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This is going to be an article that is only of interest to a very obscure subset of music listeners…and you should only read on if you meet the following criteria:

  1. Your music collection is in some form of Lossless Codec – FLAC, WMA-Lossless, ALAC.
  2. You want to stream lossless audio from your OneDrive account to your phone – and you don’t care about data consumption – OR you want lossless at home and want to stream the same collection of music to a mobile device using the same set of playlists.
  3. You might own some 24-bit music – such as albums bought at HDTracks.
  4. You actually think there is a difference between a high-quality mp3 and lossless or HD Audio. (Dear Commenters – I don’t want to wade into this debate, even if it is for the placebo effect – just let us audio snobs be happy playing with our toys.)
  5. If pushed, you are willing to batch convert your FLAC files to WMA-Lossless or whatever format necessary to achieve your audio happiness dreams.

With the launch of Windows 10 and Groove Music I had some hope that there might finally be a music streaming option that allowed me to do the following:

  1. Stream my own lossless music collection from the cloud to any player I want (i.e. through OneDrive).
  2. Use my XBOX One to do home music playback in 24-bit audio.
  3. Have the same playlists on my home PC, iPhone (or any mobile device), and the XBOX One.

Since Windows Media Center has been depreciated (and has become buggy as heck), I have switched our home music setup to use iTunes and the Apple TV 3.  I discuss that here in an earlier article where I test if OneDrive would work with Apple Lossless Audio.

Before converting my entire FLAC collection to WMA-Lossless I decided to do some testing first.  I uploaded the following Albums to OneDrive (via Windows 10).  None of the albums have any kind of DRM or Copy Protection in their files that would interfere with playback.

 

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Let’s be clear here: I have never ever made any claims to possess good taste in music.

All of these albums play fine in the Groove Desktop application.  I do want to note here that the upload times for OneDrive do seem to have improved (albeit anecdotally) since my last test.  And it is important to mention that – as one reader commented in a previous article – Windows 10 natively supports FLAC.  YEA!  Microsoft has also claimed that Groove would stream WMA Lossless and that it would play back the file just like it is in your cloud drive. (Click Here for the page that I clipped the following caption from. Note: on my PC the link would not work with Chrome, but would on the new Windows 10 Edge browser.)

Bitrateclaim

The image above is from Microsoft’s website.

To ensure that the files had plenty of time to be recognized and found on whatever systems they needed – I waited until the albums showed up in both the Groove web app and the iPhone app.  That is where the first disappointment happened.  Sorry Shakira, neither the web app nor the iPhone app can even SEE a FLAC file album.  Again, MSFT never explicitly claimed that the Groove Web App nor the iPhone app would support FLAC.  However, I was hoping that the inclusion of FLAC in Windows 10 would signal the desire to allow that file format to permeate the rest of the Windows ecosystem.  The fact that the web application does not include FLAC support is a sign that ecosystem wide FLAC support may have been wishful thinking on my part.

I then used the web app to play songs from the three WMA-Lossless albums.

Bad news there, the 24-bit albums would not play –at all – either of them – and the web app generates the following error:

GrooveError

D-OH!

The 16-bit lossless (Def Leppard’s Hysteria) played just fine in the Groove Web app.  I cannot vouch for the quality (especially given my desktop’s speakers) – but it played.

Next I tried the iPhone app.  My original plan for this article was to test to see if the music was truly being streamed in lossless audio.  I was planning to use this method (CLICK LINK HERE) to determine if the file was being down-sampled.  However my experiment ended up testing something much more basic.  Does the Groove mobile app play lossless music AT ALL?

Again, like the web application the Groove iPhone app would not open a 24bit 88mhz song (WMA Lossless) and did not recognize FLAC files.

It did open and begin to play standard 16bit 44mhz files in WMA Lossless.  My first test was with the song “Hysteria” from the Def Leppard album.  The song is 40.8MB on the disc.  It played half of the song and then mysteriously restarted.  It would not play the entire song – even a second listen.  Since I had already reset my cellular data counter, I checked it and the phone had downloaded over cellular a total of 9.6MB.

To make sure that it wasn’t a corrupted file, I tried another song: “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”  – 31.8MB on Disc.  Again it hiccupped and repeated before the song was over.  Twice.

I’d say the Groove app only poured only one-third of a cup of sugar on me…get it?  C’mon!  I love puns!!

I then turned on Wifi to see if it would work better with a faster data connection.  The problem of not playing an entire song persisted.

At this point discovering if Groove is providing lossless streaming was moot.  It wouldn’t stream an entire song to my mobile device.

That being said there is a potential confounding variable here.  Maybe it’s my iPhone.  If anyone else has experimented with Lossless WMA on the iPhone or Android apps – PLEASE leave a helpful comment below.

To be thorough, I tried one more thing.  I went to my basement movie room, where my XBOX One lives and tried the Groove Music app.  It did not see the FLAC Shakira album – but I am hoping that will change with the November Update, when the XBONE gets Windows 10.  It did however, play all of the WMA Lossless files in their entirety and it sounded good!  I do not have the technical wherewithal to test whether I was getting the full 24-bit HD Audio experience, nor did I do any side by side comparisons with other sources (such as an HTPC or Apple TV in the same room)– but it sounded good.

At this point, I feel that the Groove music system is improving, but still has some hurdles to overcome.  Honestly, I don’t care much whether a music locker service streams to my mobile device in lossless audio.  Cars and my gym headphones are not ideal listening environments and so the quality improvement would be unnoticeable (it may be anyway) – not to mention that 24bit albums are a HUGE amount of data to stream to a phone.  At home however, it would be nice to know that I am getting the best audio experience that my equipment can deliver, and in good faith I do believe that the Xbox One is now capable of streaming 24bit HD audio to a home sound system.  Ideally, I would like to have one set of playlists on a single service that would sync between my home lossless audio and my mobile experience.

Apple’s iCloud/iTunes Match does this fairly well with some limits.  Through iTunes match it delivers to my mobile device lossy audio versions from my music collection.  However, at home (where the audio quality arguably matters more), it can stream lossless from the PC to the Apple TV3.  That lossless audio, however, is limited to and down sampled to 16bit playback.

A few more random thoughts and responses:

Why not use TIDAL?

Simple – no Apple TV or XBOX app and I don’t want to Airplay to my Apple TV – it seems to introduce too many connections and variables for me to believe I’m getting top quality sound.  Plus, what about the 24-bit audio in my collection?  An Apple TV or XBOX app would probably have me look to Tidal as the simplest solution.

Dude, you put a lot of thought into this – and you probably can’t hear the difference over using Spotify or any other music service.

Yup, but like I said – even if it is the placebo effect, it makes me happy to think that I am getting the best music experience I can.  When I do side by side testing with my friends using an MP3 and a 24bit – 88khz versions of the same song on my best stereo equipment most of them can guess correctly which is which.  That being said, here is a well-researched article that savagely and completely dismantles arguments for HD Audio (LINK).  My argument for lossless and HD Audio is not really that it sounds better, but that it – maybe through marketing or placebo effect – it makes me happier to have cool toys and cool audio files.

What Next?

I’m going to wait for two developments that I hope will move one of the two ecosystems (Apple or Groove) closer to my dream goal of one-streaming-setup-to-rule them all.

Development One – in November the new Xbox One update will occur and may add FLAC support since it is based in Windows 10.  (Its getting a DVR – which I am eager to test!).  Maybe in that time the Groove mobile app will get fixes to allow more reliable playback for lossless audio (WMA or FLAC).  Windows 10 would also allow for Tidal to easily build an app for the Xbox One.

Development Two – Apple TV 4 will be announced in September.  Maybe it will support 24bit audio?  Reportedly they are working on a TV solution for cord cutters and the development language is supposedly going to allow for more open app development (so Tidal could develop an app for the ATV too.)

As I learn more on this topic I will update this post.

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After reading that Xbox Music had added a cloud based music locker service using OneDrive I decided to give it a quick test.

Due to my frustrations with the Xbox One, the loss (or at least the continued depreciation of…) Windows Media Center, I have switched over my music collection to work with Apple TV (and subsequently iOS on our new iPhones).

I have to say that our music experience at home has been pretty good after this shift.  (The Remote App works great and if I am willing to listen to non-cd quality I can stream music directly from iCloud.  The sound quality is noticeably better when streaming in loss-less directly from a PC running iTunes.)

Two years ago I ripped all of our CDs to loss-less FLAC files using DB Poweramp.  From there I convert the FLAC files to either WMA Loss-less (when using XBOX/WMP) – or more recently AAC Loss-less.  Some of our music is 24-bit purchased from HDTracks.  The Apple TV downgrades HD (24-bit) music to 16-bit (CD Quality) automatically.  My great hope for the XBOX One had been that it is capable of 24-bit playback via HDMI.

So here is what you actually read the article for.  I test uploaded a 24-bit AAC Loss-less file (Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories – not that it matters…) and attempted to play it back with both the Windows 8.1 Xbox Music App and the Xbox Music browser player.  Both gave me an error message stating that the music was not in a format that could be played back.  The few specs from Microsoft that are on the Xbox Music / OneDrive website do state that AAC is supported AND that WMA Loss-less is supported.  It does not make the claim that AAC Loss-less is supported.  My small test seems to confirm that AAC Loss-less is not supported.

In my case this means converting my FLAC files to WMA Loss-less and then uploading them via OneDrive, if I want to use this service.  If I knew that 24-bit audio was supported, it might be worth it.

That is, except for OneDrive’s major defect.

A while back I decided to backup all of our pictures and music to the cloud.  Since I have an Office365 Subscription which comes with unlimited OneDrive storage – I decided to use OneDrive.  It took a WEEK to upload our photo collection.  (When uploading documents in a complex folder schema it went totally berserk – creating unreadable duplicates and  nearly destroying my documents archive.)

Out of frustration I decided to try DropBox for cloud storage.  It uploaded the same photo collection in 12 hours.  My test upload of a single album to OneDrive today was also VERY slow.  If Microsoft truly wants us to move our digital lives to OneDrive, they are going to have to fix their upload problem.

FLAC support would be super nice too.  *AHEM*

With the death of my beloved Windows Media center I have been considering alternatives such as Plex and XBMC.  XBMC is by far the most versatile and full featured media center software made today.  For a while I had been seriously considering swapping over to XBMC (hell, and if they could get Civilization V to run on Linux…I’d ditch Microsoft all together and go open source).

However Windows Media Center has one distinct advantage over XBMC, and it is this – it can record TV shows that contain Copy Control DRM.  TV/Cable broadcasts are tagged as Copy Freely or Copy Once.  It is largely up to the cable provider how their content is tagged, and if they wanted to sow havoc with an XBMC/cablecard setup then they could simply tag all of their content as Copy Once.

Microsoft has paid the fees to CableLabs which allow it to use the CopyOnce content.  Premium channels like HBO are exclusively CopyOnce content.

This is really unfortunate (again, a first world problem) as XBMC has 24-bit FLAC support, remote apps for tablets and phones, and runs on anything more powerful than a toaster.

*SIGH*

Who knows?  Maybe these guys will be successful with their petition drive to get Microsoft to release a WMC app for the XBOX ONE.

http://xboxvideo.uservoice.com/forums/225596-xbox-video-suggestion-box

Few people will have need for this tip, but since I have experimented and succeeded I thought I’d share what I have learned and hopefully someone else can benefit from this.

I wanted to share a digital audio signal from a coaxial (RCA) style output with two receivers (well three, since my source device has analog out as well).  My home audio setup has a basement 7.1 surround movie theater as a powered zone, a family room 5.1 surround TV room, and a two channel analog -only amp that pushes out power to a speaker selector switch (with a protection circuit) to six other zones.

The two surround receivers and the analog amp are on opposite sides of what is essentially a closet.  This makes it possible to wire all of this together pretty easily.

My problem was that both of the surround receivers had all of their optical (TOSLINK) connectors in use, but had the coaxial (RCA DIGITAL) available.  I wanted to connect a Comcast DVR to all three amps so that I could select a music station and let the music run all day.

I have read some comments online that seemed to indicate that there are two views about whether splitting a digital signal is a good idea or not.  One seems to indicate that there will be signal loss – the biggest threat being jitter (losing the connection temporarily).  The other view is that digital signals are all-or-nothing connections.  You will either have sound or you will not.  I presume not having the signal is the presence of too much “jitter”.I used a cheap Radio Shack RCA (1 male to 2 female) splitter.IMG_20131128_113055_120Many devices can output both digital and analog audio simultaneously.  Here is the splitter attached to the back of the cable box.IMG_20131128_113201_124Lastly – here are both recievers showing that they are getting a digital signal.
IMG_20131128_113252_045 IMG_20131128_114050_115Is there any signal degradation? – so far none that I can hear.  So far as I can tell the all-or-nothing view seems to be correct as both receivers are indicating that they are getting a digital audio signal.

protest

I’m sure this is what the reaction to my blog entry will look like. “And the masses rose up in revolt demanding GIVE US A MEDIA CENTER APP!”

Just a thought here…I get a good amount of traffic on this site looking for things to do with Windows Media Center and the Xbox One.

A WMC app would be pretty easy to develop for the XBONE since it is simply a remote desktop connection (and the XBONE runs Windows 8) – heck my Android Phone now has an official Microsoft Remote Desktop app.

If you are one of the many WMC users who would like to see an app developed for the XBONE then please take a second and send Microsoft an email:

https://support.microsoft.com/contactus/emailcontact.aspx?scid=sw;en;1539

It can’t hurt to try, right?

Or you can just participate in a ridiculously unscientific poll:

Here are a few tips on how to get Windows Media Center to work with the XBOX ONE.  It is well documented that you can use the HDMI pass-through to display a 360 or even a PS4.  It is the same trick that allows a cable box to pass through it’s picture.

First, set your XBOX 360 to boot to Media Center when it starts.

Inside the settings app on the XBONE go to “TV & One Guide”.

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Then choose “Devices”

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Then you will be able to choose devices from a list or to type in the manufacturer followed by model number.  In this case I used Microsoft Xbox 360.  I also checked to see if there was an entry for Ceton‘s Echo, there is not.  There is an option to type in Media Center and use remote commands for a media center remote.

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The Kinect 2 will then be able to use it’s IR blaster to turn on and off the XBOX 360 and hence Media Center.  However, in my experience it does not control the 360/WMC menus.  I had zero luck with changing channels without the remote for the 360 as well.  According to Microsoft even under the most ideal conditions (a cable box) the XBONE can only change channels, volume, and turn the device on and off.  It cannot manage recordings or access on-demand content.

I was pleasantly surprised when I said “XBOX Volume Down” and my Onkyo receiver dropped the volume three notches.

Much of the control issues could be overcome with some creative programming of a universal remoteLogitech Harmony remotes can be programmed to control the Xbox 360 and the XBONE.  I did not take this final step – hence the word “Hypothetical” in this article’s title.

If you own both devices, have room in your rack, and a good universal remote this might work for you.

Here are some images of Media Center running through the XBONE’s HDMI pass-through.

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Windows Media Center looks right at “Home” here.

I set this up temporarily due to the fact that I do not have room in my rack for both the 360 and the XBONE.  Silly me…I assumed the next XBOX would do more than it’s predecessor did.

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Want to drive Forza 5 while listening to Metallica?….this is what it would take.

Of course this seems a bit absurd to run essentially two computers just to watch TV – especially from a power consumption point of view.

XBONEI was one of the few gamers who was actually excited to hear that Microsoft would be focusing on entertainment with their new console – the XBOX One.  Like many XBOX360 owners I both game and watch TV on my 360…but let’s face it there is a lot more time in a working guy’s week for TV than gaming.

I knew my beloved Media Center was dead, and was preparing to deal with the separation.  What I didn’t know is that Microsoft was thinking of killing the usefulness of our local home networks as well. 

I loved my 360 and my feelings for Windows Media Center are well documented. (In a fit of faith in Microsoft I traded in one of my 360s last weekend to make room on the shelf for the new arrival.)

*head slap*

The XBOX One has NO utility for searching across your home network to find music, photos, or videos stored on a home Windows 8 PC.  You have to walk over to to the PC, select the file and choose “PlayTo“….then walk back across the house to see the content.

Dear Microsoft:  This kind of defeats the entire purpose of having a client device, now doesn’t it?

This is not only the death of Windows Media Center, it is the death of the home server/client philosophy that Microsoft has promoted since XP!

One guy (Kudos to him for figuring out how to do this…) has found a workaround that requires you to pass your home PC content through your phone.  EXCUSE ME MICROSOFT?!?  The XBONE has an 8-core processor, 8 gigs of ram and I’m supposed to pass video through my Android phone first? WTF?

For home theater enthusiasts the XBOX One has no more value than a stinkin’ ROKU player…wait – that’s not true.  The ROKU will play files off of a local PC.  OOPS!

It is clear to me that the XBONE is now merely a device for locking you into Microsoft’s entertainment ecosystem.  An overpowered AppleTV (oh wait…Apple TV can stream music and video from a PC running iTunes – D-OH!) designed to lock us into streaming from XBOX Music and Video.

Why not just use Xbox Music?  Xbox Music streams lossy WMAs and the band Metallica (amongst others) is nowhere to be found.  Over the years many of us have created bit-perfect collections of lossless WMAs…and Metallica is essential to any music collection – especially when gaming.  If you have a solid home theater sound system, then lossy music just won’t cut it.  Not to mention I’ve already bought the music I like – why would I pay $10/month to listen to the albums I already own in a format that sounds worse than what I have?

Other home theater sins of the XBONE:

  1. Can’t play Dolby 5.1 or 7.1 through the optical out.
  2. Cant download Movies from Xbox Video – it can only stream them.  (The frame rate is better when you download…plus it makes me feel closer to my copy of Star Trek: Into Darkness.)
  3. It can’t take a video feed from a PC Tuner Card.
  4. To use DVR functionality on your cable box you have to leave the XBOX Dashboard and just use the Cable Box Remote…Kinect only works on live TV.
  5. No Xfinity App.
  6. No Analog audio out (I knew this one in advance, but it still pisses me off).
  7. No 24-bit audio streaming.

Albeit, these are First World problems.  There are people starving, with their homes and lives destroyed by Typhoons….so do I feel a little silly complaining about my game console in my comfortable and safe home.

I am perplexed major review sites which have been fawning over the new XBOX and are simply omitting that it renders the content you own at home all but unreachable.   I think they must have the same exact problem that the news media has with our politicians – the problem of access.  The price of access seems to be the elimination of critical thought.

Did you write an article that points out the flaws in our (INSERT HERE: car, gadget, public policy)?  If so, then you will no longer have access to (INSERT HERE: test drives, E3 invite, interviews with the candidate).

I feel that a certain trust has been broken by Microsoft with it’s most recent product.  If you are a home theater enthusiast, and have not yet ordered your XBONE – Don’t.  This $500 paperweight needs some major updating to make it do what a $69 media streamer can do out of the box.