Emerging Tech

Home Music Network Sounds Great, But Price Isn’t Nice

A new home networking system lets music fans play their digital tunes in anyroom in the house — but it comes with a few drawbacks.

The Sonos Digital Music System can create a network of up to 32 differentwireless connections, each of which can play different selectionsfrom a PC, Mac or network hard drive at the same time.

How It Works

The big difference between Sonos andcompeting wireless systems that channel music through a consumer’sexisting stereo system is that the access device also acts as a50-watts-per-channel amplifier.

One “ZonePlayer” must be plugged into the network router, which normallysits near a computer’s Internet access device, but the rest can communicatewith each other over Sonos’ proprietary 802.11-based network. EachZonePlayer acts as a transmitter and receiver. The system also playsInternet radio.

A remote control with a 3.5-inch color LCD screen displays the song, artistand album title and cover art.

The Cons

The downsides? The system cannot decode DMCA-protecteddigital content, which means no music purchased on the Internet can play onit. Nor does Microsoft’s Plays for Sure media storage system allow formultiple-room listening. Sonos said support for Rhapsody, another mediastorage system, is coming in March.

It’s also expensive. A starter system, which includes two ZonePlayers and oneremote, costs US$1,200. Each additional ZonePlayer costs $499. That price doesnot include the speakers that must be hooked up to each unit.

“This definitely has mainstream consumer appeal, but at a fairly highprice,” Michael Gartenberg, senior analyst at Jupiter Media, toldTechNewsWorld.

“The people who are going to want this are the same demographic that isalready downloading their music,” Gartenberg said. “If you’re spending thatmuch money, you want it to work with all of your music.”

Fair Use Argument

This, of course, brings up one of the biggest complaints about digitalrights management. In this case, the fair use of purchased music is thwartedbecause Sonos’ technology does not decode DMCA-protected content.

The technology is also a bit ahead of the curve. While the system canaccommodate 32 different units, Windows Media Player can play only 10different play lists at once.

Nevertheless, Gartenberg said the only competing products that can do whatSonos’ system does are high-end systems that are even more expensive andfar more difficult to install.

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