Monday, July 22, 2024

The Next Wave Of Bluetooth Audio

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More than a mere tech term, Auracast is about to change how we experience sound,
with a simple search, scan, and tap—no complications
.

(Credit: https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net)


Within the landscape of audio innovation, Auracast broadcast audio emerges as a cutting-edge Bluetooth capability, primed to reshape auditory experiences. This innovative technology transcends traditional Bluetooth setups, promising a change in basic assumptions in our interaction with audio. Imagine effortlessly sharing your favourite tunes, immersing yourself in the ambient sounds, and elevating your audio encounters to a new level of personalisation and innovation. The advent of LE Audio is upon us, with Auracast leading the charge.

So, what is the buzz around Auracast? It introduces a whole new dimension to audio broadcasting. Your smartphone, tablet, or even a public broadcasting station becomes a transmitter, sending out audio signals to an unlimited number of nearby receivers, like your Bluetooth 5.2 earbuds or headphones. Security is top-notch, with options for encryption, but the real excitement lies in the openness it brings—especially in shared spaces like airports or waiting rooms.

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Imagine effortlessly tuning into gate-specific announcements at the airport or grooving to workout playlists broadcast throughout the gym with Auracast. It turns these places into communal hubs, making the audio experiences more engaging and shared. No more isolation from the world around us; instead, Auracast utilises Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) to create environments where audio sharing is seamless.

In crowded places with silent TVs, like sports bars or exhibitions, how do you tune into your preferred audio without the hassle? Auracast allows a single audio source to broadcast to an unlimited number of listening devices without the need for individual connections. It is a breakthrough that opens a world of possibilities—private listening, staying informed with announcements, or simply sharing music seamlessly with friends. Auracast, supported by Bluetooth LE audio, is shaping the future of how we interact with sound.

As a user, you might wonder, “How can I join Auracast?” Well, it is a breeze! First, you kick off with a familiar searching process, much like the routine of connecting to Wi-Fi—it’s intuitive and comfortable. A simple QR code scan is all it takes to start the Auracast broadcasts, levelling up convenience and connectivity. Next, you dive into Tapping, where a singular tap serves as your golden ticket to quick and hassle-free access, reflecting the streamlined efficiency we have come to love in modern tap-to-pay systems. With these three steps—searching, scanning, and tapping—Auracast unfolds as an exciting and user-friendly journey, promising a seamless entry into a world of groundbreaking audio experiences that await at your fingertips.

When will Auracast be available?
If you are rocking Bluetooth devices with versions 5.2 or 5.3 and LE Audio, you are in luck. As part of the Bluetooth family, Auracast doesn’t require extra tech wizardry to join the party—it just needs your devices to be up to date. The ball is then in the court of individual companies, and the buzz at CES and throughout 2023 suggests that many audio brands are gearing up to roll out support for Auracast via over-the-air updates in 2024.

In the Auracast ecosystem, we simplify roles using generic names. When we talk about the role of receiving audio broadcasts, it goes by the name ‘Auracast receiver,’ encompassing titles like broadcast sink, public broadcast sink, acceptor, hearing aid, and broadcast media receiver. On the flip side, the term “Auracast transmitter” takes the lead when it comes to sending out audio broadcasts, embracing roles such as broadcast source, public broadcast source, initiator, and broadcast media sender.

Simple Auracast transmitters

The physical form of an Auracast transmitter does not dictate its function. It could be a plug-in dongle for devices like phones, tablets, or PCs, a small box connected to sound systems or TVs, or even seamlessly integrated as a system-on-chip (SoC) or embedded module within consumer electronics. The versatility in form ensures that Auracast functionality can be effortlessly incorporated into various devices, promising a standardised audio experience for the users, regardless of the technical complexities behind the scenes.

Ensuring compliance with Auracast trademarks, all transmitters must transmit broadcast audio at 16kHz or 24kHz using the LC3 codec. This ensures compatibility with a wide range of devices, including resource-constrained ones like hearing aids, which may only support a standard quality public broadcast audio stream.

Auracast transmitters designed for public spaces are required to default to broadcasting a standard quality public broadcast audio stream. This ensures compatibility with various receiver devices, especially those with limited resources like hearing aids, which may only support standard quality streams. By prioritising standard quality in public locations, the smaller audio stream packets offer improved range and robustness against interference compared to high quality packets.

On the other hand, personal Auracast transmitters may default to high quality audio streams but must allow users to choose standard quality transmission. The manufacturer, and potentially the user, decide whether the standard quality stream is transmitted alongside or instead of the high quality stream, providing flexibility in audio preferences.

Bluetooth LE Audio broadcasters utilise extended and periodic advertisements to convey information about broadcast streams. Auracast transmitters, following the PBP specification, include the public broadcast announcement within extended advertisements. This announcement informs devices about the audio broadcast, helping them determine if it contains a standard quality or high-quality audio stream. This assists devices in selectively scanning for relevant streams, enhancing efficiency.

To ensure a user-friendly experience, Auracast transmitters include human-readable text strings in extended and periodic advertising data. Metadata relevant to all broadcast audio streams is included in extended advertising data, while specific or regularly changing metadata is placed in periodic advertising data. These configurations aim to identify streams, providing users with clear information unambiguously. The recommended settings for a public Auracast transmitter broadcasting a single broadcast is ochronous.

Shaping the future of Bluetooth audio

In the context of Bluetooth audio, the pioneering strides made by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. are truly captivating. Their consistent trailblazing was prominently displayed in 2023 with the introduction of Auracast broadcast audio. This groundbreaking contribution not only turned industry heads but also ignited a fervour among end-users, heralding a new era in audio experiences.

The Auracast Experience event, held at Mobile World Congress and other global industry gatherings, allowed users to immerse themselves in the capabilities of Auracast. For the first time, multiple Bluetooth wireless audio broadcasts coexisted in the same location, demonstrating the versatility and potential of this technology.

Auracast, fuelled by earbuds harnessed with the Qualcomm S5 Sound Platform, has opened uncharted territories for audio-sharing experiences. These earbuds serve as a prime example of the innovative implementation of Bluetooth SoCs (systems on chips) tailored specifically to support Auracast broadcast audio.

Beyond its prowess in audio sharing, Auracast has successfully tackled a significant challenge in Bluetooth audio—latency. In the gaming realm, where latency is paramount, Qualcomm Technologies has, in just two years, transformed Bluetooth audio latency from 200ms to a mere 20ms. This monumental achievement, facilitated by the Snapdragon Sound Technology Suite and Bluetooth LE Audio, has revolutionised gaming and spatial audio experiences.

According to Qualcomm’s State of Sound consumer research, a noteworthy percentage of users struggle to hear in busy environments, presenting an opportune space for Auracast to address individual hearing needs.

Looking ahead, 2024 promises substantial growth in health and wellness monitoring using Bluetooth technology. The combination of Bluetooth LE Audio’s lower power and flexibility, coupled with the advanced AI features in Qualcomm’s latest S7 Sound Platforms, foretells seamless and responsive user experiences with potential positive impacts on daily lives.



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Nidhi Agarwal
Nidhi Agarwal
Nidhi Agarwal is a journalist at EFY. She is an Electronics and Communication Engineer with over five years of academic experience. Her expertise lies in working with development boards and IoT cloud. She enjoys writing as it enables her to share her knowledge and insights related to electronics, with like-minded techies.

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