Who’s afraid of Airport Wireless?


soundbridgeLast week, I had a chance to chat with Roku Labs founder and chief executive Anthony Wood, about the future of his company and digital entertainment. It was a wide ranging conversation, but mostly we talked about Apple’s new wireless wonder, the Airport Express. Apple’s announcement comes at a time when Roku is about to commercially launch its Roku Sound Bridge. SoundBridge was going to be available in three weeks, and would sell in two flavors – one costing about $200 and the other $500. (And yes it works with ITunes and Mac!)

Wood, who in previous life had started Replay TV is confident of selling nearly 50,000 SoundBridge devices in first full year of sales, despite competition from Apple. “Apple has great industrial design and good software people so they are much tougher competitor,” says Wood. However he feels that Roku’s support for the Windows platform and other formats such as Windows Media will be key reasons it is going to be able to stay in the game. Moreover, Airport Express can be controlled from the computer, while SoundBridge can be controlled using a remote and TV. “I think Airport Express is more of a remote speaker addition,” Wood adds.

He thinks Apple’s introduction of Airport Wireless is bad news for generic media streaming device makers like Netgear and Linksys. “We are focused on software and user interface, but most of the others are sold on price,” he says. “We charge more for our products and we have an easier experience.” True – most of these guys slap on some poorly crafted OS on their boxes. My previous experiences with other home-audio streaming devices have been a bit of a blah. Many of them are too complicated to set-up, and some of them just don’t work with Mac, my platform of choice. I think Apple will make using wireless streaming so easy that more and more people will start doing wireless streaming.

Second part of this chat will appear later this week, and I discuss future of Roku and its HD-1000 media device. Stay tuned!


Jeff Fila

Ah thanks for pointing that out James. I’d like to see how they do it – optical and analog on the same connector. They sell a $39 connection kit. It looks like they don’t include the cables in the $129 price.

And yes, I agree that Roku is in violation of the GNU public license in their use of the Slimserver software.

I think the soundbridge looks cool and a 2×80 VFD is nice – but the price of it is crazy. I’d love to pop one open and see whats inside. The only difference between the SlimDevices products that I can see is the CF slot for WiFi. Slim Devices’ implementation of WiFi is much better than that.

Brad West

The specifics of the GPL violation have been debated, but Roku’s use of open source software certainly violates the spirit of open source.

You might compare them to Apple and their use of KHTML for their Safari web-browser. While Safari is a closed-source binary, Apple has become a major contributor to the KHTML project. See Dave Hyatt’s
Surfin’ Safari for more.

Roku, though, just grabbed SlimServer code from SlimDevices, slapped a skin on it (created by an (uncredited) Slim user), made their own modifications, and — poof — had server software.

As for the Airport Express, I think it’s important to realize that Apple’s not yet done. They’re surely testing the waters for this market with something cool and inexpensive and completely useful even without the music capabilities. Add a cool iPod-like remote control and you’ve suddenly got a powerful solution.

There is room for more than one player in this market. Cool and dominant as the iPod is, there’s plenty of other players selling fairly well and carving out their own niches. The same will be true for network media players, particularly ones that do what Apple clearly won’t do: be open souce, support linux, play ogg-vorbis, etc.

I’d predict than when things settle we’ll have a dominant iTunes-based solution (from Apple), a dominant “slashdot” solution (currently from SlimDevices), and a handful of WMA-based solutions (the current candidates are probably the Prismiq, the Audiotron, and probably something from LinkSys).

Roku, likely, will go the way of ReplayTV.

James Lynch III

To Martin Little: Roku are in violation of the GNU public license. They’ve taken the source to old version of the server, and are changing features for their personal gain without participaing in the overall SlimServer effort.

Jeff Fila: please read the product description on Apple.com… the express does indeed have digital out.

Jeff Fila

I own a SliMP3 and was the first to reivew the Squeezebox. I’ve seen most networked media players since – the Roku, Linksys, Netgear, Gateway, Actiontec and NONE of them offer the ease of use, speed (this is a really big thing) and sound quality as the Squeezebox.

TN – the Squeezebox really isn’t cheap. And do you really want to be forced to turn on your TV to listen to music?

I can’t see comparing the Apple to any of these products though. It is very specialized and it does not have any digital audio outputs. With no TV (which I hate anyway) and no on-device display, it just seems a bit clunky. Nice idea, but just not quite there yet.

Check out our reviews of these products at http://www.designtechnica.com – I didn’t review the Roku but did all of the others. I personally would have rated the Roku lower.

Jonathan Greene

I come by to comment on the use of the Slim software and am well beaten by the crowd…

Om – I’d be curious in your discussions how they feel about selling a product that uses the same software and offers the same functionality, but costs more purely based on industrial design. Like it or hate it the Roku (in my opinion) looks very slick but when it comes out, it will probably cost much more than the Slim Devices hardware.

TV hook-up is not of interest to me personally, so that would be hard to justify as a reason for the cost increase. I imagine the reason for this bit is so it integrates with the TV set-top they’ve been cooking as well, no?

Martin Little

Brad, Ralph — The SlimServer software is open source, and as such, Roku are free to use it, no? [This is said innocently; don’t flame me if I’m wrong!]

TN — I think the Squeezebox looks pretty smart. I have a SliMP3 (used wirelessly, of course ;-) and the display is fantastic, absolutely ideal for remote playing of music. Slimdevices are a clever bunch, are close to their market and listen carefully to customers (just have a look at the mailing lists for numerous examples of that). I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they’re working on something integrating video.

Factory Technician Wang

Personally, I am proud to be on the Dorku Tubular Music Player team. Our product whips the soundbridge both in girth and capacity.

Ralph Franklin

You’ve got to be kidding me. “We are focused on software and user interface”? I think that should read more like, “We are focused on [stealing] software and [doing as little work as possible to emulate someone else’s] user interface, but most of the others are [actually developped from scratch](or)[ACTUALLY SHIPPING A PRODUCT and not stringing their would-be customers along]”


It is unfortunate that the Squeezebox looks so cheap and poorly constructed. That alone is enough to prevent a lot of people from buying it. Frankly, they could drop the digital display and add video out and make it a very thin standard stereo component size and they would sell a lot more…

James Lynch III

Please stop giving press to these charlatans. They haven’t shipped any product, their other product can’t even make it through a review without breaking down, and they’ve done everything they can to rip off the open source community.

Jim Perkins

Haha! I have to agree with the other posters here about the VAPORBRIDGE. It looks like a large (or giant, for $200 more) schlong – somebody at roku must have a pretty serious inferiority complex. I should start forwarding them my “enlarge you PENJS” offers. Can’t blame them though. They totally blew it with the HD1000 (review here and I’m sure that this product will be an equally flaccid offering.

Brad West

Why do I have the feeling that Airport Express will still make it to market before the SoundBridge, which has been coming “in 2-3 weeks” for around 2-3 months now? And why do I feel that, like Roku’s other product, this one will be a bit of a

Guess that’s what happens when you rip off another company’s software.

Martin Little

Make sure you keep the SliMP3 / Squeezebox from slimdevices.com in your thoughts. It’s out now, it WORKS and it has an incredibly forward-thinking development team and community behind it.

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