What's the verdict on bluetooth multicasting using Windows 7?
October 1, 2013 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Mrs. Van and I enjoy watching movies at night using XMBC on our HTPC (which runs Windows 7)... But in a Manhattan apartment with two kids under the age of 2, we're usually stuck watching foreign subtitled films, using bulky headphones with a splitter, or turning the volume up and down constantly on a Hollywood blockbuster. I bought a couple of bluetooth headphones and an adapter a while back. I got one of the headsets to pair, and while that works beautifully, I don't think there's a way (using the normal Broadcom drivers) to pair two at the same time. Is there a software product or workaround that would allow us to pair *multiple* bluetooth headsets, allowing both of us to listen to audio coming from the computer? Thanks.
posted by BobbyVan to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm anxious for a reply here, too. I attempted this with both windows 7 and windows 8 with Bluetooth headsets; I can pair one or the other at a time but not both. Tried with other hardware, such as bluetooth enabled phones and tablets, to no go. :( I read this back when I was initially trying to do such a thing, but it looks like really you need some kind of hardware that sits between the devices (broadcasting unit and receiving units).

This guy says you can do an end-run using a splitter, Audacity, and some male cords ... ymmv - the kids matured enough that I don't have them arguing over the one computer any more.
posted by tilde at 11:18 AM on October 1, 2013

I'm not sure about pairing multiple sets of BlueTooth headphones directly with your Windows machine, but you could probably feed the analog out from the PC into a standalone BlueTooth audio transmitter and pair the second set of headphones with that.
posted by contraption at 11:19 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually I guess you'd want to use of those units sharing the line out with a Y-cord, since it sounds like piping XBMC output to multiple targets is not an option on Win7.
posted by contraption at 11:45 AM on October 1, 2013

This suggestion is a bit off the wall, but Rokus have a headphone plug in the wireless remote. You could plug a splitter in there and then both have sound without bugging your kids. The Roku 3 costs about $100 and does Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, Amazon video, and will play MKV files from an external hard drive, so you could consider getting one of those if the bluetooth thing does not work out.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:46 AM on October 1, 2013

ARGH! Sorry about the typo, you'd want to use two of those units.
posted by contraption at 11:55 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you'll do better with Infrared (IR) than bluetooth as your transmission medium-- Bluetooth's stereo audio fidelity is adequate for one person on its best day, and I'm not speaking as some green-marker-waving audiophile.

I also am aware that IR headphones are not perfect, and might have complicating problems such as being sensitive to head position and such. However, if you have an identical pair of headphones, it seems reasonable to expect that both will read the same data encoding on the IR transmitter, and thus a single transmitter would support both sets of headphones, and of course you'd have a spare. Maybe the spare could sit in reserve, or be connected to a second audio source (a stereo, a baby monitor, a microphone that listens to your neighbors, whatever, I don't judge). I'm not positive that headphones would like two sources at once, but that's for experimentation.

Pay attention to reviews on the IR headphones, though, and look at the phones themselves to make sure you'll be comfortable wearing them in a position such that the receivers will work, and you'll still be able to hear when you turn your head and such. I'm not familiar with the phones themselves, as much as some complaints from someone who was shopping for them.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:13 PM on October 1, 2013

Best answer: you have 2 issues here -

1. your bluetooth doodad needs to be v4 (or possibly only v3?) to actively connect multiple devices at the same time (not simply statically recording which receivers it knows about). I recommend this - inexpensive and I have zero complaints with it.
2. it doesn't matter if you pair multiple audio sinks at the same time, windows will only output to one of them. it's not a bluetooth thing, it's purely windows going "yeah, I will send audio HERE and nowhere else." I had researched this about 6 months ago - it looked like there is 3rd party software to get around this, but it seemed like too much work.

(3.) idea: there are some (NB: very few) bluetooth speakers that come with a 3.5mm audio output. I don't know why this is so rare, the additional parts and design are very cheap and it seems like more people than just me would want this feature. get something like this and plug your splitter and both headphones into that. (yes, I also have one of these and love it, although I paid less than half the current listed price. it's also surprisingly effective without being overpowering, you may not even need headphones)

obvs. with #3 you'd might need to get less bulky wired headphones, but the source being non-wired and mobile is a benefit. also look into inexpensive wired headsets with volume sliders/wheels etc.
posted by dorian at 3:46 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback and ideas. We're basically wedded to our current XBMC setup, so the Roku sounds nice but isn't an option for us.

The IR headphones idea is interesting. There shouldn't be a technical reason those wouldn't work (I know that interpretation headsets often multicast IR without a problem). But I don't think you're going to get high quality audio using IR signals... at least based on my experience.

The bluetooth speaker with audio output seems like the best option for now. It's another device to purchase, and we'd still be dealing with wires, but at least we're not tripping over long cables running from the receiver to the sofa.

Just curious, dorian: is the 3rd party software to get around the Windows "one audio device at a time" restriction Virtual Audio Cable? I looked at that too but kind of blanched at how complicated it seemed.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:51 AM on October 2, 2013

thanks BobbyVan, yeah, VAC was the one, and it was a right pain. I felt bad for not being able to come up with the name, but that was a while ago and I could not recall the software and for some reason basic searching was not coming up with anything. I feel like there were 1 or 2 others, and they were even more highly annoying. this is something that you could do fairly easily in XP but vista/7/8 broke that.

the BEM speaker was less than 30 USD (spamazon price fluctuates quite a lot, and amazon often had 20 bucks coupon on the product page itself) - and the company also has a NON-battery version which simply plugs into the wall and ALSO has a stereo mini-jack. I'm more than happy to recommend since mine (battery version) stopped working months after the amazon return period ended, and BEM sent me a new one no questions asked. (and actually "stopped working" is a bit inaccurate - it kept working very well, only that the charging LED died)
posted by dorian at 7:21 AM on October 2, 2013

Best answer: BobbyVan, I'm curious about why you don't like the Bluetooth audio transmitter solution I suggested upthread and just want to clarify that it would definitely work as a method for getting audio from XBMC to your Bluetooth headphones since it doesn't rely on Windows settings at all; both transmitters are connected only to the analog audio out from the HTPC, and as far as Windows is concerned you're just feeding a standard set of desktop speakers. This solution leaves all the wire mess in the cabinet and allows you to use your existing Bluetooth headphones. Not to be pushy, but to me it seems like the best workaround short of teaching Windows new tricks, and I wonder why you're discarding it in favor of throwing a Bluetooth speaker under the couch and running wires from that up to two pairs of wired headphones that you may or may not already own. I'm afraid my garbled presentation may have made my suggested method unclear.
posted by contraption at 11:03 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the followup, contraption. You're right that I didn't quite understand your suggestion and even now I'm not 100% sure that I've got it. If I'm reading you correctly, I use my Y-splitter to make two 3.5 mm connections, and I plug a Bluetooth transmitter into each of them. Then I pair headphones (1) and (2) with the separate transmitters and voila?

If that's the idea I think it would also work really well. In fact, I could just use my AV receiver (leaving out the HTPC entirely). My AV receiver already has the ability to stream bluetooth audio, so I could just get one of these bluetooth audio transmitters going on the headphone jack and problem solved! I think I'll try this solution first.

Thanks again for flagging your answer for me and re-explaining it!!
posted by BobbyVan at 12:22 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use my Y-splitter to make two 3.5 mm connections, and I plug a Bluetooth transmitter into each of them. Then I pair headphones (1) and (2) with the separate transmitters and voila?

Yep, that's the idea. Your idea with the receiver's built-in Bluetooth may or may not work, depending on the details of the receiver itself, since sometimes plugging something into the headphone jack will defeat the other audio outputs, and this might go for the Bluetooth output as well.
posted by contraption at 1:01 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

yeah contraption has a truly great idea, thank you - going about it in a very different way. split analog output over to 2 BT transmitters, then pair headset/receivers individually to each transmitter. I may well have to give that a shot.

wish I'd thought about it along those lines back when I needed it - so, many props to you, contraption.

one thing, and not a criticism - the inexpensive BT headsets I've tried (arctic P311 20-30 bucks, there are many variants/rebranding just go for the one sold by amazon for prime and for best return/support), have had noticeable audio lag, but in all other ways satisfactory. not a big deal if your media player easily allows audio delay+/- (no problem with vlc, gom player)

my absolute love for sheer quality and coolness is the original SuperTooth Disco R58. their later DISCO2 and DISCO3 are pairs of speakers (thanks to BT v4), but still(??!?) NO audio-out lines, still only audio-input jacks - which saddens me. (also the original DISCO R58 is a bit of a slice of fried gold - great speakers, gorgeous enclosure, brilliant volume dial, superb sounds) - at some point I am going to have to hack a line-out on the original Disco.

posted by dorian at 3:34 PM on October 2, 2013

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