Four Alternatives to Sonos Music: Stream Your Music to Speakers

Can’t afford a Sonos? Here are some cheaper DIY options and hacks. Stream your music via your existing speakers/stereo via a Beep, Rocki or a low-cost tablet.

connect phone to stereo system to play and stream music wifi bluetooth

So your phone is holding  your music collection and access to your online radio stations. And you have boom boxes, speakers and old amplifiers sitting around… depreciating. How do you connect them via Bluetooth or Wifi so you can stream your music in full sound?

Sonos sounds great, but aren't cheap. Especially if all you want is to activate your exiting stereo.
Sonos sounds great, but aren’t cheap. Especially if all you want is to activate your exiting stereo.

If you’re an audiophile with excess cash, the Sonos Play 1 is a $199 Wifi amplified speaker that is easy to use, sounds great, and fairly portable. I have one of them and the $299 Sonos Play 2 , and they come with an iPhone/Android app that allows me to stream Pandora or my saved music from my phone or laptop. SONOS does have a way you can connect to your existing speaker/amp, but it’s even more expensive than the one with the speaker (it’c called a SONOS connect). Note that you need one $44 SONOS bridge for to get started, and that Bose is also catching up with the Soundtouch.

So what if you don’t want to spring for a new amplified speaker? What if all you want is the ability to connect your phone to your existing stereo system? Here are four less expensive options.

  1. The real poor-man’s solution is my do-it-yourself speaker kit. But you’ll have to live with the frustrating range limits of Bluetooth. And some of the Wifi options are not that much more expensive.
  2. beep wifi speaker aluminum ashtrayAlternatively, you can wait for a Beep , which is a retro-looking metallic device that will connect your existing speakers to your digital music. Beep, created by some Google alumni, says it makes all your speakers wireless, but it doesn’t have an amplifier. But if you have good speakers without an amp, here’s an $18 amp that sounds like it should cost $100.  Beep is not available yet, but the pre-orders are $99. No shipping date announced on site (at least that I could find). Here’s a Cnet review.
  3. rocki speakerThe Rocki is very similar to the Beep, but also not yet available. Personally I like the Beep’s look better. To me the Rocki looks a bit cheap, although one critic says the Beep looks like an aluminum ashtray from bowling alleys, turned upside down. Touche.
  4. And here’s a clever Wifi audio hack. Buy a crappy tablet (like this iView Cyberpad at NewEgg)  and connect it to your existing stereo system via its headphone jack. This would also work if you have an old iPhone. But I don’t believe you can control it via your existing phone.

Here’s an article that also shows you how to stream tunes via an AppleTV or Miracast if you’re an Android user.

You Don’t Have to Be CableTV’s Bitch. Options Abound!

The poor television networks and cable. In one of the seminal points of the evolution of online-video-to-television and mobile, the networks are putting legitimate near-term business desires and needs above consumer demand and innovation. You could view recent moves — like blocking GoogleTV and Hulu’s paid app with ads — as strength and discipline. Avoiding threats to their lucrative cable TV partnerships. Or you could view all of this as a tragic flaw — not dissimilar to the music industry’s early failures in the dawn of digital distribution.

CableTV and networks are preserving their cash cows. But not for long.

It’s the perilous curse of any comfy industries that is reticent to let high-potential new revenue streams and consumer demand cannibalize their cash cows … and it’s the cart blanche for startups that produce new models to meet consumer needs.

But guess what? You have a choice (see options below). Ironically, I have Verizon FIOS servicing my home as I write this blog entry, and the company is updating its offering to provide more for less (less expensive additions, faster broadband and soon web-via-TV). Still, the cable-TV box is quickly dying (see WSJ). The FTC is making it harder for CableTV companies to force its own boxes on people, yet most of the “unwashed masses” don’t know they have other options. It amazes me that most people are oblivious to the fact that the CableTV box and the DVD player are the least interesting things that can feed their HDTV.

Meanwhile, Hulu is also slipping: yesterday I was about to download the Hulu app on my iPad, until I saw that it had one of the worst ratings I’ve yet seen on iPhone/iPad apps! Apparently the “Generation I” isn’t keen on the subscription charge plus commercials, and Hulu is missing the opportunity to develop an ad-supported wide “anytime, anywhere” distribution of network content without intermediaries. In a similar flub, Google TV is being blocked by networks and Hulu, because they’re no doubt rooting for a network-friendly cable alternative that will take forever and suck. But they’re counting on it stopping a “great migration” away from monthly cable.

You can’t blame the networks for wanting to charge for content, which is the very basis of a very fair $99 AppleTV model (where consumers pay “ala cart” to rent specific television shows, and it’s commercial free HD content without a subscription). But the “one to watch,” in my opinion and others, is Netflix’s evolving model, a fixed-price (as low as $8) “all you can eat” movie rental service which is becoming much more generous and easy, as viewing options rapidly expand from DVDs by mail to desktop, Roku, AppleTV, Netflix, some DVR and DVD players, and iPhone. We don’t even bother with those red Netflix envelopes by mail, and our days of visiting Blockbuster are completely over. Sometimes we accidentally pay $5 for Verizon’s “on demand” movies, only to discover they’re part of the free Netflix library to which we subscribe!

Hulu’s bi-polar approach, driven surely by networks and not by Jason Kilar, the company’s smart, flexible and customer-oriented CEO. Kilar has created a site designed first for viewers, and offers advertisers novel ad options (like allowing viewers to view one trailer instead of multiple in-stream ads, or giving consumers the choice of what ad they view). But Hulu also has to protect its content partners, who aren’t keen on anything that threatens the addictive income they fetch from cable providers.

Just like smart phones exploded in the past 18 months, the online-video & television merger is just entering “the tipping point.” It appears the emergence of GoogleTV has everyone innovating in desperation. So what should you do?

Like the boys from Prison Break, set yourself free. You have options to escape the restrictions of your cableTV provider.
  1. Join Netflix for if you watch more than 2-3 movies a month. It’s the most cost-efficient and easiest way to watch movies because it’s “all you can eat” on a fairly decent library. To enjoy it beyond the laptop, you’ll want a $99 AppleTV or $80 Roku. The quality is fantastic, and it’s easy to use.
  2. Google TV has folks scared. And scared industries innovate.
  3. Unless you don’t mind the horribly slow and counter-intuitive cable boxes, you may still want a TiVo. It’s frustrating to pay TiVo a monthly subscription (around $15)  and still pay your cable provider maybe $5 for a card allowing TiVo to read the signal. But TiVo is the gold-standard for easy interface, and sells refurbished boxes. Even better, there’s one you can rent, which helps you avoid the one-two pain punch of a purchased unit plus subscription. TiVo, like most new Blueray DVDs and retail DVRs, also offers Netflix and other services (like Amazon and Blockbuster, for when Netflix doesn’t stock the latest movies).
  4. Keep your eye on CableTV box alternatives: AppleTV, GoogleTV and all of the new BlueRay DVDs with advanced options. You’ll find there’s far more for your HDTV to enjoy when it’s not plugged into that archaic cable box, but most of us accept these dumb boxes without question. As I learned recently from Cluetrain Manifesto author Doc Sears, the manufacturers of these boxes will attest the fact that the cable providers “dumb them down” for various reasons, not the least of which is preservation of a dying business model.
  5. Finally, if you hate watching television via a hot laptop, you may be a candidate for an iPad. It’s small, it streams Netflix well, and it’s a good bed/couch option if your spouse is watching Nancy Grace and you want to avoid getting a TV lobotomy.
My wife watches Nancy Grace, and I'd rather hear our pet pig squeal (or watch something smart and funny on my iPad with scream-canceling headphones)

Website Video Tools if You’re Too Poor for Brightcove But Too Rich to Settle for YouTube Embeds

I’ve long been baffled by the overwhelming alternatives of video-streaming players. It struck me as a commodity market, and one ready for a major consolidation… and I couldn’t understand why anyone would pay to stream videos on their site when so many cool tools are free (which here means “cheaper than $100 a month”).

Larry Kless, who will facilitate a panel I’m on at “Online Video Platform Summit” (Streaming Media West) in a few days, blogged recently about video-streaming. Don’t read Kress’ blog because he fails to mention me (tee, hee), but check the USAToday piece about a maturing space that includes such players as Fliqz, Sorenson Media’s 360, and VideoBloom. Adap.tv is another player, but not mentioned.

So it finally it occurs to me (I’m a little slow when it comes to technology, damnit) that there appears to be a sustainable middle-space between free sites (YouTube, Blip, Vimeo, etc) and more robust corporate solutions (which Brightcove and others are trying to secure).

I urge clients and marketers to post on YouTube regardless of what they choose to stream videos on their tiny little websites. It’s a no-brainer for two reasons: first, because it helps their content optimize on search engines (sorry girlfriend, but Google aint indexing your Quicktime player buried three layers deep on your product.com site). Second, most people will find the video on YouTube video far before ever finding their stupid website… and that may be enough to make a sale.

That said, embedding YouTube videos on your website gives off an amateur vibe. You can’t private label it, it may have related videos that take people elsewhere, and you get limited data. And Brightcove is getting that “if you haven’t heard of us you probably can’t afford us” vibe.

Enter the mid-market players, which will provide far more customization and data without breaking the bank (TubeMogul.com has partnerships with a lot of free sites that also serve this need in various degrees). And here’s how it works:

  1. Upload your videos to the sites, sorensonmedia.com, fliqz.com or videobloom.com, where they are hosted.
  2. Tweak the video player to include your company name (now you get branding and a less amateur feel).
  3. Grab a code to place the video on your site or blog (you can first share the video privately with clients for approvals, which requires a lot of effort on YouTube).
  4. Pay a monthly fee. Sorenson and Fliqz start at $99 monthly.

I will still argue that this space is ripe for consolidation, and that most small-to-medium businesses will probably choose their video player based on their choice of hosting provider (the same way we accept whatever damned device our cable or car manufacturer provides). So if I were one of these guys, I’d be developing partnerships with those providers and giving them an upsell opportunity in exchange for an installed base.

I also fear that these players, when finding the low-level market increasingly price sensitive, will have trouble moving far “upstream,” as most dreaded Fortune 500 information-systems or information-technology departments pride themselves on rejecting anything that isn’t enterprise worthy (and only Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, God, Blackberry and perhaps Brightcove know how to pull that off).