Instead of making you choose between Apple AirPlay and Google Cast, Sony's latest whole-home speakers will work with both.
The SRS-X77, SRS-X88, and SRS-X99 are the first speakers to include AirPlay and Google Cast, both of which let users send audio from a networked phone, tablet, or computer. The speakers are also compatible with Spotify Connect, so users can beam audio directly from Spotify's mobile apps.
While AirPlay and Google Cast are conceptually similar, they have some important differences. AirPlay transmits audio directly from iOS or Mac devices over Wi-Fi, whereas Google Cast basically sends the speaker instructions to stream the music from the Internet, working with iOS, Android, and the Chrome browser. The advantage for Google Cast is that it doesn't drain battery life and won't interrupt audio if the Casting device gets disconnected, but it only works with the specific apps that support it. AirPlay works with nearly any audio app, including iTunes (and the new Apple Music).
Casting capabilities aside, Sony is also promising multi-room audio capabilities, similar to Sonos' popular line of speakers. Users can download Sony's SongPal app to manage multiple speakers, sound bars, and receivers. (We're not certain, however, if whole-home audio works with Google Cast and AirPlay; we've asked Sony for clarification.)
The SRS-X77 is the cheapest of Sony's new models, at $300 with 40 watts and a built-in subwoofer, but unlike the other models it doesn't support high-resolution audio formats such as FLAC, WAV, and ALAC. For $400, the SRS-X88 has 90 watts and five speakers--two tweeters, two mid-range drivers, and a subwoofer--while the $700 SRS-X99 has 154 watts and adds two super tweeters. They're all up for pre-order now, with late July shipping.
Why this matters: If you're spending hundreds of dollars on speakers, you probably want them to work with as many devices and music services as possible. Combining AirPlay and Google Cast helps Sony cover all the bases, and gives the company a unique selling point over LG's Music Flow speakers and the vast array of AirPlay speakers on the market.