Some new devices are pretty much a pain to set up and then once you’re done you wonder if it was worth it. That’s how I often feel when I set up a new PC – it takes a lot of work and then I have pretty much what I had before only a little faster. There are, however a few devices that take some effort to set up, but then you get something that seems worth it. The iPhone is like that. So is the Logitech Squeezebox Duet.
Let’s start with some background on what the Logitech Squeezebox Duet is. Because part of the problem with some interesting new devices is that they aren’t like what we’ve had or used before exactly. As a result, we lack the conceptual framework for what the device does and how it works that is so important to fluid and easy use.
Example: I had the experience over the Thanksgiving holiday of showing my Amazon Kindle to several relatives who saw it when I was using it. Usually 5-10 minutes of explanation followed. That’s because the Kindle is kind of like a laptop, only much smaller and with a purposefully slow reflective display, without a computer OS or browser, that uses the cell network instead of WiFi, is deeply integrated with Amazon’s services, but also gives access to a bunch of periodicals. If you really want to “get” the Kindle or any hip-but-complex new device or software (e.g. Digg, Facebook, Twitter) like this you’ll need an attention span of more than 15 seconds.
Anyway, back to the Squeezebox. The Squeeze Duet is designed to play computer and internet-derived music through your stereo or home theater or whatever you use for music playback. It consists of a two-way remote (i.e. it doesn’t just send signals, it also has a display that responds to what is going on with the system), a receiver that passes analog music into a free input on your “stereo”, and some web-based software.
The idea is this: you have multiple music sources accessible via PC. You would like to play them in another room (or rooms) through high quality speakers. And you would like this music to be easy to access via an intuitive remote.
So, you plug the Squeezebox Duet receiver into your stereo. It looks for your WiFi (802.11) network and then connects. The Squeezebox software on your home PC looks at iTunes (or whatever you use for digital music files) and lets you access that. It connects to the web and lets you use Pandora channels that you create. It sees Sirius satellite radio via the web and lets you tune to Sirius channels. Slacker, Rhapsody and a bunch of other services can also be used. In summary, this puts the Duet in the general category of "Media Extenders", that is devices that take a media source (e.g. your PC) and allow it to be output and controlled on another device (e.g. your stereo).
The Squeezebox remote has a small LCD screen that lets you choose which of these sources you want to use. It also lets you select what songs or channels you want to play. For example, just using the remote, I was able to create a Pandora “Christmas Music” channel. Pandora then began serving music, and I could tell Pandora whether I liked that song or didn’t like that song, aiding (one hopes) Pandora in selecting more tunes for me. I could also play specific albums or playlists from iTunes.
For $399, that’s pretty cool. Logitech, the Squeezbox Duet manufacturer, also has this setup in boombox form, obviating the need for a stereo. The Boombox is $299, which seems kind of weird (adding speakers and a small amp lowers the price?) until you see that the Duet remote has the LCD and better D/A converters.
This is nice stuff, but I need to briefly rant about the 15 step setup process. I do not EVER want to read instructions like “The number on the controller’s LCD screen is the last six numbers of the MAC address. You may confirm this number by looking at the label on the bottom of the receiver where the MAC address is printed.” Nope, not acceptable. I don’t want to program instructions in machine language, I don’t want to write a driver for my PC, and I don’t want to have to write down SSIDs. I want products that contain the entire computing power of the University of Michigan in 1967 (IBM System 360/67 serial #2) with way better software to do this stuff for me.