Review With so many PC owners now having large collections of music on their hard drives, it's no surprise that we're seeing more and more devices designed to get that music off the computer and into the living room. Creative's Sound Blaster Wireless Music attempts to do all of this without the hassle of network cables, instead using a Wi-Fi network to stream audio data, writes Dave Cusick.
For your money, you get a Wi-Fi receiver box which sits next to your stereo, and a chunky remote control with a built-in LCD screen. The remote communicates with the receiver using radio waves rather than infrared, so there's no need for a line of sight to the receiver. The idea is that you can have your PC and wireless access point in one room, your receiver and stereo in another, and you and your remote in a third room.
On the back of the receiver, there are stereo analog audio output sockets, a digital output socket, a power input socket and a USB socket (for use during initial configuration). On the front, there's nothing apart from a circular status light and a Find Remote button which causes the remote control to beep - handy if you're the sort of person who regularly loses things down the back of the sofa.
The audio cable supplied in the box has stereo plugs at one end (to plug into the receiver) but a single jack plug at the other end. That's great if you're connecting it to a Creative speaker system, but if you're connecting it to a stereo then you'll need to buy a cable with stereo plugs at both ends. On the plus side, three AA batteries for the remote are supplied in the box.
There's a CD of software which needs to be installed on your PC in order for the system to work. At the centre of this is Creative MediaSource, a digital music organiser. You have to add your MP3 and WMA audio files to MediaSource's music library in order for them to be available through the Wireless Music system, though this is a quick and painless process. The job of actually streaming data over the wireless network to the receiver is handled transparently by a little server program, and once installed this will quietly start itself every time you boot up your PC.
If your wireless network uses standard, out-of-the-box settings (such as assigning IP addresses using DHCP, and not having WEP activated) then you can pretty much plug everything in, turn it all on and go. Otherwise, you'll need to hook the receiver up to the PC using the supplied USB cable, and work your way through a configuration wizard. This requires you to know details such as the SSID of your wireless network, the IP address the receiver should use, and the network WEP key (but note that shared key WEP is not supported).
After turning everything on, it takes a few seconds for the components of the system to find each other, and then you're ready to start playing tunes from your digital music library.
The menu on the remote's LCD screen is simple and intuitive, and will seem familiar if you have used any of Creative's portable MP3 players. You can pick individual tracks from your library, sorted by artist, album or genre, or you can play entire playlists that you've created using the MediaSource software. You can also listen to "Smart Playlists", generated by the software based on your listening preferences - for instance, Most Frequently Played, or Old Favourites (highly rated songs you've not played in the last month).