Google's smart displays will simplify multi-room audio

For those of you who love having music play in every nook of your home.

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For people with multiple Google speakers and displays in their home, getting all your devices to play the same music can be tricky. You can set up a speaker group, but if someone else in your household picked the names, then it can be hard to remember which keyword to use. Starting today, though, Google is rolling out a feature that should make multi-room audio easier to tweak. It’s introducing a new interface on Assistant-enabled smart displays like the Nest Hub Max or JBL Link View that offers controls like adding on speakers to your playback and adjusting volume for individual devices or the entire group.

Product manager for audio and speakers Chris Chan told Engadget “The goal is to make it really easy for people to get music from anywhere at home.” Not only did Chan want to make it accessible for people to create typically expensive multi-room sound systems with affordable devices like the Nest Mini, but he also believes it’s an increasingly important feature as people are stuck at home. “I don't know about you but I really really miss going to concerts and festivals,” he said. “This is about as close as it gets to providing that feeling in the home, which is — no matter where you are, you can just get music.”

When you start playing music on your smart display, you’ll see a Cast symbol on the bottom left showing what device is also streaming the song. This will work with most audio apps, including Spotify, Pandora and YouTube Music. Tap the badge and you’ll be taken to a separate panel with all your home’s connected speakers (or Cast-compatible output devices including Chromecasts) on a list. You can tap the devices that you want to have playing the music and use an onscreen slider to tweak how loud each one is. At the top of the list is a master control for volume that allows you to quickly soften the music when it’s too loud, for example.

During a demo for Engadget, Chan played Taylor Swift’s Cardigan on a Nest Hub Max, then pulled up the list of other Assistant-enabled speakers available. He tapped two other devices to add them to the playback, and dragged their sliders to adjust volume. When he pulled the master volume slider to the left to soften it, the selected speakers’ volume sliders also moved correspondingly. You can remove devices from the grouped playback by tapping the circle to its left, like you would when unchecking items on a list.

Since this control interface is visual, it obviously won’t be available on speakers. But if you don’t have a smart display in your home, you’ll still be able to use this control panel on the Home app on your Android or iOS device when it rolls out on those platforms later this year.

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