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Roku's Wi-Fi Radio

Roku's Wi-Fi Radio

If you've ever wanted a way to access online radio as easily as you flip between AM and FM stations, Roku Labs has a product for you. The company today announced the R1000 SoundBridge Radio, a tabletop unit with built-in speakers (and a subwoofer) that includes a built-in Wi-Fi receiver for streaming online radio stations directly from the Internet--without the need for a PC. Of course, the R1000 can also act as a standard digital audio receiver, pulling pretty much any audio file--MP3, WMA, unprotected AAC, WAV, AIFF--from a PC or Mac on your home network. In fact, there's little functional difference between the R1000 and Roku's previous SoundBridge models. That's a good thing because the SoundBridge line outdistances most competition in home-based digital audio products.

Roku stopped by to give us a hands-on demo of the R1000 last week, and I was impressed with what I saw. Unlike earlier SoundBridge models that need to be hooked up to an external stereo, the R1000's tabletop form factor makes it perfect for the bedroom, home office, or kitchen. And the brilliant text display lets you see what you're listening to and even navigate iTunes playlists on a PC with the included remote. And the R1000 works as a standard AM/FM radio, so you always have easy access to local news and weather. Furthermore, the preset buttons can be set to anything: local radio, a playlist, or an online radio station.

Where does the R1000 fall short? I was surprised to see that it lacked a line input, so if you can't stream the content, you can't listen to it. That's not a huge drawback considering Roku's impressive compatibility list--it streams Rhapsody and copy-protected PlaysForSure downloads from your PC, for instance. But despite tight integration with the iTunes software, the R1000 can't stream songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store; a little line-in jack would've allowed the easy workaround of a direct connection to an iPod. Also, unlike the many of the tabletop radios it'll be competing against, the R1000 doesn't have a CD player. Of course, none of those radios have built-in Wi-Fi, and the SoundBridge's target audience is made up of those who've largely moved from CDs to hard disks brimming with digital files.

The Roku R1000 SoundBridge Radio is scheduled to be available in November for $400. CNET will have a full in-depth review at that time.