October 2020

“This all started in 2008 when I was working at

Harman. We were working with Apple on some of the first AirPlay speakers that would go to market under the JBL brand. We realised there were a few technical limitations so in 2010 some of us in the team founded another company, called Phorus, with the idea that we could design something better. We developed the Play- Fi technology to be openly licensable to the industry. “At the time, others wanted to compete with Sonos

but they couldn’t because the technology wasn’t out there, but we opened that up and developed a superior platform and we have licensed that to the industry ever since.” Play-Fi turns ordinary speakers into connected

devices using its unique technology and partnerships from across the industry. If a speaker does not have the ability to connect directly to an online music service, for example, it cannot access any of those functions, but with Play-Fi these are embedded in the speaker. Explains Mr Lau: “We have broad support from the

music service industry, so with Play-Fi systems you can use it with all the different major music services and they are driven by a phone interface or by voice command, for example. “We work extremely closely with our manufacturer

partners and some of the things we allow are music service pre-sets – the ability to put hard buttons on the speaker that can call up a favourite music station. There are so many features and benefits, some of it depends on how a company may want to design its products.” A new companion app, called DTS Play-Fi

Headphones, also lets you stream audio from select DTS Play-Fi-connected products to a pair of headphones over Wi-Fi. Mr Lau says this connection is better than Bluetooth headphones due to the associated latency issues and Play-Fi’s AV synchronisation technology means there shouldn’t be any syncing issues between audio and visuals when watching TV.


Q: How has the wireless audio sector developed in recent years? Dannie Lau: In the early days, wireless technology was driven by convenience, particularly as things moved from portable audio players to phones being the central control device. We reached a time where the concept of docking, for example, didn’t really work and nobody really wanted to dock their phone anymore, they always wanted it in their pocket. Bluetooth has been around for a long time; it didn’t really take off for music until people made the

transition to phones. But audio quality can be lacking and I think that’s where the industry has really gone in terms of better audio quality over wireless. As music streaming has become more

commonplace, the focus has shifted to other areas for improvements. Sound quality has become a huge factor in the last few years; everyone has caught up to CD quality, but today it’s high-res, particularly with Amazon Music and its HD music streaming. High-res has become within the reach of the mass

market and people are looking for gear that can actually take advantage of that. We are seeing an uptick of manufacturers looking at getting maximum streaming quality into their products for better sound quality. Another trend is also capturing use cases that

haven’t seemed possible until now, things like surround sound and multi-room TV audio. Not too long ago if you wanted a setup in your home, then installers would have to wire everything in. Sonos, for example, does offer this but there’s a delay on the surround sound by 100 milliseconds, so the imaging isn’t completely accurate. With our technology and the low latency and

synchronisation between speakers, we can basically get imaging quality matching with audio that’s as good as if it was wired in. We are really changing the landscape. While the rest

of the industry is trying to catch up with high-res, we are out there trying to capture the last frontiers of audio wiring and really going after these use cases.

Q: How are consumer listening habits changing nowadays? DL: There’s a lot of phone listening nowadays, but with a good sprinkle of PC listening as well. We have drivers for Windows where any sound that would normally come out of your computer speakers or headphone jack you can transmit over Play-Fi to one or more speakers in the home. Another PC application allows the same syncing of sound to any hi-fi system,

or you can choose individual soundtracks to stream to your hi-fi while alternative audio plays from your computer’s speakers. We’ve seen lot of popularity around this. With

people working at their computers it’s just more convenient to play music or sound via a speaker rather than bringing out your phone. But consumer habits are changing; the biggest

benefit with music streaming is the discovery aspect – how easy it is to find new music. In the old days this was probably done through the radio or via magazines, it was a slow discovery process of hearing something and getting to like it. Today, though, it’s instant gratification to the point

where even YouTube will keep adding songs to your playlist that they think you’ll like based on your current listening trends. People’s phones allow access to any kind of music they want at any time they want – add to that the ability to then stream that music via a speaker of their choice and they’ve got a whole world of options at their fingertips.

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