How to Buy a Device that Works with 2player

The price of diversity in the Android ecosystem is that there are no home sound systems with Android docking connectors. The challenge then becomes: how does one connect ones' Android phone to ones' home audio system, and still play Angry Birds while sitting on your couch?

Uncoincidentally, the answer involves using 2player in conjunction a Media Player of some kind. What you need is some kind of DLNA device that hooks up to your television, or home audio receiver, or powered speakers. And then, of course, you use 2player to remotely play music on the DLNA media player.

If you are shopping for such a device, this page discusses options that are available to you, along with advice and recommendations.

Smart TVs

Absolutely. Yes. Go for it. If you're in the market for an upgrade. We would recomend getting the sales guy to let you test with 2player before you buy, just to make sure everything works. We've tested with the Samsung and Toshiba smart TVs and they work very well. The Sony ones are probably good too.

Pros: You get a brand new TV...

Cons: ...even though you shelled out 3 grand for 3D TV last year. And look how that turned out. Next year, there'll be 4k devices. And does it ever end?

Google TV Devices

Google TV devices make an excellent output device for 2player. When 2player is installed on a Google TV, you can play music, videos and pictures right out of device reset. They do work without a connected TV if you want an audio-only solution, but they may not have analog audio outputs.The Sony Google TV device, for example, does have a digital SPDIF connector which can be used for audio-only applications. But not all sound systems accept SPDIF input.

To use a Google TV device as a Play To device on your home network, install 2player on your Google TV (2player is available through Google Play for Google TV devices too). Go to the 2player Preferences page, select Media Server, and check the Start When Plugged In, and Allow Remote Control checkboxes.  Since Google TV devices are always plugged in, the 2player Media Server will run all the time, even after a reboot.

One interesting feature of Google TV device is that they pass HDMI signals through the box from your cable or satelite TV receiver, to your TV and audio receiver on the other side. The nice thing about that configuration is that you can have always-available audio. Power off the cable box when you're not using it. Leave the Google TV device on always. Leave your audio receiver on always. Turn your TV off when you're not using it. And play music to the Google TV device. And it plays! No need to switch inputs or juggle remotes to get it to happen.

Our Sony Google TV has replaced the WDTV Live that we used to use to play audio in our livingroom sound system, because of that added convenience of not having to change inputs on the receiver to play DLNA audio. (I stilll love the WDTV Live, but it's been conciled to the secondary but still important job of playing music in my bedroom).

There's a lot of debate about the relative merits of Google TV devices. But using them as a second-screen device for music and video coming from an Android phone or tablet is an absolutely killer application for these devices. Recommended. And you get all the remaining benefits of a Google TV device which you can take or leave as you see fit.

Pros: You get to run 2player on your TV. Works well. And Google TV doesn't totally suck. A tiny fraction of the price of a new TV.

Cons: Twice the price of other media players.

Media Players

There are a large number of Media Players on the market that can be hooked up to a TV or audio receiver that implement DLNA. You want to consider the following issues when purchasing a Media Player. We have a fairly broad collection of media devices that we use during testing. Some of them are wonderful. Some of them are pretty much useless. There are too many of these devices available for us to provide a comprehensive run-down of all the media players on the market. There are a lot of them. Instead, we offer the following advice.

You need to know:

  • Does it implement DLNA "play-to"/DMR?
  • Do you have to start an application to allow remote control?
  • Does the device support a reasonable range of audio and video formats?

Not all Media Players allow remote control. And it's difficult to, when reading technical specs, to determine whether a given DLNA device operates only as a Digital Media Player (DMP), or whether it also implements DMR/"play-to", which allows remote control. You may want to Google carefully, to determine whether the device will allow DMR/remote control.

The ideal media player for use with 2player will accept remote control right out of device reset. You really don't want to have to search for the device's remote control so that you can fire up a media player, every time yhou want to play something with 2player. Not all media players do this, even if they do support DMR. Again, research carefully.

Media format support also varies considerably. A very basic device will only accept MP3 audio files. This is fine if you have been careful to ensure that your entire media collection is encoded using MP3. iTunes, Windows and Android all support MP4 audio. And anything you purchase from iTunes will be in MP4 format. So you probably do want a media player that decodes MP4 files as well.

You may also need WMA audio support, if you have ripped a lot of your music collection with Windows Media Player. Some Android 2.x devices do support WMA audio; few if any Android 3.0 and later devices can decode WMA. However, DLNA devices can request uncompressed audio from media servers that support "transcoding". Windows computers will transcode audio. 2player does not send transcoded audio, but can accept transcoded WMA audio when playing from a Windows computer. Very few media players support WMA audio. Most, but not all media players can accept transcoded audio.

Audio purists may be interested in using FLAC compressed audio files. Windows and iTunes do not support FLAC, but 2player, and all Android systems do. If you want to use FLAC audio, you will need a media player that also supports FLAC audio.

Video support is unpleasantly complicated on Android devices. All Android devices support at least a subset of MP4 video; most Android devices seem to do a reasonable portion of H.264/MEPG-4 AVC; some 2.x devices support Windows WMV format. Few if any Android 3.0 and later devices support WMV format. As far as I can tell, H.264/MPEG-4 AVC seems to be the way to go with Android devices. So you probably want a media  player that supports that. Or a media player that does all the formats that your Android phone doesn't. Because you can still use 2player as a remote controller.

Fortunately there is at least one device that checks all the boxes. There are probably others as well. We have absolutely no connection with Western Digital. But we recommend the Western Digital WDTV Live family of products unreservedly. Devices in this family range in price from about $50 to $200 depending on the connectors, and onboard storage you want. They all accept remote control right out of reset. They all provide MP3, MP4, WMA, and FLAC decoders, along with an extensive set of video decoders. And they all seem to have accepted any flavor of video I have ever thrown at them. In addition, all of these devices work fine if they are not connected to a TV. That makes them a good option if you only want to connect them to a set of speakers. Pick these ones. Seriously.

Sony Network Media players work plausibly well, but only accepts MP3 audio files. Of all the other media players in our collection, there are no others that we can recommend at this time.

So be careful. Research carefully. Or just buy the WDTV Live.

Pros: Very affordable. A you'll probably get access to Netflix, if you don't already have it.

Cons: There are more really bad media players out there than passably good ones. Research carefully.

Android Media Players

There are a number of Media Players on the market that are based on non-Google-TV versions of Android. Speaking from personal experience so far, they are uniformly horrible devices. But they run 2player reasonably well. And they are very cheap. They can be configured to run 2player beautifully. But don't expect a whole of collateral benefit from the rest of the Android stuff they provide. Definely an option, though.

Pros: Cheap. You get to run 2player on your TV too.

Cons: Non-Google-TV versions of android have some serious challenges on TVs. They tend to be underpowered.

Android Tablets

Most Android tablets have HDMI output. (The Google Nexus 7 is one of the very few that does not). That means that Android tablets can be used as effective output devices for 2player.

Given that some of the smaller 5" and 7" tablets are cheaper than a Google TV box, tablets may be the way to go. At the time of writing a Samsung Galaxy Nexus 7" tablet can be had for slightly less than the cost of a Sony Google TV unit.

Be advised that 2player can only be installed on Android 2.2 or later.

The basic plot summary is that you connect the HDMI output of the tablet to an HDMI input on your home sound system or TV, and then use 2player on your phone to play audio, or video. If you configure the 2player Media Server to start whenever the device is plugged in, then 2player will respond to remote control without having to interact with the tablet.

Pros: You get to use that tablet for other stuff too.

Cons: Watching movies on your TV and your tablet both at the same time is a bit distracting (tablets dont' generally blank they screen when they're playing video). And your tablet ends up attached to the TV, instead of sitting on the couch with you.

Scavenged Android Phones

Many Android phones have HDMI outputs as well. If you have recently upgraded phones, you may be able to use your old phone as a pathway to your TV and sound system.

Remember you need at least Android 2.2 (Froyo) to run 2player. So it can't be that old.

Pros: It's free.

Cons: Probably only 720p video.