast to Receivers?
We talked about built-in, manufacturer-specific platforms, but what about streaming options that you can beam or cast to receivers? This method works a little differently. While beaming or casting music requires a built-in chip to use, it is not a built-in platform. In the AV world, streaming options that are not manufacturer specific, especially those that rely on wireless casting or streaming, are functions. These functions are standard on AV receivers:
DLNA and UPnP stand for Digital Living Network Alliance and Universal Plug & Play, respectively.
DLNA is an international partnership of Consumer Electronics (CE), mobile device companies, and the computing industry. Together, these industries created an interoperation network for sharing digital media. DLNA transfers digital photos, videos, and music from a mobile device to a device inside or outside your home. Additionally, you can use DLNA to play digital media on your TV via an AV receiver.
UPnP is another guideline for the interconnectivity of your devices. This guideline allows devices that are connected by a network to find and communicate with each other. These communications enable data sharing, media streaming, or online gaming. DLNA derives from the principles of UPnP.
In this day and age, DLNA and UPnP are dated technologies. However, they are pretty standard and may be useful to you if you use Network Attached Storage. Additionally, some apps can take advantage of DLNA/UPnP to give you access to music streamers. For example, BubbleUPnP is an Android app that makes streaming from Google Play Music, Quboz, and Tidal possible.
The universal streaming function on AV receivers is Bluetooth. Recreational, mid-range priced receivers often feature the technology. The only exception is professional-level AV receivers, like those featured by Arcam or Anthem. On the cheapest brands, Bluetooth is usually the exclusive streaming option.
As of right now, Bluetooth receivers are more standard than transmitters. That means you can stream audio from a Bluetooth device to the AV receiver, but not always the other way around. The only brands that feature Bluetooth transmission right now are Yamaha and Sony, which allow you to stream music from the receiver to a wireless speaker or headset. This feature is an excellent option when you would like to listen to audio later at night without disturbing others.
Bluetooth always handles lossy formats, which means inferior sound quality depending on what codec the receiver and transmitter can manage. Since most AV receivers only support older codecs, like SBC, you can count on noticing a dip in quality over Bluetooth. NAD receivers are a noticeable exception since they operate BluOS, which features the advanced aptX HD codec.
Spotify Connect works similarly to Bluetooth, and it is almost as standard a function in AV receivers. Presently, Spotify offers this platform for manufacturers to install on their receivers. The platform presents as an option among other streamers on proprietary apps. However, once chosen, all operation runs from the Spotify app, rather than the receiver platform.
In its inception, Spotify Connect only worked for premium subscribers. Recently, however, the streamer granted platform access to free accounts as well. The only difference is premium subscribers can stream at higher qualities than free account holders.
Airplay is an Apple function that became almost as ubiquitous as Bluetooth. The function facilitates streaming from any Apple device or a device running iTunes to an AV receiver.
Airplay experienced moderate success throughout its existence. However, the introduction of Airplay 2 built upon this function with multi-range functionality and Siri voice control. There are some limits to these new functions. For instance, Airplay 2’s multi-zone feature does not support physical media sources. Additionally, Siri voice control can navigate the playback of your Apple device but not other inputs.
This Apple mainstay has a lot of benefits. Airplay works on most receivers. The second-generation only works on the latest Denon, Yamaha, and Onkyo/Pioneer receivers, for now. Plus, Airplay processes lossless music formats much better than Bluetooth. In this regard, the function is highly underrated.
Chromecast is a notable up-and-comer in the AV market. Its technology differs from other streamers since it casts music from the music service server rather than your device. That is why audiophiles refer to casting and streaming as two separate terms. Casting offers enormous benefits. Sound quality does not suffer when the device you are casting from moves further away. Plus, your phone does less work to cast, which saves its battery.
Multi-zone playback is possible with Chromecast. However, it is not as smooth as the UIs of other platforms like HEOS and MusicCast. Multi-zone playback requires the use of the Google Home app. First, you need to group the receivers and speakers into your zones. From there, you can select from your designated zones via the music service app.
Like its other streaming peers, Chromecast cannot facilitate playback from other physical sources connected to your AV receiver.
Some brands that feature Chromecast include Onkyo/Pioneer and Sony. However, you can add Chromecast to your receiver by plugging a Chromecast dongle into the receiver’s optical input (for audio) or HDMI input (for audio, video, and music information on your TV screen).
Streaming Devices You Can Connect to Receivers
Sometimes, streaming from your receiver, whether relying on a casting function or a built-in platform, can be limiting. After all, AV receiver UIs can be complicated to use. Additionally, maybe some of the options listed do not include your favorite music service. In this instance, you can connect a device to your receiver directly or via your television to stream music and video. Let us take a look at a few of these options below.
For a long time, gaming consoles were only for playing video games. However, with the introduction of online multiplayer came more functionality, as console manufacturers have started utilizing online connections in other capacities. They are more computers now than ever before. One example of an online connection is the inclusion of streaming apps on gaming consoles. Here are some of your options:
- Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One: The Microsoft console is probably the most extensive streaming device. Xbox offers streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and Sling TV. Additionally, you can watch subscription services on this console, including CBS All Access, HBO GO, HBO NOW, and Starz. In terms of music, Xbox supports Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio, among others. You can also connect a DVR to it.
- Playstation 5 and Playstation 4: Sony’s console offers stiff competition to the Xbox. It has a head-up in terms of gaming. However, it also holds its own when it comes to streamers. The Playstation offers much of the same streaming apps as the Xbox One. At one point, Playstation offered Playstation Vue, a subscription cable alternative. However, this was shut down January 30, 2020. You can still purchase media from their store, but there is no longer live TV built into the PS. Unfortunately, the you can't connect a DVR to the PS, like the Xbox One.
- Nintendo Switch: Nintendo’s console offering is the least robust when it comes to streaming. The only services it provides are Hulu and YouTube. Luckily, these are two competent services in their own right. Additionally, the Switch offers some unique streaming services, like Inkypen, a comic book reader, and KORG Gadget, a music production and party app.
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon’s Fire TV derives from Android TV’s technology, except it makes Amazon’s services the Focus. Prime Video and Prime Music are significant mainstays of the Amazon TV menu. However, the streaming device also features apps for Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube. Still, having all of your Amazon media available in one place is a significant pro.
Fire TVs also benefit from voice control via Amazon Alexa. There are a couple of ways you can use it. If you are using a Fire Stick, you can speak commands into a voice remote. However, if you prefer more range, you can use a Fire Cube for an entirely hands-free streaming experience.
If you prefer to forgo buying a new TV, you can attach a Fire Stick, an Amazon TV dongle, via your television’s USB port. The Fire Stick comes in a variety of options. Fire TV Stick 4K is the standard Fire Stick. If you are looking for a budget-friendly option, you can get the Basic Fire TV Stick, which only streams resolutions up to 1080p. The cheapest option is the Fire Stick Lite, which has a remote that cannot control your television, only the dongle.
Perhaps you still desire to watch broadcast television along with your other media streamers. If that is the case, you can invest in Amazon’s Fire TV Recast, which features its own OTA-tuner and DVR. You can use Fire TV Recast to watch live television and recordings on any Fire TV device or over the internet on a mobile device. However, that does not make the device a replacement for an Amazon TV since it does not have a visible user interface.
Android TV is a Google-focused device using Android technology. It is an excellent system for running Chromecast with Google TV. Android TV also supports TiVo Stream 4K. Voice control is also possible on Android TV with Google Assistant.
There is no limit to streaming options with Android TV, which offers thousands of apps. The device also touts Google Cast, which means you can stream media straight from your smartphone or tablet.
Note: Is Google TV a separate device from Android TV? No. Google TV is a user interface that runs on Android TV. Considering how cluttered the Android TV menus are, Google TV makes a superior interface.
Apple TV is a media streaming device that some publications, like PCMag, are predicting may be on their way out. It's a pretty capable device but it lacks some features. This change is not bad since Apple TV is transitioning into a robust service provider featured on other devices’ hardware. Apple’s streaming options include the Apple TV app, Apple TV+, and its impressive Airplay 2 technology.
With Airplay 2, it is possible to make your TV its own media streaming device as long as you have an iPhone or iPad to beam content. For instance, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio TVs all include Airplay 2.
Although it is more expensive than other devices out there, you can still buy yourself an Apple TV 4K if you are interested. The device includes a Siri-enabled voice remote, tons of streaming capability with your iOS and macOS devices, and many compatible streaming apps. However, considering you can accomplish many of the same things over less expensive Smart TVs with AirPlay, it may not be worth the money.
Roku offers many streaming services, which the platform calls ‘channels.’ The Roku Store offers thousands of channels, including staple services like Hulu, Netflix, and Prime Video. On top of the usual suspects, Roku also sports niche channels dedicated to movies, weather, news, sports, and even international content!
This streaming device comes in two varieties: The Roku Streaming Stick+ and Ultra. Both support 4K video with HDR10. Ultra differs from the Streaming Stick+ by supporting wired connections and remote control with a headphone jack. Additionally, you can purchase a Roku Smart Soundbar, a soundbar with Roku installed. This mid-range soundbar may be a convenient alternative when you do not feel like booting up the AV receiver.
Additionally, you can now buy television sets with Roku built-in. Roku TVs are not televisions manufactured by Roku. On the contrary, other television manufacturers incorporate Roku technologies into their screens. This technology is excellent for budget-priced TVs, which can now offer streaming services that would not have been possible only a few years ago. On top of Roku’s 4K and HDR10 support, some Roku TVs even support Dolby Vision HDR.
As you can see, there are many ways to watch videos and listen to music via your AV receiver. You can use a built-in platform or function from your receiver or take advantage of a media streaming device. On top of that, you have your pick of streaming services, all of which have different audio and visual capabilities. Learn how to get the most of these streaming options with these tips:
- Invest in a Smart TV. For high-quality consolidated video options, you really can't go wrong with putting your money into a Smart TV with at least 1080p capability. For the best quality, go for 4K. 4K is required if you plan to view 4K content. It sounds obvious, but people like to downscale 4K games and media to a 1080p screen for better quality. You can't stream 4K content to a 1080p screen, you just don't have that option.
- Get a quality AV receiver. When shopping for a new AV receiver, make sure to get your money’s worth. At a minimum, your AV receiver should support 5.1 channel surround sound and Dolby Digital Plus.
- Accommodate for surround sound. Not all media streaming services support surround sound. Out of the more popular streamers, Amazon Prime and Netflix are the only ones encoded for Dolby Atmos. However, your receiver needs the Atmos codec to read it. Like those produced by Yamaha, some receivers offer artificial technology to translate unencoded media to surround sound speaker systems.
Researching the top streaming services’ potential will give you an advantage when building your home theater system. After all, knowing what features your favorite service supports (and does not support) will help you decide what to look for while shopping.
Here is a quick comparison chart for reference from Yamaha MusicUSA: Yamaha MusicUSA: Comparing Streaming Service Audio and Video Quality.
There are countless ways to stream media over your AV receiver. You can take advantage of a built-in manufacturer-specific platform, like Yamaha MusicCast or BluOS. For universal support, you can rely on a streaming function like Bluetooth. Lastly, if you are not satisfied with your receiver’s platform or functions’ service options, you can depend on a media streaming device that connects to your AV receiver.
To get the most out of your streaming experience, research the services that interest you most. Then purchase the AV equipment that best features those services’ capabilities.