Digital player dresses like a radio

Demofall HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.--There are so many digital choices for music today that if you're on an Internet-connected computer, just about any song in the world is a click or two away.

But the folks at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Roku think digital music shouldn't be trapped on computers or MP3 players. They feel consumers know and love their radios and that a tabletop radio-like device that can play digital tunes of all kinds is sure to be a hit.

Credit: Roku

Thus, they've rolled out their SoundBridge Radio Wi-Fi music system, and showed it off at the Demofall 2005 conference here, which ends Wednesday.

The system has the form factor of an actual radio, replete with knobs and buttons and an LED readout, and as such, offers comfort to those afraid of new, unfamiliar technology. It even has a clock and AM/FM radio functionality.

But its real special sauce is the ability to connect to a Wi-Fi network and access Internet radio stations as if they were regular stations. You spin the knob and go through the various choices before selecting one, and you can even define presets. A remote control lets you browse and select digital music from across the room.

The device--which will sell for $399 when it hits consumer electronic retail stores in early Novermber--can also access a user's iTunes library, or read media cards. Effectively, the device is a radio on steroids, uppers and energy bars all at once.

The only problem is that it's not particularly attractive, so it's not clear who, exactly, will want to cart it around. On the other hand, the SoundBridge Radio would make a nice addition to a dark office, allowing users to listen to just about any music they want at any time, assuming they've got a Wi-Fi connection nearby.

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