I’m strongly considering the purchase of a Roku box to stream Netflix and Amazon videos to our television. We have a Mac Mini currently serving that purpose, but the Mac is not really designed to be operated from a couch, one handed, in the middle of the night while you’re holding a fussy baby who won’t go to sleep. The Roku box, with its simple remote control, would make selecting and viewing movies much easier, especially in the situation just described.
Of course, any modification to the core of our entertainment system (such as it is) has me looking at ancillary modifications to go with it. For example, our television is mounted on the wall above our mantel. It is a dozen or more feet from the TV to our couch. We have no surround sound system, so we rely on the TV’s built-in speakers to get the sound to us on the couch. This is usually sub-optimal for a couple of reasons. First, in order to hear whatever program we’re watching, we need to have the volume up a reasonable amount. If the baby is sleeping in her room upstairs, the minimum acceptable listening volume often runs dangerously close to the volume at which she’ll be woken up by it. Second, our furnace blower is extremely loud. If we’re watching a show when the furnace (or AC, depending on season) kicks on, we are required to increase the volume quite a bit in order to hear over the sound of the furnace.
It seems like satellite speakers placed near the couch would be a good investment. I do not want a full-blown surround sound system, though. Since the source of most of our viewing is online, we’re not getting 5.1 audio so a surround system would be a wasted investment. I also don’t want a big bulky receiver in my living room. In addition to looking completely out of place, it’s hard to find a receiver with a minimum of inputs. I only need input from my Mac Mini (or Roku). Maybe a secondary input would be handy for the rare occasions a laptop is connected to the TV. I haven’t found a two input receiver in my brief searches.
While I wasn’t able to find a svelte, minimalist receiver, I did find a couple of nice soundbars. I was very enamored with the Philips soundbars when I was at IFA 2008, so a soundbar seems like something worth considering. But a soundbar would still be sitting under my TV, far away from my couch, sending audio across all that space. What I really want is to place speakers closer to the couch.
A wireless solution seems like a no-brainer at this point. I fell in love with the Sonos wireless audio system when I reviewed it. I would love to connect my Mac Mini (or Roku) to a Sonos ZonePlayer 120, run some speaker wire discreetly across the room, and connect it to speakers near my couch. I could then get a ZonePlayer S5 to connect to my wireless router, and have two zones in which we could enjoy the audio magic provided by Sonos. But that solution quickly approaches $1,000, which seems more than extreme for my primary goal. Of course, it would provide considerably more functionality – multiple zones of independent audio easily and elegantly controlled – than a boring old surround sound system.
I wonder: could I cobble together a multi-room wireless audio solution? Probably, but it would likely take an inordinate amount of time and would be nowhere near as elegant to operate as the Sonos. If it’s not easy to operate, it’s not going to succeed in my house: no one other than me would have the patience to deal with quirks and shortcomings. A rock-solid and completely usable interface is definitely a worthwhile investment.
(I haven’t looked at the Best Buy RocketFish wireless stuff at all. Maybe I’m being snobby, but I don’t expect it to be very good.)
Am I missing something, though? Surely I’m not the only fellow who wants to place a couple speakers next to his couch without investing in a full-blown surround sound system. And while the Sonos would be a great thing to have, is there something else I ought to consider that doesn’t cost quite so much?