Over the weekend I installed Logitech's Squeezebox, a gadget for wirelessly beaming songs from your PC to your stereo.
Three things happily surprised me.
One, it was up and running in minutes. "Wi-fi" is short for "Please, God, stop torturing me with these unfathomable installation settings" and much more techie PC Worlders than me have been reduced to tears while trying to install a wireless media server.
And I was hardly reassured when I opened the box to find Logitech had bundled no CD. Rather, I had to download the open source SlimServer program during installation.
But in the end it was entirely plug and play (and, in a nice touch, you also get the option to install SlimServer on a NAS drive). I connected the SqueezeBox unit itself to my stereo, using bundled RCA cable (there's also an optical connector for fancy home theatre types); installed the SlimServer software and - badabing - the SqueezeBox was wirelessly sucking MP3s from my PC, and playing them, via my Denon amplifier, on my stereo's waist-high Wharfdale speakers.
Two, the music sounded good. Wi-fi (actually short for wireless fidelity, fact fans) is often a byword for stuttering data, but the songs sounded smooth and full. And because they were being played over my grown up stereo rather than an iPod speaker dock. Nice.
I was surprised that the Squeezebox is built around the 802.11g rather than the new (if interminably in draft) 11.n wi-fi spec. But it worked, so who cares.
Three, my notebook, also attached to my home desktop PC via the same (NetGear) wi-fi modem/router still managed to surf the net fine while the Squeezebox was playing. If you don't do wi-fi, or want a totally guaranteed no-interruptions connection, the Squeezebox also supports an ethernet cable connection.
The SlimServer software found and catalogued my MP3 collection quick smart, but its web browser interface seemed a little bare bones compared to iTunes - although at with only a minor amount more effort it can do all the same stuff, such as let you assemble playlists, sort by genre etc. In a number of views, it would only supply the name of an artist or the name of a song, not both at the same time.
Also, thanks to the DRM on most tracks purchased via iTunes, I couldn't play songs I'd downloaded from Apple's music store over my SqueezeBox: blocking at least 0.03% of my digital music collection (I'm joking, of course, it's closer to 0.05%).
Another downer: SlimServer's internet radio option isn't that attractive in New Zealand, land of the capped broadband plan, and now out of legal reach of Pandora.
If you're looking for a no-fuss way to play your PC's MP3's on your stereo, Logitech's Squeeze box ($599) is a good way to go. If you want to throw video into the mix as well, then checkout Apple TV ($499), which Scott Bartley reviews. hand-on in our August issue on newsstands now. Bruce previewed Apple TV as part of his Wireless That Works feature back in May.