Computer keyboards in the living room will never be part of modern style. You need an appliance to couple your digital music addiction to your eye-friendly hi-fi without putting your noisy, space-guzzling computer on display. One of the most eye-catching options is the Roku SoundBridge, a wireless media bridge that enables you to stream music from your computer to your hi-fi.
We looked at an M1000 SoundBridge with a 280x16 pixel display (about £180). There's also an M2000 with 512x32 pixels at twice the price, or a somewhat cheaper LCD version called the M500.
It does what you want, and it does it with panache -- but there's usually some tiny niggle. It's in a cool metal tube with a great fluorescent display, almost vamping the Bang & Olufsen vibe, but with flimsy plastic ends that look and feel cheap. It can grab sounds directly from Internet radio stations or from your iTunes/Windows Media/SlimServer-equipped PC, but you can't fast-forward through tracks. It will deal with 10,000-song playlists, but doesn't have the navigational nous to let you skip through them nearly quickly enough. That display is dazzling, but a little too small to read across a room.
Some features of the SoundBridge deserve your unconditional love. It sounds great with high-quality rips. It knows about wired and wireless networks, so if you already have a home network, you can unpack the Soundbridge, plug it into power and amplifier, and be cutting a rug in minutes. Having your favourite Internet radio stations on the hi-fi is blissful: those who use their ears like men will know the fabulous treasures out there round the clock. If you want them to be part of your life, this is the most stylish way to bring them into your living room. And it knows about most file formats -- except the protected stuff that you buy from iTunes Music Store, but blame Apple for that.
It makes an interesting geek toy, too. Telnet into the beast and you can take over the display, but there's no scripting so you'll have to Perl your own. There's even a teeny Web interface, but you can't do much except set up radio station information and move between tracks. Most of the time you'll be using the tiny black remote control, which is fine for simple tasks but confusing for anything complicated. It has 19 buttons, eight of which have some sort of arrow on them. That's without fast-forward or rewind, remember. The interface needs work.
However. Il faut souffrir pour etre belle. If you want to pony up the cash, are prepared to put in the work creating playlists in iTunes to break your library down into navigable chunks, and fancy owning a piece of kit that demonstrates extreme good taste, then a Roku Soundbridge is for you. -RG