Picture this Venn diagram which I am too lazy to draw. One circle is called “Bluetooth profiles”. The other circle is called “native Windows 7 support”. The two circles almost totally overlap. Inside the intersection are all sorts of profiles — headset, human interface, printing, file transfer. But there is a tiny little sliver of the Bluetooth circle not covered by the Windows 7 circle. In that sliver is A2DP.
This is what I discovered when trying to use a Bluetooth stereo headset with my PC. What makes the situation worse is how close I came to making it work.
An old Bluetooth dongle sits at the bottom of a dusty box of unused gadgets. I plug it into my PC, fearing the worst — the hardware is older than the operating system I’m expecting it to run on. To my surprise, all goes smoothly. To my delight it is natively supported. I am spared the horrors of third-party drivers.
Now the problems start.
First, Windows 7 — with all its access to the cloud — cannot find a driver. With some internet scouring I find one (that link mentions a particular headset brand — the drivers are actually suitable for many, perhaps all, headsets). Problem two: it sounds terrible. Turns out it’s using the headset profile which is for making calls and hence not good, stereo quality. Moreover, it turns out that the Windows 7 Bluetooth stack I was previously so pleased with does not support A2DP, the profile for stereo audio.
So who does support A2DP in their Bluetooth stacks?
- Toshiba does. And it works great with A2DP. But running on non-Toshiba hardware you only get a 30-day trial. (Worse still, it doesn’t have an uninstall option so I feel sorry for any non-technical user who reaches the end of this trial period.)
- Widcomm does, but their installer hangs endlessly trying to detect my dongle (ahem). Pity, because the Widcomm drivers I get from Asus for my Eee PC work well and have a nice interface.
- BlueSoleil is what bundled with my dongle, but the drivers are so old I don’t want to try installing them. The company have newer drivers, but charge €20 for them, which is extortionate if you ask me given that the dongles are less than $10. (I’ve read that even more modern dongles don’t come bundled with the latest driver software.)
What does this all mean at the end of the day? The Windows 7 native stack will work fine with your Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, printer, even your headset if you don’t mind crappy audio quality. If you want proper A2DP stereo sound, you’ll need to rely on third-party Bluetooth drivers. If you’ve got a laptop that supports Bluetooth, chances are you’ll have access to drivers that support A2DP (even if they might be a little clunky and ugly). If you’ve got a cheap dongle, there’s a good chance it comes with BlueSoleil, in which case good luck — you’re going to need it.