I Want My Wifi Wiki Hifi

by Gordon Mohr

What's a Wifi Wiki Hifi? Imagine that a cafe has both wireless net access and a net-linked stereo. Just like a Wiki website lets visitors edit its pages, such a sound system would let walk-in visitors mix its audio playlist. (See this entry from about a year ago for the genesis of this idea.)

Now, News.com reports on a new class of wireless appliances that connect to TVs and stereos rather than traditional computers. Especially noteworthy is the new Linksys WMA11B Wireless-B Media Adapter. In a single box, it pulls together *almost* all the pieces needed for a Wifi Wiki Hifi.

(One relevant shortcoming of the Linksys device is that as shipped, it only grabs shared media files from a single master host on the local network. So, at least until Linksys -- or some clever hacker -- relaxes this requirement, community playlist contributions would have to be routed through a shared drop-folder on a stable master host.)

The only real impediment here is that if you want to get technical, such dynamic unlicensed music sharing and performance is illegal.

So set up a Wifi Wiki Hifi in your local shared place, and you'll have fun fun fun 'til the lawyers take the music away.

Do you want your Wifi Wiki Hifi?


2003-07-15 05:17:52
potential snag is audio quality
Standard MP3s that sound fine over headphones or computer speakers have a way of sounding washed out on good speakers. iTunes AACs are particulary serious offenders here. No idea whether this is a big enough issue to stop Wifi Wiki Hifi, since the better selection may offset fidelity problems.

There's a DJ in my neighborhood who does all his DJing from MP3s, many of them downloaded, and the result is half crummy because of the audio quality and half amazing because of the obscure gems he comes up with.

2003-07-15 15:15:23
Doesn't have to be a problem
I have a similar setup at home, using Globecom Jukebox. It's got all of my wife and my songs online in MP3 format, ripped straight from the original CDs usually around 256kbps. From there, it goes through a cheap Ensoniq ES1373 sound card which happens to offer S/PDIF digital output (with a flag in the driver) and then out to my receiver and speakers.

Quality is extremely good, and only rarely can I tell the difference between the original CD and the MP3.

What to watch out for? First, make sure you encode at a high bitrate. I don't use anything downloaded from the net, even where legal. I prefer to rip myself so I can make sure the quality is there. Size isn't an issue... my collection takes 18GB, but drives are big. If you want even better quality, don't even compress things... but you'll need a much bigger drive. For me, 256kbps quality is good enough.

Second, make sure you have good audio output, and a good DAC. All the quality you kept in when ripping can be lost if you use the soundcard to convert the audio to analog. Use a card with digital audio out, and ship it to a receiver with a good DAC, and you'll be doing well.

This setup has been quite popular. When we have people over for dinner or whatever, they can use one of the wireless laptops to select songs, and everyone can co-manage the playlist. If the playlist is empty, Globecom Jukebox has an excellent random play mode which takes into account how much you like the song and how often it gets played, so you don't hear the same things over and over again.

2003-07-16 12:41:35
What about TiVo?
I've got a TiVo series 2 with the Home Network option. Add the TiVo client to the computers then via the magic of Rendezvous, all the published playlists from iTunes and albums from iPhoto appear on the Music & Pictures option from the Mac's on the network.

Sounds similar to the general idea here...

2003-07-18 19:17:06
Is it legal?
Commercial venues already have license terms for recorded music they play for the crowd.

It shouldn't be impossible to work out a deal to extend the terms to digital mix and play.

- Adina

2003-07-18 23:52:28
Is it legal?
Yes, the licensing orgs like ASCAP that handle such public-playback rights probably wouldn't mind such activity in an otherwise-licensed venue... they just want more establishments on the blanket plan. It's possible though that their licenses reflexively include boilerplate language insisting that media used for playback be of totally legal provenance. I don't know for sure, and inquiries to forums that might know haven't yet clarified that issue.

So the playback itself is either OK or could probably be made OK fairly easily.

On the other hand, the creation of the ephemeral upload copies, starting from possibly unlicensed copies on customers' machines, remains a technical copyright violation (or two).

Streamcast Networks has been sued for making private copies of legally-purchased music as preparation for a never-launched but plausibly legal streaming service [*], so some elements of the record industry will prosecute anything, if they decide they want to get ya.

[*] http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,59097,00.html

2003-09-30 11:07:12
Is it legal?
I asked a former lawyer for ASCAP how they'd feel about this and he felt strongly that they'd have no problem at all. Interestingly, he also felt the ephemeral copies were not likely to be an issue.

The larger problem is that 99% of the rights holders can sue for peace, but the remaining 1% can still get statutory damages. Who knows what would happen in court?

2003-10-21 13:38:37
WiFi at hotels in the US
Check out StayOnline.net for list of 150 fully wireless hotels, wireless to all guestrooms, common areas, and conference areas.