SAN JOSE, Calif. - Music lovers can sample songs over the Internet without turning on a personal computer in a first-of-a-kind offering that could help popularize the concept of streaming music.
Unlike digital music files that are bought and downloaded for portable playback, tunes offered through subscription services are typically streamed and require live Internet connections.
In the past, that has meant turning on a computer and running software. The maker of the Sonos Digital Music System, a multi-room home audio setup, now has a way to bypass that.
Sonos' ZonePlayer devices already are connected to a home computer network, but new software for the boxes will now let people access a music service directly without the need for a PC.
The Rhapsody music service from RealNetworks Inc. is the first to adopt the technology, which is being offered as a free software upgrade, but Sonos Inc. expects others to join.
Users would still need a high-speed Internet connection to act as the delivery mechanism for the music streams, but eliminating the always-on PC hassle is a smart move, especially because subscription services want to attract all kinds of music lovers and not just techies, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research.
"This is an important milestone for music subscription services," Gartenberg said. "As other folks get into this space, I think it'll become a standard feature."
Subscription services offer access to millions of songs to users for a monthly fee. Subscribers can listen through a live Web stream or download the digital files to their own devices, though the downloads are only "rented" and disappear if the subscription ends.
The fledgling subscription format, from companies such as Napster Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, has yet to catch on broadly with consumers and struggles for attention against the faster-growing a la carte download model promoted by Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store and others.
Santa Barbara-based Sonos, which has sold more than 70,000 of its wireless home audio system since launching it two years ago, says it wants to tap the vast number of consumers who don't have the time to convert their CDs into digital files but still want the conveniences that digital music products and subscription services have to offer.
"We want the digital music market to explode and I think this will help," said Thomas Cullen, Sonos' vice president of sales and marketing.
Sonos' computer-less Rhapsody offering, which includes a 30-day free trial to the music service, is one of several new features being introduced Thursday as part of its software upgrade.