Home Multimedia - Distributed Audio in Your Home

This page is about creating a home multimedia network. I researched this in January 2009, and will give you a summary of what is currently available, and what I would do.

The goal BTW is to have your server based audio available in every room. This must be simple and must always work (nothing as embarassing as a high-tech audio system that doesn't work when your friends come over). I must be able to do at least the following:

  1. Simple, graphical UI to control rooms
  2. Must allow for the same audio to be played in multiple rooms, in sync
  3. Remote must be able to control any room
  4. Ideally, should have a PC-interface as an optional remote, so that PCs anywhere in the house can also be used for music choice
  5. Should have a web-UI or an iPhone UI, so that standard mobile devices with Wi-Fi can be used as remote controls
  6. System must be central, so that all music is on one or many servers
  7. System must be wife- and child-proof
  8. System should allow wireless, but also wired setup (so wiring is possible if signal sucks)
  9. Pricing should be rather low, so that wiring every room is an option. Ideally, around 100-200 USD per room, incl. speakers.

Current options (January 2009)

Based on my research, we currently have the following options (see also comparison from cnet in August 2008)

Product & Description Pros Cons  Cost Sample
Sonos Market leader, apparently excellent product, very easy to install and setup. I believe it's a great product, yet rather expensive. additionally, it costs almost twice the US-price in Switzerland. It also doesn't really need any existing server, because the devices are self contained.
  1. Market leader
  2. "old", proven product
  3. Cool, simple to use remote
  4. Very good
  5. iPhone*
  1. Most expensive product
  2. Closed system
  3. Will probably be overtaken in the future by a mass product
  4. Uses own wireless network tech
  5. Probably wireless only*

1:0 $ 350

2:1 $ 1'000

Add. Rooms: + $ 400 or 500

10:1 $ 5'000

Logitech Squeezebox / Duet (my current favorite) A more techie-approach. The server is open source, but easy to install and can also be installed on many NAS devices.
  1. Open Source, will probably reach huge audience
  2. Rather cheap
  3. Can be tested without buying anything
  1. Requires PC-know how to set up
  2. Multi-room music will take more wi-fi bandwith than sonos

1:0 $ 150

2:1 $ 550

Add. Room $ 150

10:1 $1750

Cisco / Linksys Brand new product, announced the first week of 2009! No details yet!

Probably...

  1. ...similar to Sonos
  2. ...cheaper than sonos
  3. ...very easy to set up
  4. ...iPod dock built in
  5. ...touch screen remote
  1. Rather expensive, similar to Sonos

1:0 $ 350

2:1 $ 1'000

Add. Room $ 300

10:1 $3'800

Apple TV Simple product, easy to set up. Not what I want, because it's very apple focused, and usually wants
  1. Simple?
  2. Also does TV, not just audio
  1. Very apple centric
  2. Rather expensive (at least in Switzerland)
  3. Seems to require a TV as front end, so not ideal for music only
Roku - Old, not updated product, doesn't seem to offer centralized, multi-room setup.  - -
Noxon - Nice, single station system, not multi-room - - -

BTW

  • * iPhone: All products seem to have the option of remote control over the iPhone and iPod Touch, elliminating the need for the official remote. Those are usually very expensive, and often probably not better (for example, don't have touch screens).
  • * Probably Wireless only: Means that this product can probably only be run in a wireless environment, which would be a problem when you need/want cables
  • All products allow you to listen to online radio from around the world

How I tested the Logitech Squeezebox

  1. Download the SqueezeCenter server software and install on your PC with a bunch of music (very simple, can also access iTunes DB and images) - Download from here

    1. It will then install a background web server, and show you the UI
    2. Note: on big screens you don't notice the "next" buttons on the install wizard, that are in the bottom right screen corner. You don't need the login at the beginning at all, that's only for some added services.
  2. Install (on the same machine) the virtual client that looks like the hardware client, just on your own PC. The thing is called SoftSqueeze, and can be installed directly from there. Go to "Extras" / "Softsqueeze" or download from here.
  3. Then, use the web UI to control the client.
  4. I also installed the client on another notebook, and like magic I could control that too, and sync the devices as well. Pretty neat!

So: I was satisfied this would work out, and work out well. Some details are not optimal yet (syncing players can take many seconds, during which time it sounds a bit awkward if you hear both players).

Testing the remote

I then wanted to know how could I control the system from a remote/mobile device. I own an iPhone, and purchased the product that looked most promising, iPeng. In short: I was amazed. It's so simple, easy, great, etc. I was sold!

Turning every PC into a receiver by default

For normal media use (living room, kitchen, etc.) we'll need to use the Squeezebox Receiver, but in the meantime, I want to make every PC in my home a player. The Java-client SoftSqueeze doesn't cut the cake, but there is a command-line client called SqueezeSlave that I'll set up on every PC. What's important is that it will run in the background, without a DOS box, so here's what I did:

  1. Download, unzip the SqueezeSlave, and put it into "C:\Program Files\SqueezeSlave\"
  2. Tested it from the command line, the help info was here
  3. I can't run hidden, so the command window stays open. That's not what I wanted, so I...
    1. ...downloaded a "run in the background" tool called hstart,
    2. ...unzipped and copied it to the same folder as the SqueezeSlave
  4. Then created a shortcut inside my autostart, with this command:
    "C:\Program Files\SqueezeSlave\hstart.exe" /noconsole "C:\Program Files\Squeezeslave\SqueezeSlave YourServerName -m 01:01:01:01:01:0a"
    1. The first part starts the hstart program...
    2. ... /noconsole causes it to hide the program
    3. then hstart will start the SqueezeSlave...
    4. ... with YourServerName being your server, for example PC01
    5. ... with "-m ..." giving it a fake MAC address. You need this, so that when you have multiple players in the network, they are identifiable. It's like the internar ID for the Server to tell the players apart.
    6. So when you do this on multiple PCs, use differing values there.
  5. Test it, and rename it in the server :)

Configuring the Squeezebox Receiver without Remote

So, I finally got my Squeezebox Receiver. But... you need the remote to set it up - which basically costs as much as an iPod Touch, but is probably not half as cool! So of course I don't want to buy one, just for setting up the receiver. Fortunately I found a bunch of instructions, here's the short summary.

  1. You need a special software to configure the receiver. It's a command line tool, with that you issue configuration commands to your device.
  2. Attach your Receiver with an ethernet cable, power on...
  3. Download the software, install, connect to your device, configure.

Just follow this checklist: Logitech_Squeezebox_Receiver_-_Setting_it_up_without_the_Duet_Remote_Control