Today, the title of my post is in all seriousness. I’m having a very good technology day. Other days, the title would be sarcastic. For years now I haven’t quite figured out how to live with MP3 music. I don’t like listening to music on my iPod – instead I want to play MP3 music on my living room stereo. To that end I bought a Roku Soundbridge M1001 last year. This nifty gadget plugs into my receiver and listens to my WiFi network and watches my computers for iTunes, Windows Media Connect, Rhapsody and other UPnP AV MediaServers where I store MP3 files.
What the Roku does is display a list of songs stored on my computers in other rooms that can be played on the connected stereo system. It displays lists by artists, albums and songs via a small LCD readout and lets me select and play them with the aid of a palm-size remote. The trouble is I have over a thousand CDs, and flipping through their titles one LCD line at a time is a pain. I thought at the time I first set up the SoundBridge it needed a TV output which would let me select songs through a TV interface. There are media servers that also fetch video and photos from your computer, as well as songs, which are controlled through your TV screen. The SoundBridge is just for songs. By the way, the newest Roku is for Netflix online films and does work with your TV. It’s too bad they didn’t combine the functions for a single product.
This morning I jumped on the web because I just knew there had to be an answer to my desires, and I found an excellent solution, Visual Media Remote. Installed on my laptop, which normally sits in the living room, this program lets me to control the SoundBridge. I know this sounds weird. My music is stored on a machine in my library/office. The SoundBridge is in the living room. The laptop could be in any room but it controls the SoundBridge. If I had SoundBridges in other rooms, it would control them too. This screen shot taken from the VisualMR site best illustrates why the software is so useful:
This display shows a listing of artists on the left, their albums in the middle, and the songs from the highlighted album on the right. And I can filter too, by genres. This very quickly lets me drill down into my collection and find songs and add them to the player queue. I can sit in my La-Z-Boy with my laptop on my lap and just lean back and play songs about as conveniently as I could ever imagine, other than using telepathic mind control over my computer. VisualMR has been around a long time, but I didn’t have a laptop for the task before. VisualMR will also work with PDAs.
Searching through Google shows a lot of people use this same setup, but I don’t think it’s a massive crowd. My guess is most people give up on stereo systems when they get an iPod, or they buy a cradle that attaches to their receiver that lets them use their iPods as CD players. And I thought about reducing my music world down to one handheld device, like the iPod. I could reduce my equipment footprint if my laptop had a large enough hard drive to store all my music. Or I could just buy some high quality headphones and listen to the music directly from the iPod. Hell, no one seems to like to listen to music together anymore, although I got my wife singing and dancing last night while we made dinner when I was showing off my SoundBridge setup. But I had to play the songs she liked.
I’m happy with this present setup. I wished iTunes and Windows Media Player used the same three-pane approach to selecting songs like VisualMR. I can pack up my CDs and store them away. Now that music is sold as DRM-free MP3 songs, this kind of equipment might become more popular, because it’s very easy to just shuffle these tunes from machine to machine and room to room. Microsoft has sold Windows Media Center for years hoping the idea would catch on, but it hasn’t – not big time. Linksys, Dlink and Netgear all have media servers that work with their wireless equipment. The tech is there, I just don’t know if they are popular solutions.
Like I said, the iPod has changed everything and I think people have just adapted to it. It makes me wonder if sales of CD players and receivers have fallen since the success of the iPod? Well, duh, if people aren’t buying CDs, sales of CD players must be tanking.
All of this reminds me of the fat people in the movie Wall-E – they don’t notice the world around them because everything comes through their video screen, inches in front of their faces. Now that iPods have added cell phones, movies and television shows to the music lineup, as well as photos and audio books, there’s all the more reason to stay plugged in to your iPod 24×7. Who knew that electronic gadgets would bring so much fun and joy to people.