There are no less than six distinct means of accessing your iTunes media (with or without an iOS device) on one of Denon’s new A/V receivers. And now Denon has finally followed through on their September announcement regarding AirPlay, bringing the total to seven. So how does the new AirPlay support stack up to the other six options? To find out, I took a look at one of the new AVR-4311CI receivers Denon has in its lineup.
Out of the Box
The chart below indicates at a glance what each connection solution does and doesn’t provide. Read on for more specific details about each potential solution.
Direct USB Connection. The cheapest way to get your music going is to use the USB cable that came with your iOS device. While there’s a USB port both in the front and the back of the AVR-4311CI, only one works at any given time. For the price, you can’t beat it.
Media Server via Twonky DLNA Server. The Denon AVR-4311CI can connect to a media server on your local network. This is the same sort of connectivity that exists on most game consoles and modern television sets today. Twonky is a Mac-based DLNA server that I used prior to AirPlay’s introduction of video support. While the 4311CI Media Server supports both music and photos, the quality of photo playback is very poor.
Airport Express via Toslink. Attaching an Airport Express directly to the A/V receiver via Toslink cable provides access to your iTunes music library. I docked the Airport Express in a Griffin AirBase and even attached a Keyspan USB Remote Control to the Airport Express’ USB port for control. With iOS 4.2, though, you can now use the Remote App to access your iTunes library over Wi-Fi, or even stream music directly from your iOS device to the Airport Express via AirPlay.
Apple’s Universal Dock via Component Cables. Video playback from your iOS device can be achieved using the Apple Universal Dock and the Apple Component AV Cable. If you dock an iOS device, you can even watch YouTube and Netflix from your device.
Denon’s iPod Dock. By far the most expensive connection solution, Denon has a complete line-up of iPod docks that attach to their product line either directly or over the network. I have the ASD-11R attached to my AVR-4311CI via a set of composite audio cables, S-video connection, and a proprietary controller cable that links the amp’s remote control features to the dock. As you get into Denon’s more expensive docks, you basically turn your iPod into a DLNA server, at which point you can then connect to your iPod as if it were a Media Server.
Apple TV via HDMI. Perhaps the most advanced means of getting your full iTunes library onto a Denon A/V Receiver, and definitely the most economical, is the Apple TV. It provides HD video playback, Airplay and Home Sharing support, on-screen navigation and display of information, the works. There is no reason not to have one, and in fact, I have three.
AirPlay Support via Paid Upgrade
Both Denon and Marantz, subsidiaries of D&M Holdings, each claimed to be the world’s first AirPlay-compatible A/V components. Each is also charging $49 for the upgrade, which are finally available for download. The process to register your receiver for the upgrade requires the serial number, MAC address and an upgrade ID generated by the device itself. The mechanics of how AirPlay works is exactly the same as the other solutions. Even the screen layout is exactly the same as the USB, Media Server, and Denon Dock-based solutions. The only difference is that you must use your iOS device, iTunes or the iOS Remote App from Apple to select media you want to play.
Conclusion: Apple TV or USB
Depending on whether or not you need video, the two best solutions are the direct USB cable connection and the Apple TV. AirPlay doesn’t offer any clear advantage over any of the other solutions available, especially not given its cost. For a little more, you can have the full Apple TV experience, as well as everything AirPlay has to offer, including HD video.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):