Internet Radio—it’s free, it’s easy to access, and it has some serious advantages over tuning into available FM/AM stations.
In addition to streaming Internet Radio content via desktop or laptop there are a growing number of compact and/or portable devices capable of streaming Internet radio content directly to your home entertainment system.
There is no shortage of Internet Radio sources to be found on the web. Live365.com, Pandora, Slacker—these are but a few of the many sites where ad-phobic listeners can search for and stream music by genre and interest or find live broadcasts from all over the world.
Within the overarching label of “Internet Radio” there are essentially two large sub-categories: services that allow “on-demand” control of the listening experience, and those that do not. The former, occupied by such heavy hitters as Rhapsody, require a subscription, but grant virtually unlimited access to a large library of songs and albums. Subscribers can select specific songs, pause and rewind tracks, and basically interact with the online library as if it were one’s own. The latter category, while generally free, has limitations. “Users can’t hear the music predictably,” says Pandora founder Tim Westergren.
Within that second category of Internet Radio service there is yet another subset of groups, what Westergren refers to as personalized Internet Radio service and programmed Internet Radio service.
- Programmed Internet Radio is basically the Internet version of broadcast radio, where listeners “tune in” via the web but have little control over what is being heard.
- Personalized Internet Radio more accurately describes the service that Pandora (and others) offer, whereby the power of the Internet is leveraged to stream individually catered content to users simply by knowing a user’s taste, genre preferences, and by analyzing past user experience.
The personalized service, while generally free (users can pay to have no advertisements played), does have limits on customization and control. One industry-wide accepted practice limits the number of times a user can skip a song to six skips an hour. The limits imposed on this kind of Internet Radio service is what helps to keep it free, and to differentiate from the “on-demand” services from those like Rhapsody.
If a consumer wants to pay for enhanced or premium service through an Internet Radio provider, costs will vary and so will features, but one should look for or expect no ads, and/or greater control over the content. Slacker’s “Radio Plus” service costs $3.99/month, and in addition to no advertisements, users can skip as much as they want, and their song requests are unlimited.
Choose Your Device Wisely
The ubiquity of Internet Radio has given rise to a virtual industry of devices capable of streaming content in a number of different ways. As mentioned, the desktop/laptop method is quick and easy, and allows users to listen while they work. Users simply type in the URL of an Internet Radio service provider, choose a broadcast or genre, and sit back to listen.
For those who want to listen to Internet Radio over the home’s audio system, there are a number of devices that will do the trick. One of the better-known and better-established products in this category is the Logitech Squeezebox (formerly the Slim Devices Squeezebox, before being acquired by Logitech). The Squeezebox has built-in 802.11g wireless networking capabilities, so it can connect to the Internet even when your home computer is turned off. It also has a built-in directory of thousands of Internet Radio stations (including Pandora), and grants user access to Rhapsody’s online library of songs (in the millions). The digital optical and coax outputs let you easily connect to the home audio receiver to start streaming internet radio content into the entertainment room or any and all zones of a whole-home audio system. The Squeezebox Classic retails at $299.
Follow Electronic House
Between watching re-runs of the The Jetsons and convincing his Insteon and Z-Wave controls to get along, Ben Hardy is immersed in the world of home automation, home control, and home networking.