Controlling Media Playback

A media session is a single abstract representation of a single playing source in the Chrome ecosystem. This could be something like an ARC++ app or a browser tab.

Sessions request audio focus from the media session service and the service maintains a connection to each media session on the platform. This can be used to receive metadata and control media playback in a unified way on Chrome.

Audio Focus

When audio focus is enabled all the different media sessions will request audio focus. A media session can request three different types of audio focus:

  • Gain - If a gain session acquires focus then all other sessions will stop playing and will not be resumed even when the session is destroyed. In most cases, this is the type that will be used.
  • Gain Transient - If a transient session acquires focus then all other sessions will stop playing, but will be resumed when that session is destroyed. This is used for temporary playbacks.
  • Gain Transient May Duck - If a ducking session acquires focus then all other sessions will continue playing but at a reduced volume. When that session is destroyed it will continue at the previous volume. This is used for short sounds e.g. notifications.

Each WebContents (tab) in Chrome has it's own media session and will request Gain audio focus in most cases. If the media is only a few seconds then it will request the ducking focus type.

In ARC++ each app can make audio focus requests using the Android Audio Manager API. Each of these requests is a media session in Chrome and can be any one of the three above audio focus types.

To reduce the impact of single session audio focus we currently have grouping enabled. By default, all media sessions will have a unique “group id”. All browser media session have the same group id. When a session acquires focus it will not pause any other session with the same group id. Likewise, if playback is resumed automatically all sessions with the same group id will be resumed. This allows all the browser tabs to share audio focus and play concurrently, but still behave as individual media sessions. Ducking is unaffected by group ids.

Active Media Session

The active media session is the session that would be controlled if there is a user action (e.g. pressing the play/pause key on a keyboard). Part of the state that the media session exposes is is_controllable. If this boolean is true then the media session can be controlled by the user. The active media session will be the top most controllable media session.

Audio Focus Observer

The media session service can be accessed via Mojo and currently lives in the browser process. Clients can implement AudioFocusObserver and add themselves as an observer using the AudioFocusManager mojo API. The observer will then receive notifications when the active media session changes. This can be used to determine whether there is any current media playback.

Media Controller Manager

The media session service also exposes a MediaControllerManager mojo API. This can be used to create a MediaController instance. These can be used to control and observe a media session. This can be an individual media session or the active media session.

If the controller is created using CreateActiveMediaController then it will follow the active media session. This means you do not need to create a new media controller if the active media session changes.

There is also a MediaSession mojo API. This is used for session / service communication and should not be used for control..

Media Session Observer

There is also a MediaSessionObserver mojo API that clients can implement. They can then add themselves as an observer using the AddObserver call on the MediaController api. When an observer is added it will be flushed with all the latest information from the currently active media session.

Again, this will automatically route to the active media session. If that changes then we will flush all methods on the observer with the information from the new active media session.


There is a MockMediaSession C++ class that can be used for simulating a media session in unit tests. The //services/media_session/public/cpp/test directory also contains a number of other useful test utilities.

Current Media Session service integrations

The following clients are integrated with the media session service and expose a media session and request audio focus:

  • content::WebContents
  • ARC++ apps (requires Android Pie)
  • Assistant

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