The only music service the NP1100/37 can currently access is Rhapsody, which makes us wonder why Philips didn't just make Rhapsody the option on the main menu. (Are future services in the works?) Rhapsody is an online subscription music service that lets you stream music from the company's huge online library, provided you sign up for a subscription. The service is nicely integrated on the NP1100/37, giving you access to most of the features available on standard software. While it is possible to search using the number pad on the remote, we found it much easier to add our favorite albums using the Rhapsody PC software, then browse our music from the "My Library" section. We also appreciated the fact that access to Rhapsody didn't depend on having our computer on--it just streams right off the Internet. Not everybody will be willing to spring for the $13-a-month subscription fee, but we're fans of the service and it adds a lot of value to the NP1100/37 for subscribers.
Beyond those music options, there's really nothing else to the NP1100/37. We were surprised to see that it lacks an alarm clock, but without a built-in speaker the value of an alarm would be pretty slim. Still, it's worth noting that the competing Squeezebox Classic offers a huge variety of additional options like the ability to scroll RSS headlines, set an unlimited number of alarms, and a bundle of other music sources such as Pandora, Last.fm, and the Live Music Archive.
Connectivity is a solid on the NP1100/37. There's a coaxial digital audio output for connecting to an AV receiver, as well as a stereo RCA-style analog output. For private listening, there's a headphone output on the back panel, although we would have preferred if it was located on the side for easier access. In addition to 802.11g wireless connectivity, there's an Ethernet port around back if you'd like a more reliable wired connection. Sure, they could have thrown in an optical digital output for more flexibility, but overall it's a complete package.
It's easy to focus on the feature set with digital audio streamers, but the most important feature by far is how seamless its streaming performance is. We set up the NP1100/37 for wireless operation with our Belkin N1 router, and with both units in the same room we (predictably) got excellent performance, with virtually no hiccups during the playback of Internet radio, our own digital music, or Rhapsody tracks. Next up, we moved the router a couple of rooms away, and again we had a nice interruption-free experience. Overall, we were pretty impressed, as we're particularly sensitive to any playback snags.
While we didn't run into any hiccups during tracks, we were a bit annoyed by the slight pauses in between tracks when listening to Rhapsody. While most casual listeners may not even notice, those who tend to listen to albums all the way through (like we do) will find themselves frustrated as the NP1100/37 loads the next song. This isn't a new phenomenon with Rhapsody, as even the native Rhapsody software isn't flawless, but we have become spoiled by the excellent buffering done by the Squeezebox Classic that almost completely eliminates the skip.
In terms of audio quality, we were pleased. Since the unit doesn't have its own speaker and is mostly playing compressed music, there's not much to judge it on, but we did use its analog outs and they were perfectly acceptable in our setup. Predictably, digital output was bit-for-bit perfect and sounded great through a real AV receiver. Again, audiophiles may prefer the Squeezebox line of products that really do pay attention to standard analog output, but unless you've got a library of lossless music, we're betting you won't hear much of an improvement.