Streaming music service Rdio comes to Roku; should Music Unlimited be worried?

Last week Sony rolled out its Music Unlimited service to Playstation 3 owners and web users, and I did a hands-on post about it. I've been using the service since (thanks to a generous 30-day trial of the Premium tier) and have to admit I'm starting to enjoy the convenience of a cloud-based music service. I've used Pandora in the past, of course, but being able to search for a specific song or artist and play it is really nice.

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I still wasn't sure Music Unlimited was the right streaming service for me though. One of the alternatives I've been looking at is Rdio. Rdio has some features Music Unlimited doesn't. For one thing it's more social and has a recommendation engine. For another, there're iPad, Android, Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry mobile apps for the service (and you can sync some music to your device for local playing). There's also an Adobe Air-based desktop client. All nice features to have. But I liked that Music Unlimited ran on my PS3 and thus through my home theater. I'm sure I could've patched together a way to stream Rdio from a PC to my home theater via some kind of DLNA scheme, but that felt like too much hassle just to listen to some music. And then today came the word that Rdio was coming to the Roku! Regular readers know that I'm already a big Roku fan, and running music through a totally silent device sounds like a better option than running it through a noisy (relative to the totally silent Roku) PS3. Plus my Roku is always on and at the ready and starting Music Unlimited means booting the PS3 then starting up the app which takes a minute or so to load. Not a huge deal but faster is always better, right? Adding the Rdio channel to your Roku line-up will be familiar to Roku owners. You get a code off the Roku, log into Rdio from a computer, then enter that code. This is a one-time process. The Roku Rdio channel is nicely put together. If you Search for an artist you're offered a "Rdio Station" of that artist's songs, or you can pick a specific album (you can also just search for an album or a particular song). You can also browse and play songs in your Collection, access your Playlists, check out the Heavy Rotation music (stuff being listened to a lot by your or your network of friends), see and play Recommendations, Top Charts, your listening history, New Releases or your Web Queue. Phew! The only real drawback I found with the channel, and it's a pretty big one, is that you can't browse and listen at the same time. In other words if you're on the last song of an album and want to find something to listen to next, you have to wait for that song to finish, or cut it off half-way through. Hopefully this issue can be addressed in a future update. Rdio follows the same pricing model as Music Unlimited. There's a web-only tier for $4.99/month and the full service (which you'll need for Roku access) is $9.99/month. Rdio only offers a 7-day free trial and it'll take some time to see which service has the better library (I've stumbled on one album, The Moody Blues "Octave", which Rdio has but Music Unlimited doesn't) but for now it looks to me like Rdio is the better service and I think I'm going to switch. The only thing from Music Unlimited that I'm missing are the "Channels"; I did dip into the "Era" channels to listen to random songs from the 60s, 70s or 80s from time to time. I'll be the first to admit I'm new to this world of streaming music services though. If any of my readers has suggestions for better choices, I'd love to hear them!

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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