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In Use

My first thought regarding this device was that it would be difficult to navigate through the thousands of songs I had stored on my server, especially since I was using the large font and could only see a single line at a time. Fortunately, I had created playlists for my library, and since the SoundBridge supports iTunes playlists, navigation was not a problem since the Soundbridge scrolled through my playlists quickly and easily.

If you don't have playlists set up, the SoundBridge menus provide options for browsing by artist, album, etc. A generic alphanumeric search is also available and while it may help find an otherwise hard to locate song, in general its use seems a bit cumbersome. Once I selected a list or song, it just took a couple of menu selections to start the music flowing. During the period of this review, I never heard a skip in the music despite constant simultaneous use of my network for casual web browsing and email.

18 button remote

Figure 4: 18 button remote

Update 11/27/2004 When testing the wireless range of the unit, I was pleasantly surprised. I was afraid that the 802.11b card wouldn't have the range of my iBook which has an embedded antenna surrounding the screen, but I found that the range was comparable.

Due to location where the Internet connection comes into my house, the access-point for my home network is in the worst possible place - the basement furnace room with plenty of metal ductwork surrounding it. But even with this poor location, the SoundBridge was able to easily make a connection in several test locations on the first floor of my house where I needed it. When testing on the second floor, I was able to make an initial connection, but got dropouts thereafter. This is comparable to the behavior I see with my iBook.

It's important to note that when I got the dropouts, I received no status from the SoundBridge. It would have been nice to see a diagnostic message or a signal strength message, but instead of a meaningful error, the music just stopped. There's room for improvement here.

I should also note that the music server I used for most of this review is not officially supported by the SoundBridge, but I couldn't tell any difference in functionality with it compared to the officially supported iTunes server located on my iBook. The server I used is mt-daapd, which is an open-source implementation of Apple's Digital Audio Access Protocol, daap. While mt-daapd was not written specifically with the SoundBridge in mind, its author, Ron Pedde is now a SoundBridge owner, so there's incentive in making the combination work well!

Besides music playback from my server, one other feature of the box that interested me was support for Internet Radio stations. I looked forward to sampling stations from all over the world on my stereo even though the SoundBridge's documentation indicated that not all stations could be supported due to the varying formats used on the Internet.

To test it out, I created a radio playlist and added a number of stations from various genres. Everything from University operated stations featuring jazz to talk radio to new wave stations featuring underground music of the 80's. My experience browsing through the various stations showed that the majority worked fine. Of the couple of dozen stations I tried out, I only had a handful of failures.

For the hackers in the audience, one interesting nugget the SoundBridge brings is telnet access. By telneting to port 4444 of the M1000, you can obtain command-line access to a limited set of utilities.

Trying out the sketch capabilities in the telnet interface
Figure 5 : Trying out the sketch capabilities in the telnet interface

This interface allows you to access the bitmapped display of the unit (Figure 5) as well as query information about its state. This command-set is limited at the moment, but one can see potential for adding new functionality. In addition to the telnet port on the box, a quick port scan turned up a couple ports, 80 and 8080, being listened to by a web server. The web server didn't do much more than return a test page, but perhaps Roku has plans for the web server in the future.

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