This blog is meant to be about music and not gadgets, but I just got myself a new music-gadget, so I have decided to write a gadget-review.
The Roku Soundbridge does two things: It can play music files (in my case mp3) that are located on your PC, when the PC is running, and it allows you to listen to Internet radio stations. You can connect it to your network either through Wifi or a regular Ethernet Cable.
In my case the ability to listen to the mp3 s from my PC doesn t necessarily justify the purchase, as probably over 90% of the music on my PC is actually ripped from my own CD s. It still has some advantages, as navigating with a remote control through (theoretically) all of your CD collection is actually quite fun (by album or by artist and there is also a search function for the song title), especially when the display is big enough that you can (well I can ) actually read it from the other side of the room. Also you can set up playlists for special occasions without having to burn them on a CDR. On the PC (or Mac) you have to have iTunes (or some other choices which I have not explored) running. This is a convenient choice, as you can have the same Music Library for synchronizing with your iPod and for use with the Soundbridge. Depending on the compression format you use for your sound files (and on the quality of your home stereo, I guess) the sound quality is not as good as a CD-player, but it serves its purpose. One thing which could be a show-stopper for some people is, that you cannot play songs that you have bought at the iTunes Music Store. I guess Apple won t license the DRM technology to Roku It does have the playsforsure logo, so I guess you can play other officially downloaded songs (which won’t play on the ipod)
For me the real killer application is the web radio functionality. You can very easily stream any radio station on the Internet (in mp3 or WMA). To program the radio stations you want to hear, you can use iTunes or a very simple web interface. Once you have set up the stations, you can turn off the PC (assuming that you don t have to have it running to be connected to the Internet). Unfortunately you can t play Real-Audio streams, but that might change in the future and it still leaves you with an amazing choice of radio stations to listen to.
The last aspect is the usability of the Soundbridge which is really worth mentioning. The set-up is surprisingly easy, as you are guided through a step by step process on the display. If you have a Wifi network running at home, all you need to do is enter the WEP password and you re done. (If you re serious about the security of you home Wifi network and use WPA encryption, you cannot use the Wifi on the Soundbridge, as WPA is not supported. Again this might change with future firmware upgrades). The times when you had to be a real geek to connect anything to a network or even a computer have definitely evolved The Soundbridge can even automatically download and install the latest firmware from the Internet. Also, once it s running the user interface is easy to understand and to navigate (remote control only). The only thing which requires you to look into the manual is the programming of the radio stations.
So, overall, I fully recommend the Soundbridge. I guess it’s even more usefull for people who have lots of music files on their computer without having the corresponding CDs (how could that happen?).
The problems with the proprietary DRM (a tautology?) systems like iTunes and Real Audio just show the absurdity of the whole DRM situation, and I don’t think there is any device (other than a computer) that can actually read all of these formats. Can you believe that I can still play vinyls I bought (almost) 30 years ago, but I can’t find a single device to play all of the songs I could potentially download? But that’s a different subject.