Electric Jukebox gives you hassle-free music streaming on your TV, for a price (hands-on)

This may be the easiest way to enjoy the endless choice of music streaming: just plug it into your TV and say the name of your favourite band into the remote control. It's not cheap though.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
5 min read

Wouldn't it be great if your TV was a jukebox with an infinite choice of songs, for free? That's the promise of Electric Jukebox.

Now if you're thinking, "Why the heck do I need this doohickey? I have Spotify synced to my smartphone and my Sonos!" then fair enough -- this probably isn't for you. But, without wishing to be patronising, it might be good for your mum or dad, your brother or sister, your boss, or anyone who isn't as au fait with the latest technology.

So if you're thinking, "Sonos? Spotify? Aren't they Brazilian soccer players?" then also fair enough -- this may be for you. Perhaps you buy (or used to buy) CDs, or only hear music by listening to the radio. The Electric Jukebox may be the easiest way to enjoy the endless choice of streaming, which means beaming your music from the infinite jukebox that is the Internet rather than hearing just the records you yourself have bought.

The Electric Jukebox aims to be a first time streamer (pictures)

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Here's an easy way to think about Electric Jukebox: Remember when the Nintendo Wii came out, and suddenly the whole family, who didn't know their Atari from their elbow, was jumping around the living room playing video games? Spotify is the PlayStation, Sonos is the Xbox -- and Electric Jukebox is the Wii.

One major difference from the cheap and cheerful Wii though: it's expensive. It's available to preorder from the company's website today for £179 in the UK and $229 in the US. It will go on sale from major electronics retailers and other stores "in time for Christmas," the Electric Jukebox Company says.

How it works

To use Electric Jukebox, plug it into an HDMI socket on your TV and turn it on. You'll be prompted to connect to your home's Wi-Fi, typing out the password if necessary on an onscreen keyboard.

And that's it. You can now start listening to CD-quality music. You don't have to plug in your phone or open an app. You don't have to type in an email address or password. You don't have to enter your credit card details or make monthly payments.

Tell the remote what you want to hear. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You simply say the name of your favourite band into the remote control and you can start playing music immediately.

A jukebox may be easy to use, but it's no good if it doesn't have any records in it. On that note, the people behind Electric Jukebox promise that music from all the major record labels will be present and correct, although we'll look out for exceptions when we get our hands on it. We're promised that new albums will be added as they're released, so if you're a lapsed CD buyer you may find yourself listening to new music -- although, again, it remains to be seen how soon new albums actually appear on the Electric Jukebox.

What's the catch?

Is there a catch? Of course. Electric Jukebox keeps the music service invisible, but you can't just plonk down some cash and have infinite free music forever. So after a year, the service will start playing you adverts, or you can continue as you are by paying a yearly subscription of £60 or $60. In other words, after a year of unlimited music for just the up-front price of the box, Electric Jukebox turns into a subscription streaming service like Spotify Premium or Tidal, for which you pay £10 or $10 per month (that is, twice as much over the course of a year).

As such, you could buy a similar but substantially cheaper streaming stick, like the £35/$40 Amazon Fire TV Stick or £30/$35 Google Chromecast Audio, and use it to listen to Amazon Prime Music, Spotify or your choice of streaming service. Then you get loads more features, including smartphone support.

With the Electric Jukebox, you're paying a lot more up front in order to avoid the headache of ongoing payments (for a year) and complicated apps. Tech-savvy readers may not see the advantage, but there are plenty who would.

Wave the wand to make your choice. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The details

The onscreen interface, which is powered by the Web standard HTML5, begins with a home screen that shows just three options: your saved music, new music you might like, and a search option to find specific tunes or artists. Pointing your remote on the saved music zooms you in to see the tracks or albums you have marked as a favourite. The discover option suggests new music in the form of playlists -- called, charmingly, mixtapes -- created by celebrities such as Robbie Williams and Sheryl Crow.

You can search by typing the name of the artist into an onscreen keyboard by pointing the remote at each letter individually, or just saying the name into the remote. The Electric Jukebox remote control is a Wii-style chunky wand with a microphone in the end so you can say the names of songs, albums, artists and composers. It charges with a Micro-USB connection, the same as most smartphones.

Example searches we saw in our demo include Rachmaninov and Lynyrd Skynyrd, which are much easier to say than to spell. The music dips slightly when you speak into the mic so it can hear you more clearly. Also on the remote is a back button and a play button.

Pick a celeb and hear their favourite music. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

From the name on down, the whole feel of the interface is charmingly old school. Not only are playlists referred to as mixtapes, but songs and albums appear on the screen looking like CDs, complete with a hole in the middle. And when you start playing them, they spin like CDs.

As the song plays, a slideshow of pictures moves across screen. The photos are from the vaults of the Getty photo library, which includes classic photos of artists and bands through the years.

And that's about it. Compared to streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music and the rest, Electric Jukebox is as basic as it gets. You can't share playlists. You can't sync with your phone. But you can get the endless library enjoyed by streaming fans without any of the hassle of signing up to a streaming service.

Electric Jukebox comes in a light blue, red or charcoal black. It's available to pre-order now. It's coming to the US and UK and is expected to be on sale from major retailers.

Editors' note: This first take has been updated with hands-on pictures and video since its publication.