Old Speakers, New Features

Photo: Old Speakers, New Features: Add-On Devices Bring Internet Music to Non-Networked Devices
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If you purchased a Windows PC, TV, Blu-ray player or even a smartphone in 2010, there's a good chance that it can use a technology called DLNA (so named for its organization, the Digital Living Network Alliance) to send photos, video and music to devices around a wireless network.

DLNA is a flexible system that lets different products serve multiple roles. So, for example, one could use a cell phone to send photos on a PC to a TV, or that same cell phone might be able to play back music from the PC.

This flexibility can sometimes lead to complexity. There have been a number of products that used alternatives to DLNA or even standard Wi-Fi networks to simplify the task.

These range from the high-end Sonos system to the RocketAudio line of adapters sold at Best Buy. But two new options focus on the smartphone as a controller. One uses Wi-Fi networks while another uses Bluetooth.

Orb Music is a small, coasterlike $70 audio adapter that works with a home's Wi-Fi network. Because it does not rely on the DLNA capability already in new Windows PCs, one must download and install the free Orb PC software that provides remote access to media.

The Orb Audio Music is then connected to any PC on the network that has the Orb software on it to be stepped through configuration information such as the name and password of your home Wi-Fi network.

Once the setup is done, the device is connected to any standard set of powered speakers. But there's one more piece of the puzzle, an iPhone controller app.

Weezy Bridges Cell Phones and Stereos With Style

Many networked media products have released such applications for the iPhone, the best-selling handset in the U.S. in Q3, according to NPD's Mobile Phone Track. The app provides a user interface for flexibly browsing media on the iPhone or on the home network.

If your audio needs are simpler and you just want to find a way to amplify the music from your cell phone or PC to a better pair of speakers, a forthcoming European import by he name of Weezy is trying to make it easy.

Weezy, currently available for €69, is far from the first Bluetooth music adapter to bridge cell phones and stereos, but most of them have come from mobile phone makers such as Nokia or RIM, makers of the BlackBerry. In contrast, the Weezy -- an almost weightless curvy square platform culminating in a center peak is available in four colors -- brings some style to the proposition.

Orb, Weezy Updates Your Current System

Once you've turned on and paired the Weezy using a simple pairing code, you can send music to it using your cell phone or PC. Using an iPhone or BlackBerry, for example, Internet music services such as Pandora and Slacker can be sent in addition to music files already on the phone.

Both devices are a good fit for opening up your old boombox, shelf system, or even component home theater to a wide range of digital music. But since neither uses its own speaker, the quality of their audio output depends greatly on the quality of the speakers to which they are attached.

Of course, there are also many options that have speakers built in -- the topic of a future Tech on Deck.

Ross Rubin (@rossrubin on Twitter) is executive director of industry analysis at The NPD Group (@npdtech on Twitter). He blogs at The NPD Group Blog as well as his own blog, Out of the Box.

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