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back to article Sonos and I: How home media playback just gets SO FRUSTRATING

Going through the installation of a couple of Sonos Play:1 speakers in a cottage lacking any form of Hi-Fi or video storage/playing devices got me thinking about just much existing Hi-Fi, TV and DVD systems suck - big time. My house has multiple variously incompatible devices stuck in time warps of point functionality. The …

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If you think Chris Mellor is being over the top about TV sound ...

... does your computer have a fancy sound system capable of bass tones?

It does? Head to iPlayer, find an episode of Dad's Army, and play the first minute or so, so you can listen to the theme tune.

What is that you are hearing? Is it a part for an upright bass that you've never noticed before? That's because your TV's speakers aren't up to it, nor all your previous TVs, all the way back to when Dad's Army first aired.

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Aaand: If you want to get TeeVee, these days it is distributed via IP - which will need another box and a remote for that box (and the box requires a cable to the broadband modem) -> The Reason I do not have TV, I don't want another poxy box + zapper + cabling.

I want one TV, that displayeth moving pictures, one set of wireless speakers to handle the sound and one remote-app to rule them all!

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With Christmas so close I'm seriously tempted...

I ummed & ahhed last year, then finally plumped for a Play 3 because it came with a bridge and 6 months' Napster included in the price. It really is an amazing product and I'm seriously tempted to add another component this Christmas.

It connected to my NAS with ease and since the bridge can connect to your router, you can listen to radio on t'interwebs and also search for podcasts. They really are class products!

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Remote apps

I like the concept of apps acting as remote control for everything, except in general they suck.

First problem - an app for each box, each with it's own UI, is almost as annoying as a remote control for each box. Finding the correct app to do the right thing often takes longer than reaching for the table and picking up the correct remote control (particularly for commonly used devices).

Second problem - the apps take too long to connect. And sometimes they don't connect, for no apparent reason. The sky+ app and my onkyo receiver app have both these issues occasionally. When they are connected and working, great (though switching to the right bit of the interface is often a pain) - I generally use the Onkyo app for browsing spotify rather than having to turn the TV on to do it, but for all other features I use the Onkyo physical remote (it helps that this also acts as a universal remote for the TV and sky box).

In general remote apps are a useful addition to the physical remote, but one which gets used far less (at least in my house).

I went with the cheap remote speakers option (£80 UHF speakers) rather than Sonos - and they work remarkably well, and have a better usable range than Wi-fi or bluetooth. I use them for zone 2 on my amp rather than as rear speakers - I doubt they sound anywhere near as good as my wired remote speakers (or the Play:1).

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Re: Remote apps

With you there - when the phone's ringing or your partner is yelling at you to turn it down, a standard, 'always-on' infrared remote is the way to go.

I've also yet to find an 'app' with the required features that is even close to usable without having to look at the blasted thing. The raised, tactile nature of a conventional remote means that, after a short while, most people can operate the thing without really looking, save for when you first pick it up and position your hand. Even then, most well-designed remotes are contoured so your hand generally slips into the same position each time.

And, while remotes can (and do) end up down the back of the couch, I don't think I've had to search the house for one, finding it in the bathroom or under the bedspread or in my partner's bag. That's because it's not overly useful in any of those places. A tablet/smart-phone, however, is far more likely to go walking. So, either buy a dedicated device for the system or be prepared to argue about whether changing tracks is more important than an Angry Birds high score. Even then, if you have it controlling multiple devices in multiple rooms, you may have to choose between the ability to pause your movie in the lounge or you partner's ability to change the radio station in the bedroom. A device in each room is a very nice solution but far from cheap!

Sure you might say that most people have a smart phone these days but, even imagining that that is the case, you end up with an angry wife, unable to call you because you left your phone in the study again after using it to cue up the ultimate Smiths playlist.

Of course, a 'smart' device can do much more and generally with a much richer (or even customisable) interface and a WLAN-capable device has the advantage of being useful from locations without line-of-sight; something quite handy with multi-room systems like the Sonos.

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great article

It is pretty surprising that all of the sources are set up to play through the crappiest speakers in the house.

I think someone has figured out how to take audio into a Raspberry Pi, grab it and stream it across a network. It isn't going to be compatible with your Sonos setup but will be cheap at the tradeoff that you will probably have hours of "enjoyment" tinkering with it.

I've been searching for a cheap alternative to the Sonos setup, and think there may be a solution in a Raspberry Pi, with open source slimplayer/squeezebox clients. Server may not be as beautiful but it is possible to sync clients together.

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Re: great article

I picked up an airport express recently as it supports being a wireless client for airplay streams. Has an analogue audio out so I could plug it into my existing hifi. Happily controlling from an android remote-control app and there are Linux tools if you want to integrate an Rpi too. Cost about 70 quid, but really saved me a load of hassle - ymmv :-)

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APJ
Happy

Re: great article

The Squeezebox doesn't get much of a mention these days as Logitech appear to have destroyed it. I have half a dozen or so SB devices scattered around the house as well as software players on phones and laptops. Has been an amazing multi-room system for the past (getting on for) 10 years. I still have two of the original SLiMP3 players, though they can't handle Spotify, sadly. But Slimserver still performs extremely well and has absolutely brilliant 3rd party support for iPlayer, Spotify, Last.fm, Deezer, Pandora, etc.

The SlimServer was my first exposure to the possibilities of Open Source, and although it's now suffering a little from feature bloat, it's a tremendous piece of kit. At one time I had it integrated over xPL to HomeSeer so that a SliMP3 player could route IR commands to the SB Server which would control the house lights and alarm system over X10. Ah, the days before the kids arrived...

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Thumb Up

Re: great article

+1 for SqueezeBox... I bought quite a bit of reserve when they announced the end, and prices were already falling, so it was dirt cheap compared to Sonos.

And since Squeeze was the only real competitor for Sonos, I'm not surprised to read this article on El Reg. No other choice.

And while I'm at it, here's a big F.Y. Logitech. Bunch of idiots!

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Anonymous Coward

F.Y. Logitech

From me too.

Brilliant product, decently priced and well loved by an enthusiastic customer base. Chopped. Because Logitech bosses' brains weren't big enough for it, so they threw it away. All they can understand is keyboards and mice, and even then they'd better not be connected to or with anything Linux. Oh dear me, no.

Bastards.

Been buying them up at good prices, petur? Good for you. Good investment! Wish I had a couple of spares.

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Re: F.Y. Logitech

And another one from me.

Note that Squeezebox is not dead by a long shot. The software is open source and there are various options for creating new players such as installing a player app on a smartphone (Squeezeplay + SqueezeCommander on Android, or iPeng on the iPhone). As suggested above, it is possible to get working a player based on a Raspberry Pi. However, probably the most interesting thing on the horizon is something called Community Squeeze, which is "a project to produce an audiophile quality Squeezebox compatible music player". This has made huge progress just in the last few months.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Community Squeeze, etc

Yes, indeed. Very promising.

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Wouldn't it be easier

To just use a PC/Mac connected to manage everythin?

I have a £150 Windows PC connected to an amplifier with decent speakers. Same PC connects to a projector for films. Can control over whatever method I prefer.

Speaker cables are run along the skirting boards - plenty of easy ways to hide them.

I'd like to go wireless for the HDMI connection, just not got round to it yet.

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Sorry, but...

Why do you need a separate sound system for your tv. I don't have a main tv for this reason. I use a smart HD HDD recorder and an HD monitor. The sound output goes into my hi-fi system and the HDMI outout goes to the monitor. That's all I need.

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Re: Sorry, but...

While I would in no way recommend the device in the article my TV is in a place suitable for viewing and my audio system for listening to music is in a different place - to use it for TV audio would not be nice -especially as the screen would probably resonate at moderate volume.

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Nice.... but not quite there yet !

Sorry to be a spoilsport but I assume that Sonos speakers ...for all their pricey greatness are still not fully wireless speakers...

They need some form of power source and - as I doubt they provide high power sound with two AAA batteries - they need some form of messy cabled wired mains connection....

The Sonos website artfully avoids the question and shows us carefully oriented shots of speakers in designer living rooms seemingly not connected to anything.... a bit misleading no?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nice.... but not quite there yet !

There's also no mention of the word 'mono' on the play 1..

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Re: Nice.... but not quite there yet !

To the two above

1. Power supply - Sonos units all plug in to the mains - which is a shame as it'd be nice to have a fully portable unit to take out in to the garden.

2. Mono - nope all devices are at least stereo, however with the Play series you can use a pair as 'stero' speakers - i.e. one covering left and one covering right.

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I bought this for £18 in 2009: http://www.play.com/PC/PCs/4-/5180776/-/Product.html

and while it certainly won't solve the TV issues, it's an easy and CHEAP way of streaming music from the computer onto decent speakers.

I really would have expected to see better and cheaper solutions than Sonos by now.

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Anonymous Coward

But that doesn't let you sync music between rooms, or (alternatively) play different music in different rooms, control the various rooms from your phone, tablet etc. It's nothing like the Sonos system. That's essentially just a cable from the soundcard in your pc to speakers, except the cable is a wifi connection. Sonos is much more than that (as are similar systems like the Squeezeboxs I use in the house)

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Bronze badge

I've always found that having more than one music player/clock radio/tranny assists greatly with the 'playing something different in a different room' scenario. I didn't realise that it was an issue in these days of cheap leccytronics.

Must be just me.

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Anonymous Coward

Ha.

And a clock radio streams your music from your itunes library / mp3 folder on your NAS, stream spotify, napster, deezer, sync them together, or don't, let you control them from your phone etc etc, do they?

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This is what is known as a first world problem.

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Anonymous Coward

So is your fridge, washing machine or boiler breaking down. Not sure what point you're trying to make.

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bed

Indeed, Sorry But…

Indeed, Sorry But…

I have wondered why people persist in the plethora of devices. As “This Side Up” notes, one suitably equipped PC can do the lot: TV (freesat and/or or freeview), DVD, streaming video and audio, ripped video and audio, etc. And, at the same time, you can read el-reg and heat the room with the video projector.

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Re: Indeed, Sorry But…

No it cant. No PC is going to be able to replace a top end amp. Yes freeview is easy. A blu ray player is easy to fit. But you need that big black box to get the best from DTS HD.

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bed

Re: Indeed, Sorry But…

Aplogies, the need for an ampifier (and loudspeakers) was assumed. And a TOS link I suppose (for listening to pron maybe?)

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Anonymous Coward

Less lazy shopping would have fixed this.

You bought Sonos, because that's all you knew, it's the classic "iPhone factor", did you even look at alternatives like the excellent Creative D5xm Signature Series? Bet not.....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Less lazy shopping would have fixed this.

So either you work for Creative or you don't get what the "Post anonymously" box is for. Here's a clue, it's not just so you can be rude.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Less lazy shopping would have fixed this.

I'm confused - you're comapring a wireless speaker system with an audio streaming system

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good sound is hard

you've hit your head on a big nail.

When I upgraded my TV this year, I dumped my 7.1 system and bought a zvox box to sit under the TV. The sound is pretty good, required one cable to hook to the TV for sound out and the system learns other remotes (so the cable box remote now turns on and off the tv and the volume buttons control the zvox box). The TV has four hdmi inputs so I use it as the switch between cable/games/media computer/bluray.

The zvox isn't perfect... 7.1 surround isn't supported on Blu-ray for example(so I use stereo) but its a much simpler setup that other members in the family can actually figure out and use.

Two things that are cool about the zvox are it has remote buttons for output leveling (no more super loud commercials) and dialogue enhancement. It also has a couple of extra buttons for surround fx, bass/treble,

btw I'm not associated with zvox in anyway... just bought their product.

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uses a smart phone ... as the remote control unit.

Seems a lousy idea to me. What are you going to do when the smartphone is ringing? The sound needs to be turned off or the volume needs to be reduced, but the phone call pushes the response/reject screen on top f whatever the phone was doing. Fiddling with the bloody phone to adjust the volume or mute while it is ringing is the last thing that I want to do.

I have all the sound in the living room go through one high quality receiver/amplifier that is connected to a good speaker set. The receiver has a remote which I use to adjust the sound regardless of the source of the signal. I definitely don't want a bunch of stupid apps on my smartphone for that. Moreover, the remote has a multitude of options and settings related to sound that no 3rd party ersatz is likely to match.

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Re: uses a smart phone ... as the remote control unit.

Dunno how the Sonos does it, but the Squeezebox stuff handles that - if my phone rings, it pauses the music and when we're done it plays again. You can even tell it not to play again if the call went on for more than 'x' time.

Long live my discontinued squeezebox.

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Relax

Relax and just buy a Synology (NAS) a PS3 and an Amp... Synology will stream music, video, photos via DLNA to the PS3 which you fibre into your amp.. that pretty much covers everything except MKV

What more do you need?

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Re: Relax

... money to pay for all the electric that lot will consume?

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Re: Relax

"Relax and just buy a Synology (NAS) a PS3 and an Amp"

I used to do this (but with a Lacie NAS - RIP) and it wasn't a bad setup, considering everything I needed to do it was already in place anyway, but it's not a great setup:

1 - The PS3 doesn't have a great system for navigating your music. I had 600+ albums on my NAS and the PS3 presented them to me all in one big long list. There were then delays when scrolling through that list.

2 - Does the PS3 still leave a gap of something like 5 secs after playing a track, while it caches the next? Not great when the tracks are supposed to blend into each other.

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Wireless - not.

"These are square tower enclosures, about six inches high"

A 6" tower? Making a mountain out of a mole hill I think.

My old CRT TV would let me disconnect the built in speakers, and plug in a decent pair of book shelf speakers. That was fine for watching TV. But the new LCD has only got a digital out so I need something more complex, have to turn on the receiver...

My TV room in my older house only has two power outlets. One behind the TV stand and the other on the other side of the room. So wireless speakers are out, I'll take speaker wire over extension cords any day.

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Already available

Dead easy one. RPi with Openelec at the TV running sound over bluetooth to amp-mounted receiver. The XBMC or Yatse app for phones and tablet is your remote. All works really well and cost £25 in total. Job done

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Re: Already available

No idea why anyone would down vote you, as it is a sensible solution. I have openelec on two mini PCs (atom ion chipset) , connected to amps and TV, just for that. Completely independent music and video on each room. An Android remote controls each using the wifi, switching between media centres without any issue. Surely it is flexible enough and cheap enough?

Or is that the problem, that it won't be in the same price range as the monster cables? :D

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Problems with your speaker system?

Have you tried throwing money at over priced tat and then having a rant at the intertubes because it doesn't work as you want?

You want a receiver and speakers. You bought an amp. It's a damn fancy amp, granted, but it is not a receiver. Your main complaint here is that TV speakers are rubbish, your Sonos speakers are awesome, but there is no way to connect the two. As far as I can work out, the Sonos system can't take any audio input at all - it's an amp that you can only use for streaming stuff from your phone, using their app.

If you had a receiver, you would plug your video and audio sources in to the receiver. You plug your TV into the receiver. You plug the speakers in to the receiver with wire. You hide the wire under skirting boards, carpets or floorboards, or pin to the walls and paint. Sound goes to speakers, video goes to TV.

A bargain receiver costs about £100, bargain speaker set around the same, add in any streaming device you like - well, any that provide an audio out option...

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Conectivity

We won't get decent connectivity of 'anything to anything' and control of 'everything through anything' until there's (1) a standard, and (2) everyone adopts that standard. And it means being prepared to upgrade to product which supports the standard as it won't be a retrofit option for everything. It's a story as old as the hills.

Ironically Sonos appear to use their own proprietary protocols as does everyone else. The best most of us can do is buy as much from one manufacturer as possible and hope they meet our needs and have done a decent job in what they provide. That is rather limiting and the antithesis of the 'separates' concept most techno-geeks prefer.

It is possible to have control of everything from a single smart phone with some hardware hacking but not without 'rolling your own' or paying someone to do tha. It's a lot of effort and cost, renders warranty void or means unsightly wired IR modules stuck on equipment, or buying custom product. Routing and converting signals is equally a challenge but can be done. There is no elegant, simple, cheap solution at present.

CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) is making things better and easier and is probably a part of the solution but not everything supports CEC. I suspect we will only get a solution by pushing for one, encouraging all players to get on the same sheet. I don't know anyone who doesn't get frustrated with having a dozen remote controls, needing multiple controls for even simple setups, but manufacturers don't seem to care beyond promoting 'buy our integrated system' which is most likely incompatible with everyone else's.

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Coat

"receive the sounds they are going to play by a proprietary Sonos Wi-Fi network"

This may be a start, but the first thing that needs to happen is a standard so that all the gear can interoperate!

http://xkcd.com/927/ - standard XKCD reference for my own post!

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Anonymous Coward

First world problems

But it's nice to know you have a nice cottage ;)

wireless audio for music is fine but in a wireless setup for video, latency and sync become more of a problem (especially for multi channel surround) No one likes audio that's out of sync with the video.

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Re: First world problems

^ this.

I bought 2 x Sonos 5's. They were superb for music (barring occasional loss of signal due to interference from other networks in the apartment block). They even had analog line in.

The problem came with attempting to route tv signal through them using audio out from the led tv. The Sonos system has a slight delay activating it's network among the devices when sound is sent to it. Not a problem with music, but results in issues with video sound sync. Ended up selling them and went for a Bose box which has the tv plugged in via optical. I wonder how they resolved it with their Sonos soundbar.

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Re: First world problems

Most of his solution jars with anything I would want to do, but I'm pretty sure my TV has a latency tweak to cater for your issue.

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Re: First world problems

The Sonos Playbar's controls within the Sonos App has settings that enable you to adjust the latency between the Video and sound signals.

I have the PlayBar and two Play3's running at home, and have never experienced any issue with the Video and sound going out of sync.

They really are amazing bits of kit, but the price is eyewatering!

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Quality? Really?

The author wrote (about the Play 1's) - "the sound quality is simply amazing, with crystal-clear trebles, sumptuously smooth mid-range tones and solid base."

I helped install a couple of Play 3's for someone a couple weeks back (installation rating - yeah, pretty easy) —which I presume are supposed to be better than the Play 1's — but I have to say... well, I'm just hoping the owner doesn't read this, but I wouldn't buy them. Not even at well under half the price. I would put them as close to the statement above as Voyager 1 is to me right about now. My old analogue speakers (not expensive or high-end even over a decade ago) and cheapo amp knock seven bells out of those Sonos units. Pity, I was really keen on the idea for a moment...

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Re: Quality? Really?

Not sure what was wrong with the pair you set up Scott, but my Play 3 has the best sound I've had in anything even remotely resembling the same size. My old 6 foot stacks had nothing on the Play 3 which is barely 10cm tall.

I could not be happier with my Play 3. Only thing that I do find annoying is that there's no easy way to get PC Audio to play through the system (at least not without a particularly annoying delay). Although my neighbours are probably happy about this as the sound of my gaming coming from the Play 3 rather then my PC speakers might be a bit more substantial...

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Is it that hard?

I want back ground music. Turn in TV, connect to my server, listen to music. And yes, for background music the sound from a my Philips TV is fine - it even has a built in bass speaker in the stand to fill the sound out. Great? No. But fine for background.

Easy, better quality music. Same as above, but turn on the amplifier as well.

Great quality: either turn on laptop and listen to FLAC files via the amplifier or just play the CD on the BluRay. Either via the digital or stereo connection to the amplifier, not via the TV.

Where is the problem - all my kit talks to each other, either digitally or using analogue signals (without everything being routed via the TV). Even my old cheap and nasty DVD player that we got for the bedroom had audio out on it so that you could listen to audio directly from it...

I'm not getting this article. The author has equipment he isn't happy with because they don't communicate. And now it's obvious, because he bought a new way of playing music. That doesn't connect with the rest either...

That XKCD link is so appropriate! :)

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Pre-ducted skirting board

For the money spent of the wireless speakers you could get pre-grooved skirting boards that could hide all your cables.

And they can look good too, not just plastic tat.

For example.http://www.wood-floor.co.uk/accessories_doors/skirting.shtml

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