Playing BBC Radio 3 or Radio France Musique, the Aluratek unit almost
convinces me I'm living abroad. The sound is better than radio
and better than the output of my netbook plugged in to the stereo;
presumably, the Aluratek unit has a better sound card. These are
the advantages of radio by computer over radio by radio waves.
The problems are that it's still a computer. It can take a
minute to boot and then connect to my home's wireless router.
Then it can be as long as another minute to connect to a station.
Think of the warm-up time as the modern version of vacuum tubes.
Sometimes, a station will go dead for a minute or so before coming
back, but don't blame Aluratek: the same can happen on computers
at the office.
There are sometimes strange interactions involving the Aluratek,
the router, and other computers on the network. For playing sound
files from my computers, Fuppes works, but Gmediaserver does not.
On one computer, Fuppes works only if the computer is hardwired.
Occasionally, the Aluratek unit fails to negotiate WPA2 encryption
with the router and has to be rebooted.
The interface is a little unintuitive: for example, there are two
"favorites" lists, one the box has to retrieve from the Vtuner Web
site, the other saved locally on the Aluratek unit. Someitmes,
it would be nice if the display continued to show the radio station
(and buffering status) instead of timing out to the time display.
(Hitting any button on the remote control returns the display to the
radio station.) Since it is a computer, it wouldn't have cost the
manufacturer anything to add an HTTP or telnet interface, letting the
user control the box from another computer. (In fact, there is an
HTTP interface, but it's set up only to download firmware upgrades.)
These quibbles, however, are minor. The Aluratek unit lets
one listen to music through the stereo, delivering higher quality
than a tuner and thousands more stations. It is more convenient
than plugging a laptop into the stereo and having to deal with a
different Web interface for each station, and, in my test at least,
sounds better too. I thought it was well worth $100, and now
I see it's selling for even less.