Wireless A/V, the end

I figure there has to be someone out there wondering what I did with my wireless A/V problems (namely, wireless A/V transmitters get interference from 802.11 wireless networks and are thus useless, especially in blocks of flats).

Well, first up for our purposes we decided to settle for wireless audio only. Neither of us have at all significant amounts of video sitting around on hard drives. We bought a Logitech Squeezebox. (The current Squeezebox is a re-badged Slim Devices Squeezebox version 3, Logitech aquired Slim Devices.) It connects to either wireless (WPA and WEP supported) or wired networks. It has several audio outputs, we’re just using analog RCA.

The Squeezebox needs to be fed music from a storage device. You can install SlimServer (soon to have a 7.0 release, at which time it will be known as SqueezeCenter) on a machine which has your music on it (Windows, Mac, Linux or anything else that can run Perl including lots of Network Attached Storage devices). You can sign up for SqueezeNetwork, which streams Internet Radio to it. We don’t use SqueezeNetwork: Australian broadband does not have the kind of download limits where it’s a good idea to stream your music over the ‘net all the time. Also it sounds like SqueezeNetwork, like pretty much every other Internet Radio service, has a lot of content which they have agreed not to distribute to non-US (or sometimes non-EU) users.

I considered one of these a year or so back but was put off by the Australian recommended retail of $500 (now $399.95 and in the US US$299). But on my most recent search Shopbot turned up a lot of excitingly named places — such as Don’t Pay Retail — that stock it for well under RRP. So I did the annoying dance of trying to find somewhere that didn’t charge exorbitant shipping (everywhere that has it seems to practice that annoying lock-in trick of only telling the customer the shipping cost after they’ve signed up and entered their name, email, phone, and full billing and shipping addresses) and we’ve had one since early December.

Reviews along the lines of this one are more or less correct about its strengths, in particular the menu design.

Some points not commonly discussed in the reviews:

  • The menu design is really great. Actually this is mentioned in the reviews, but it’s great.
  • SlimServer is GPL. Some of the skins for the web interfaces and some plugins might be an exception to that (there’s lots of IANAL discussion on the forums regarding people trying to avoid GPLing their plugins). There’s a Logitech EULA on the download page, that is almost but entirely unlike the GPL, as in, they’re both software licences, but this applies only to the firmware. I saw one of the developers somewhere saying that it’s practically impossible to close development too, since they use a lot of third party modules.
  • It supports a lot of formats (Ogg Vorbis, various Windows stuff I know nothing about) in the server software. Music is sent over the network as either MP3 (if the original file was MP3) or FLAC (if the original file was anything else). Hence, you can only skip through either MP3 or FLAC files. Other files can only be played at normal speed without skipping, or be paused.
  • The web interface to the server is ‘good enough’ (better than MPD clients I’ve used) but not amazing. In particular, it needs more AJAX for the current playlist. Drag-and-drop rearrangement of the playlist is much nicer than click move-song-one-position, load, click move-song-one-position, load, click move-song-one-position, load…
  • The network protocol is documented (and presumably there’s a GPL implementation in Perl) but it’s a custom protocol, not something any other software than Slim Devices software speaks.
  • The Jive architecture, with which your applications talk to the new Duet remotes, isn’t Free Software, although some of the stuff written for it is. I am entirely unclear on how core Jive will be to future Squeezeboxen. Fairly core.
  • There is an active development and user community at their forums, most of which are mirrored to mailing lists.

I’m a bit worried by the recent appearance of the Squeezebox Duet, which is much more in the Sonos multi-room mold. I like my little box and its monochrome display. However, apparently the Squeezebox v3 remains in production, as does its very expensive brother the Transporter, and if the v3 is any indication, the Duet will be a great piece of work for people who want something more like the Sonos system. (People who live in a bigger place than us.) Further, the Duet remotes can control Squeezeboxen and Transporters, not just Duet Receivers.

Another device work looking at if you’re in the market for a device to which you can stream music you have sitting on your hard drive — yeah I’ve heard of sound cards, but I only have one good set of speakers and they live over near the TV, not near the computer — is the Roku Soundbridge. It speaks DAAP and UPnP, which makes it much more generic in terms of the software that can communicate with it. Ross Burton reviews it favourably. Since it’s hard to pick between them from reviews, we decided to buy the cheaper one, which in Australia in December seemed to be the Squeezebox.