Before we had the iPod or the television, people gathered around the radio for their music and entertainment.
Then along came the transistor, the walkman and eventually, our mp3 players that all made our music mobile.
Fast forward half a century from the transistor days and here we are again, sitting around the radio, listening to music and entertainment. Only now, it's Internet radio, and there's no limit on what you can hear.
Whether it's a broadcast of what you might hear on the AM or FM dials or something else entirely, Internet radio serves a wide variety of tastes, from mainstream material to a vast selection of niche genres. And many of the services that let you stream music online are free.
For a long time, users had to sit at their computers to reap the benefits of Internet radio. But, now, a crop of new devices let you listen to Internet radio without tying up your computer.
The new generation of players, like the Logitech Squeezebox Radio, for $199, use Wi-Fi to bring in Web stations from all over the world. Or, if you want to follow local news and sports while you're far from home, you can listen to your hometown radio stations live streams, no matter where you are.
You can also listen to thousands of Internet music stations and access music services like Rhapsody, Napster, and Pandora. And on the Squeezebox, you can also stream your own mp3 collection.
As you listen, many of these devices feature a bright color screen that can display album art as well as artist and track information.
The Livio Radio, another new player in the market, also leverages the power of music services, like Pandora and Slacker, to learn your taste in music.
Like the Squeezebox as you stream services like Pandora on the Livio, you can indicate with thumbs up and thumbs down controls whether or not you like the selection.
If you like it, give it a thumbs up and the service will play that song more often, and other songs just like it. Give it a thumbs down and it won't play that song for you again. (If you're ambivalent, you can just skip the thumbs up/down feature)
The music services learn your tastes, and soon, you've got your own personalized radio channel going.
The Livio Radio ($149) is designed to work with Pandora's customized controls, both on the front panel or by using the included remote.
Livio Radio: Old-Fashioned Looks, New-Fangled Function
The Livio looks a lot like the old-fashioned radios, and its small rectangular shape means it fits nicely onto a bookshelf. It's a table-top unit with a single speaker and a round knob that activates the controls. You can also connect the Livio or the Squeezebox to a larger sound system using their line out jacks.
When you hook these radios up, they search for available Wi-Fi networks that make connecting to the Internet very simple. Once paired with your music account, your stations load onto the device and personalized music ends up at your fingertips.