The new digital home audio device – the television

…or something connected to it.

The addition of Internet radio feature (Pandora/Slacker/Last.fm) to Internet connected televisions and set-top boxes (Blu-ray players, Tivo, Roku, Xbox etc) raise this existential question - do we need a stand-alone device for audio in the home?

I know what you’re thinking. Adding a radio channel to a primarily video device does not mean the end of the audio only product category. But it could very well be the beginning of the decline. And here are some of the reasons why.

  • Close to 40 percent of US adults have their TVs connected to a home theater audio system. These systems tend to have nice speakers.
  • More people than you’d expect already listen to music on their TV through cable channels.
  • Engagement with traditional radio is down across all age groups and Internet radio on PC has its limitations. 
  • Having a TV screen allows music service providers to enhance the experience through album art, lyrics and other interactive features, some of which was lost when music went digital.
  • Devices such as Tivo and Apple TV also provide access to your own PC/Mac based music libraries. There is no reason to think that the next incarnation of other set top boxes might not do the same.
  • Plus if music moves to the cloud you may not even need to access your local PC/Mac and can stream all your music through your TV.
  • And with so many boxes to choose from and a finite entertainment spending budget, consumers might buy the one that gives the most bang for the buck (video and audio).

The devices most at risk right now are the streaming audio players such as Logitech’s Squeezebox and Philips’ Streamium. But those iPod docking stations won’t be safe either in a few years. Will the home audio market then just shrink to home theater systems, and multi room high-end audio systems (such as Sonos) for the audiophiles? Should the network music players then convert themselves to more than just music boxes a la Chumby or Sony Dash with a screen and apps/widgets?

I am in the midst of developing this idea into a report and welcome any comments on the topic.