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View Full Version : Time for Slim Devices to get partnering up and licensing?



adamslim
2008-06-16, 06:10
There are a lot of 'traditional' audiophile companies starting to get into streaming systems now - Linn and Naim, Macintosh, and AFAIK Meridian and Arcam won't be long.

For me, the SqueezeCenter system is now so strong that it's unlikely that I will buy something that isn't compatible with it. I've considered a Linn Akurate DS, but dismissed it as the user experience is so poor. However, I'd consider a better-sounding front end. The Modwright Transporter looks interesting, but I wouldn't be able to hear before purchase - too risky.

So I think that Slim Devices should be looking at partnering with established hifi manufacturers and getting their products in there. Easy wins:
- AVI ADM9 with a receiver in it
- Meridian F80, ditto
- licensing the Transporter (or SB) system but let the hifi manufacturers do the audio bit

Whether these products would sound better than a Transporter is irrelevant - the market is there, and this is a way to get their system everywhere. Make money from the licensing, and then sell extra Receivers/SB3s to these customers for their extra systems.

To me, this is the best way for SD to maintain and indeed improve their position, and it would have the additional benefit of creating products for me to upgrade to. Get to it, Sean! :)

Shredder
2008-06-16, 07:10
You can listen to the TP for 30 days and if you don't like it, return it for full price.

andynormancx
2008-06-16, 07:18
You can listen to the TP for 30 days and if you don't like it, return it for full price.

You can if you are in the US and can therefore buy it from the SlimDevices website. The OP is in the UK though.

In theory in the UK you could buy it online and return it after 7 days using the Distance Selling Regulations. But that would be putting a lot of trust in your supplier, as if they decide to pretend they don't know about the Distance Sellings regs then you are going to have to take them to court to get the money back.

autopilot
2008-06-16, 08:48
So basically like Roku used to do? There is a lot of logic in what you are saying. Many of the 'high end' streamers use flaky uPnP - the people paying K's for these system would really benefit from the mature, well developed and feature rich back-end of SqueezeCenter. As you say, most sound great but are awful to use.

radish
2008-06-16, 09:21
Of course the server interface is GPL so companies could implement SC compatibility without any licensing if they wanted. Of course they may prefer to buy Logitech's implementations (hardware designs, firmware, etc) but other than Roku I've never seen anyone else even look interested in implementing slimproto.

adamslim
2008-06-16, 13:56
Of course the server interface is GPL so companies could implement SC compatibility without any licensing if they wanted. Of course they may prefer to buy Logitech's implementations (hardware designs, firmware, etc) but other than Roku I've never seen anyone else even look interested in implementing slimproto.

While SC is open source, I can't see a manufacturer using it without a licensing deal - they would want to partner up to get some guarantee of compatibility long-term. It certainly makes sense to me - let them do the audio and let SD take a cut of each sale, providing a robust streaming system. Everyone wins!

radish
2008-06-16, 14:50
While SC is open source, I can't see a manufacturer using it without a licensing deal - they would want to partner up to get some guarantee of compatibility long-term. It certainly makes sense to me - let them do the audio and let SD take a cut of each sale, providing a robust streaming system. Everyone wins!

I think it depends on what the mythical third party wants to do. If they simply want to easily add streaming audio to a device which doesn't have it (e.g. SBR-in-a-minisystem) then sure, I can understand them just licensing the whole SBR and throwing it in. On the other if they already have a streamer, display, CPU, software etc etc I don't see how any licensing deal would be very useful. Any firmware Logitech could provide probably wouldn't work on their box without a lot of modification so why not just implement it yourself and save the fees? I guess Logitech could develop custom implementations for hire but that's a long way from just licensing.

mftech
2008-06-16, 20:00
Maybe Logitech is more interested at selling remote, and they may want to sell and make compatible the Duet Remote with other music servers, that will be interesting...

JJZolx
2008-06-16, 21:17
I have a feeling that the foray into the world of audiophilia was a one-off. Logitech is a company built on selling 10's of thousands of $50 products, not fifty $10,000 ones.

One big issue I see with a high-end audio company using the Squeezebox and SqueezeServer slim device approach is that it's _way_ too techy. The computer audio products that are currently coming out of the industry take a much simpler, more complete approach than the client/server Squeeze system. They're drop-in items to the audio rack. They don't go near things like wireless routers and DHCP and WPA-PSK and porting software to run on Mac OS X and Linux and Vista and with web interfaces and scrolling screen savers and all the millions of headaches and customer service issues that go with the Squeeze approach. I'll bet most of those companies have at most two or three outsourced programmers working on their software. That's a fraction of the number that Logitech is paying to work on Squeezebox software and firmware.

adamslim
2008-06-17, 06:33
One big issue I see with a high-end audio company using the Squeezebox and SqueezeServer slim device approach is that it's _way_ too techy. The computer audio products that are currently coming out of the industry take a much simpler, more complete approach than the client/server Squeeze system. They're drop-in items to the audio rack. They don't go near things like wireless routers and DHCP and WPA-PSK and porting software to run on Mac OS X and Linux and Vista and with web interfaces and scrolling screen savers and all the millions of headaches and customer service issues that go with the Squeeze approach. I'll bet most of those companies have at most two or three outsourced programmers working on their software. That's a fraction of the number that Logitech is paying to work on Squeezebox software and firmware.

I agree, but I actually see this as an opportunity. These hifi companies have established dealers to help with the install, and if they package up a NAS or silent PC with a wifi system that just plugs into a router - together with a standard install of SC - then you have the ease of install and support that is necessary for the consumer.

cliveb
2008-06-17, 07:36
It strikes me that streaming audio is still in its infancy, and every company that's having a go is doing it their own way. It's a bit like VHS v. Betamax at the moment. (Or rather, it's actually more like the plethora of competing recording technologies that were around at the turn of the last century).

The basic idea of streaming audio cannot become mainstream until the dominant method of music distribution becomes integrated with the playback technology (ie. in the way that I can buy an audio CD anywhere and it'll play on any CD player).

It'll be some years before an industry standard way of doing things emerges. Unfortunately the eventual winner will be dictated by commercial muscle rather than technical superiority.

At this stage, all the pioneers (Slim, Sonos, Roku, McIntosh, Linn, etc) are minnows. When the big fish (Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba et al) agree on a format, the rest of the world will just have to like it or lump it. Depressing, isn't it?

ralphpnj
2008-06-17, 08:17
It strikes me that streaming audio is still in its infancy, and every company that's having a go is doing it their own way. It's a bit like VHS v. Betamax at the moment. (Or rather, it's actually more like the plethora of competing recording technologies that were around at the turn of the last century).

The basic idea of streaming audio cannot become mainstream until the dominant method of music distribution becomes integrated with the playback technology (ie. in the way that I can buy an audio CD anywhere and it'll play on any CD player).

It'll be some years before an industry standard way of doing things emerges. Unfortunately the eventual winner will be dictated by commercial muscle rather than technical superiority.

At this stage, all the pioneers (Slim, Sonos, Roku, McIntosh, Linn, etc) are minnows. When the big fish (Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba et al) agree on a format, the rest of the world will just have to like it or lump it. Depressing, isn't it?

Clive,

While your points are well taken, I still beg to disagree. As a very fine example of why I do so just take a look at the iPod. While the big fish stumbled around Apple came forward with a very easy to use device that literately blow the big fish out of the water and went on to become the de facto standard for portable music players. I believe that a similar thing is quite possible in the realm of streaming music devices and in fact, is not only possible but may actually be happening with the SqueezeBox and Duet.

As further proof of Slim Devices market leading status just look at the competition - the audio companies either make poor sounding devices (MacIntosh), devices with terrible user interfaces (Linn) or devices which use a proprietary network protocol (Sonos). Only Slim Devices offers a stable user interface and a flexible device which works with standard network protocols.

As for the idea of licensing, there are plenty places where the insides of the "Receiver" can be installed to very good affect. Build a "Receiver" into a home theater AV receiver and one now has a means of listening to music via one's iTunes collection (and remember that almost all iPod owners, except for those of us geeks with RockBox installed, have a copy of their iPod music sitting on their computer) or by streaming from the internet and also a very simple way of obtaining firmware updates for both the "Receiver" and it's host receiver.

Add to all this the market muscle that Logitech brings to the table and the idea of licensing becomes a no brainer.

JJZolx
2008-06-17, 11:20
It strikes me that streaming audio is still in its infancy

We're talking about two different things, then. "Streaming" audio is internet radio stations, Rhapsody, Pandora, etc. I guarantee that not many of those audio companies have any desire to go there. You don't sell someone a $7k music server so that they can listen to a 128kbps music service. If the device has network connectivity (primary use: downloading metadata when ripping CDs) then maybe they throw streaming playback in as an afterthought.


It'll be some years before an industry standard way of doing things emerges. Unfortunately the eventual winner will be dictated by commercial muscle rather than technical superiority.

I don't see an industry standard emerging because there's no need for one. Interoperability isn't an issue. If there is a standard to note, then it's merely the design model that is currently being used - a fully contained music server and playback system in one.

Nonreality
2008-06-17, 12:56
Not everyone that turns on their system is going to have to have "audiophile" quality at all times. Why do high end receivers and tuners still have FM on them. There are times I want the best sound but at others I'm reading and messing around and I enjoy my 128 streaming stations. I feel that they have improved considerably and aren't bad at all now. It's more of a convenience factor rather than quality. I still want it to sound good but love the fact that I have access to things I would not usually have.

EFP
2008-06-17, 14:05
You don't sell someone a $7k music server so that they can listen to a 128kbps music service.

There's no reason not to expect this bitrate to increase to lossless as infrastructure expands. Maybe satellite won't be able to get there but terrestrial over the air already has high definition (video as well as audio) available. Throw a fast ethernet link at it and it's a no brainer - it seems like an oversight to include streaming capability as an afterthought. Heck, I bet you could even charge extra for it as a premium service.

If the entire internets broke then yeah you'd want a local copy but I think there might be more serious matters than when you will next be able to listen to your favorite music.

JJZolx
2008-06-17, 14:16
There's no reason not to expect this bitrate to increase to lossless as infrastructure expands.

It's not an infrastructure questin so much as one of cost to the broadcaster. I'll have a 15 Mpbs Comcast connection for under $70 before too long, but bandwidth in datacenters isn't going down in price at anywhere near that pace. My favorite local radio station just dropped their 128kbps stream due to the cost of bandwidth. Now the best they offer is 32 kbps.

atrocity
2008-06-17, 14:51
terrestrial over the air already has high definition (video as well as audio) available.

But broadcast HDTV has nothing on the disc-based formats. Broadcast looks great until too much moves within the frame, at which point it consistently breaks up into utter garbage. And, while I have no complaint with it, the accompanying audio is 5.1, but certainl not "high definition".

The "HD" in "HD-Radio" is "Hybrid Digital", not "High Definition". Oddly enough, I notice more compression artifacts during speech with HD-Radio than I do with music. Not sure why. In my experience, if reception is excellent, analog FM sounds better than its HD counterpart. But where reception is marginal, HD is pretty darned sweet indeed.

bertbert
2008-06-17, 15:10
I might be bringing the debate down a bit but as a serious user of slim devices (7 squeezebox/slimp3s in the house) and a frivolous audiophile with a Naim setup I was looking to see if it is currently possible to integrate NaimNet (based on NetStreams stuff)/the new Naim HDX with the slim devices setup.

Anyone looked at this?

Bert

cliveb
2008-06-18, 00:51
We're talking about two different things, then. "Streaming" audio is internet radio stations, Rhapsody, Pandora, etc.
Sorry if I used the wrong terminology. I was trying to refer to home audio reproduction from a hard disk without using a physical medium such as CD.


I don't see an industry standard emerging because there's no need for one. Interoperability isn't an issue.
Interoperability most definitely *is* an issue. At the moment, we already have an industry standard for music distribution: the CD. We get around lack of interoperability among hard disk based playback systems by ripping the CD and populating our hard disks in an appropriate manner. But this is a cumbersome process, and the mainstream music consumer won't be interested - what they want is to be able to buy their music and play it without any kind of messing about.

What's needed is a mechanism whereby they go online, buy the music they want, and it appears in their audio playback system ready to go. That will require an industry agreement as to how music will be delivered electronically. If you have multiple incompatible systems for playback, you'll need multiple delivery systems, and due to inevitable licensing complications each artist's material will end up available only on a subset of the various systems. What are you going to do when you discover a new musician you like, but whose albums are not available on the system you've invested in?

funkstar
2008-06-18, 01:59
What's needed is a mechanism whereby they go online, buy the music they want, and it appears in their audio playback system ready to go. That will require an industry agreement as to how music will be delivered electronically. If you have multiple incompatible systems for playback, you'll need multiple delivery systems, and due to inevitable licensing complications each artist's material will end up available only on a subset of the various systems. What are you going to do when you discover a new musician you like, but whose albums are not available on the system you've invested in?
Most of the complication is because of DRM, remove that and things get a lot easier.

ralphpnj
2008-06-18, 04:39
Interoperability most definitely *is* an issue. At the moment, we already have an industry standard for music distribution: the CD. We get around lack of interoperability among hard disk based playback systems by ripping the CD and populating our hard disks in an appropriate manner. But this is a cumbersome process, and the mainstream music consumer won't be interested - what they want is to be able to buy their music and play it without any kind of messing about.

What's needed is a mechanism whereby they go online, buy the music they want, and it appears in their audio playback system ready to go. That will require an industry agreement as to how music will be delivered electronically. If you have multiple incompatible systems for playback, you'll need multiple delivery systems, and due to inevitable licensing complications each artist's material will end up available only on a subset of the various systems. What are you going to do when you discover a new musician you like, but whose albums are not available on the system you've invested in?

Clive,

Once again you bring up some very valid points but once again you fail to take into account what that annoying little device, the iPod, as shown us about people's willingness to learn about how to work with digital music files.

As funkstar so rightly pointed out, most of the problems with digital music files are due that scourge of all things digital known as DRM. Add into that the various reports floating around the net that not everyone's iPod is filled with files purchased from the iTunes store and one can see that people are more than willing to work with several different file formats to get the music they want.

Perhaps the greater issue will not be file format but rather file tags since tags are at the heart of every software based digital music system, especially Squeeze Center. So, if anything, some kind of tagging standard will need to be developed to move hard drive based music systems, whether streamed, like Squeeze Center, or computer driven, like iTunes, forward into mass market acceptance. But don't kid yourself because the computer driven systems (by which I mean playing back one's hard drive based digital music files through one's computer's audio system) are already well on their way to mass market acceptance, it's the streaming systems which need to catch up and Slim Devices is in the driver's seat as far as that is concerned.

Another thing that has not been mentioned thus far are all the iPod based music playback systems which have been sold. One takes one's iPod and plugs it into one these iPod based boom boxes and gets an easy way to play one's digital music files on something other earbuds or a computer. Placing a Slim Devices "Receiver" into an AV receiver would serve a similar purpose but without the need for an iPod or any other hardware besides a computer and properly setup home network, two things which many households already possess.

Basically I see it as a win-win situation and hopefully someone at Slim Devices will see it this way as well.

cliveb
2008-06-18, 06:27
Once again you bring up some very valid points but once again you fail to take into account what that annoying little device, the iPod, as shown us about people's willingness to learn about how to work with digital music files.
The iPod has indeed demonstrated a model that works for the mainstream, and because it's so dominant, it points towards the likely future. Remember what I said previously?:

What's needed is a mechanism whereby they go online, buy the music they want, and it appears in their audio playback system ready to go. That will require an industry agreement as to how music will be delivered electronically.
iTunes is precisely such a mechanism. People can buy stuff from ITMS and it just appears in iTunes. Additionally they can rip their own CDs with iTunes and the music appears, ready to go. This is precisely the model that is needed. The problem here though is that (apart from listening via the computer itself) you're restricted to using Apple hardware to actually play your music. Unless some enterprising third parties decide to integrate with iTunes - third parties like Slim Devices, for example.

You see where this is going? If there's ever going to be a universal technology for non-physical music distribution and playback, then due to its dominant market position Apple is on the brink on making iTunes that technology. By integrating with iTunes, third parties like Slim Devices are merely strengthening Apple's position. Of course the fact that other systems like SqueezeCenter *are* integrated with iTunes means that the consumer at least has a choice of playback hardware. But quite frankly if they are already running iTunes and just want a convenient playback device, aren't they more likely to just buy an Airport Express or Apple TV? If anyone is in a strong position to license their playback technology to third parties, it's Apple.


Perhaps the greater issue will not be file format but rather file tags since tags are at the heart of every software based digital music system, especially Squeeze Center.
I never mentioned file formats. The codecs and containers used are secondary. The crucial issue here is the protocols used to deliver and play music content. (And as you rightly point out, tagging must be a central part of that protocol). The Slim Devices protocol is one such candidate (although it only addresses the playback side of the equation, and is somewhat hostage to the tagging quality of the files it's pointed at). iTunes is another, and has the advantage of being beautifully integrated with the largest digital music distribution system around.

So instead of the industry arriving at an agreed mechanism based on technical excellence, it will drift into one based on commercial muscle. It only needs a Sony, Panasonic or similar hardware vendor to get into bed with Apple and it'll be done and dusted. I can't see how Slim Devices can realistically hope to influence this process.

Of course, if iTunes does become the dominant hard disk music organisation mechanism, then by being integrated with it the Slim Devices players remain viable. But only as niche offerings - the man in the street isn't going to want to bother installing SqueezeCenter if he can buy some other playback device that is driven directly from iTunes.

(I'd better just point out that I do not use iTunes or an iPod).

ralphpnj
2008-06-18, 07:15
iTunes is precisely such a mechanism. People can buy stuff from ITMS and it just appears in iTunes. Additionally they can rip their own CDs with iTunes and the music appears, ready to go. This is precisely the model that is needed. The problem here though is that (apart from listening via the computer itself) you're restricted to using Apple hardware to actually play your music. Unless some enterprising third parties decide to integrate with iTunes - third parties like Slim Devices, for example.

The main reason that iTunes (and to a lesser extent, Microsoft) will fail to be the dominant player in this emerging field is Apple's (and Microsoft's) insistence on proprietary formats, in the form of DRM. Apple's (and Microsoft's) DRM isn't about protecting the rights of the copyright holder but in protecting it's own hardware and software. The Slim Devices hardware cannot play files with DRM, whether they be from the iTunes Music Store or MSN Music Store, since neither Apple nor Microsoft will release the necessary software hooks to properly decode their DRMed files. DRM free files will very shortly be the only viable means of selling music online. And once everything is DRM free the playing field will be much more level and then Slim Devices will be able to gain the mass market share it so richly deserves.

cliveb
2008-06-18, 08:11
The main reason that iTunes (and to a lesser extent, Microsoft) will fail to be the dominant player in this emerging field is Apple's (and Microsoft's) insistence on proprietary formats, in the form of DRM.
Yes, valid point. I agree wholeheartedly that DRM is a barrier to mass acceptance. However...


DRM free files will very shortly be the only viable means of selling music online. And once everything is DRM free the playing field will be much more level and then Slim Devices will be able to gain the mass market share it so richly deserves.
(I'm a little more pessimistic about the timeframe in which we'll see the demise of DRM. But that's incidental - DRM will have to die sooner or later).

But when it does, you can bet that Apple will embrace the new model. They've already made a start with their EMI-sourced content. And that means that iTunes will remain the dominant technology. The demise of DRM won't change the fact that the playing field will remain far from level - the major players are too well entrenched.

I'm as much a fan of Slim Devices products as anyone, but we have to keep a sense of perspective. They are a niche player - nobody is going to gain mass market share unless they can hook the big fish as partners, and I still see Apple as having the best opportunity to do that.

snarlydwarf
2008-06-18, 08:20
The Slim Devices hardware cannot play files with DRM, whether they be from the iTunes Music Store or MSN Music Store

Soon, nothing will be able to play anything from MSN Music Store....

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080422-drm-sucks-redux-microsoft-to-nuke-msn-music-drm-keys.html

But, yeah, I agree other than that part.

ralphpnj
2008-06-18, 08:38
Yes, valid point. I agree wholeheartedly that DRM is a barrier to mass acceptance. However...


(I'm a little more pessimistic about the timeframe in which we'll see the demise of DRM. But that's incidental - DRM will have to die sooner or later).

But when it does, you can bet that Apple will embrace the new model. They've already made a start with their EMI-sourced content. And that means that iTunes will remain the dominant technology. The demise of DRM won't change the fact that the playing field will remain far from level - the major players are too well entrenched.

I'm as much a fan of Slim Devices products as anyone, but we have to keep a sense of perspective. They are a niche player - nobody is going to gain mass market share unless they can hook the big fish as partners, and I still see Apple as having the best opportunity to do that.

Clive,

Before I try and answer your very valid points, let me just say that this thread proves that it is quite possible to have a decent and meaningful discussion without any flaming. Thanks for holding up your end of things.

On DRM we completely agree. As for some of the other issues, I do see your point about Apple having the most successful online model but I don't see how that would effect Slim Devices other then if Apple could some how make an iPod/iTunes type interface work as the front end for a streaming audio system. Plus Itunes would have to be rewritten or modified to somehow work as a server, something it does not presently do. But even so Slim Devices is already well into that game with it's Duet system and Squeeze Center, which they keep on refining for ease of use.


Soon, nothing will be able to play anything from MSN Music Store....

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080422-drm-sucks-redux-microsoft-to-nuke-msn-music-drm-keys.html

But, yeah, I agree other than that part.

Just one more reason why DRM sucks and can't die fast enough (as if we need any more reasons).

cliveb
2008-06-18, 09:54
Before I try and answer your very valid points, let me just say that this thread proves that it is quite possible to have a decent and meaningful discussion without any flaming.
Lucky this isn't happening in the Audiophile forum, I guess :-)


I do see your point about Apple having the most successful online model but I don't see how that would effect Slim Devices other then if Apple could some how make an iPod/iTunes type interface work as the front end for a streaming audio system. Plus Itunes would have to be rewritten or modified to somehow work as a server, something it does not presently do.
As a non Apple user I may have misunderstood, but I got the impression that the Apple TV is effectively a hardware device that does indeed allow iTunes to stream music to it. It may be that iTunes isn't a server in the formal sense, but from a practical usage perspective, their playback system behaves in a similar way. (Or perhaps I've got the wrong end of the stick as regards Apple TV. For example, can one have multiple Apple TVs playing different things at the same time?)

Let's look at this from a different angle. If iTunes does become the de-facto worldwide personal music organisation system, with iTunes integration SqueezeCenter still has its role. By all means let Logitech try and persuade third parties to license their playback technology. But I remain skeptical that they could pull it off.