The AirPlay 2 protocol allows users to group multiple HomePods or other supported speakers for multi-room audio. However, it appears that Apple has been working on a new way to take the AirPlay 2 speaker grouping feature even further with iOS 16.1 beta.
New feature to group HomePods and AirPlay 2 speakers
As found by 9to5Mac, code from the first beta of iOS 16.1, released to developers last week, includes references to a new way to create a group of speakers in the Home app. At this point, details on how the new feature will work are unclear, but some strings seen by 9to5Mac give us an idea of how it will work.
Currently, you can group two or more HomePods or supported AirPlay 2 speakers by choosing them from the AirPlay menu. However, this group of speakers is temporary, so that you will eventually have to select all speakers again if you want to play something with multi-room audio.
With this update, users should be able to create a permanent speaker group in the Home app, making this process much easier. One of the messages hidden in the beta code shows that the speaker group can be set as the default audio output of an Apple TV.
An interesting detail is that the code makes it clear that all speakers within a group must use the same Siri language, otherwise they cannot be linked together. The system will prompt the user to automatically set all speakers to the same Siri language to continue group pairing.
It’s worth noting that references to this feature have been removed from iOS 16.1 beta 2, so it may be a while before this option becomes available.
Feature Request: True Surround Mode for HomePods
Earlier this year, I wrote an op-ed about how Apple should create a true surround mode for the HomePod. Currently, you can set up two HomePods together as a stereo pair, but that’s it. You can group more than two HomePods to play audio in multiple rooms, but each will replicate the same mono audio output.
Since the HomePod supports Dolby Atmos, a technology that enables three-dimensional sound, a true surround mode would take the experience of using HomePods as TV speakers to the next level. Just imagine if you could place three or more HomePods in the same room to play true Dolby sound.
Unfortunately, we don’t know if the new HomePods + AirPlay 2 group feature makes this possible, but I’m excited to see the new option in action – if Apple ever releases it.
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