MOG/RDIO/Pandora/Online-Radio in your living room, the cheap way

I’ve been trying to convince my husband, JBQ, to get us a Sonos player for a while (over a year now). I pushed the issue again last night, since now we are RDIO subscribers, and we would like to listen to our RDIO collection without having our TV “on” (we currently use our Roku XD|S for RDIO, connected to our main HDTV, and an analog cable from the Roku to our Yamaha receiver that powers our big speakers in our living room). But the $350 price tag of the Sonos (for their cheapest model) is still prohibiting for us.

It was during dinner that my husband had the idea: “why don’t you buy a second Roku, just for music, and connect a PC monitor to it that would be sitting next to our amplifier? I bet it’ll be cheaper than a Sonos“. And of course he was right again:

Sonos solution:
$350 – ZonePlayer 90

Cheaper solution:
$60 – Roku HD
$60 – 17″ 1280px LCD monitor
$5 – HDMI to VGA (or DVI)
$3 – Audio cable to connect to your amplifier/receiver
$2 – Android or iOS Roku remote app (optional)
= $130

There. My husband just saved us all $220 bucks. Enough for two Kindles, to read a book next to your loved one, while listening to music.

To me, the important thing here is that we won’t have to have our TV ON in order to listen to music. I hate having to do that, turning ON a huge 50″ TV just to put an album to play. The unobtrusive, smaller PC monitor can always stay ON, since the Roku has screensaver support. And if it dies after a while, it only costs $60 anyway. As for the Roku, it never turns off, so you can use its remote app on your mobile phone/iPod at any time.

In some ways, this setup is similar to the prototype Be, Inc. announced in 2001: HARP (“Home Audio Reference Platform”), based on their BeIA/BeOS operating systems. Here we are, 10 years later with a similar idea, but in a much smaller size than HARP:

Be’s HARP platform

Of course, the Sonos solution offers other advantages, like multi-room support, no need for an external PC monitor (free Android/iOS remote app, otherwise it will cost you an extra $350), and iTunes streaming support among others. However, if you just want music in a single room only, and you never buy any music (since you either use Pandora, or you now subscribe to unlimited services like we do), this solution is far cheaper and works well-enough. The RDIO app on Roku is crashy, but RDIO knows about it, and I believe an update is pending. MOG, Pandora, Tune-In Radio, ShoutCast, Soundcloud, and MP3Tunes all work great, and more applications are added on Roku as the time goes by. Definitely more than for the Sonos platform.

Personally, I think Sonos needs to either rethink their prices a bit, or move to a cheaper platform (maybe a next generation, cheaper Sonos, based on Android?).

Update: Some folks over at the Roku forum suggested the new AppleTV ($99) or an Airport Express ($95) instead — that is, for existing users of iOS devices that run the latest software version. This way, they can run/stream any of their music apps via their iOS device, and then redirect audio output via Airplay on the Airport Express or AppleTV, that are connected to an audio receiver. The signal is sent encrypted, in the Apple Lossless format, so there’s no loss of quality on the way to your living room’s big speakers.

Since I already have a 4th Gen iPod Touch that supports Airplay, I might wait for a new AppleTV model, or a major software update for the current one (with third party apps and all), and then go for that solution (although my receiver has no optical-in, so that would be another $35 to get a converter). However, for users who don’t own any of the devices needed, that would be $300 to $330 ($200 for an iPod Touch, $99 for AppleTV or Airport Express), so my original suggestion still stands.

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