So-called "whole-home" audio systems that allow users to rock out to their music in multiple rooms via remote controllers have, so far, not quite caught on with the public. While a variety of options have existed for some time between the high end, like Sonos, and the low end, like the Roku SoundBridge or even Apple's AirPort Express, a new study claims that 2009 may be the year that whole-home systems get their groove on.
Forrester's study, called "How Whole-Home Audio Products Can Find Their Rhythm," argues that two primary barriers to entry for these systems are finally at their tipping points now: networked homes and DRM. According to the report, 28 percent of US homes are now networked properly to provide the bandwidth required to push audio all over the house. Further, Apple's announcement in January that it is finally removing all DRM technology from iTunes Store music purchases means that the most popular music store in the US is finally selling the same clean music as its many competitors. Compiled alongside other factors in a new "Convenience Quotient" methodology, Forrester believes networked homes and the freedom provided by music DRM's demise allows manufacturers to shift their battle to the most important factor for new product adoption: convenience.
From a survey of 4,464 online adults in the second quarter 2008, Forrester's research reveals that the majority of consumers have stuck with "no-tech" solutions like cranking up a stereo's volume in one room to hear it in another or carrying CDs and iPods back and forth. Only seven percent have gone "low-tech" by running speaker wires from one room to another, with another six percent who own stereos with MP3 player docks. Less than four percent use some kind of "high-tech" wireless speaker system (such as an AirPort Express), with just two percent going all-out with a high-end whole-home system like Sonos.
In 2009, though, Forrester thinks the high-tech numbers that involve wireless, whole-home audio systems could see a significant jump. Converging factors like DRM-free stores (and the ability to upgrade old libraries), more affordable competition, easier universal controllers from more manufacturers (and even iPhone apps), and unfettered access to one's entire music library could finally spur growth. Forrester singles out systems like Logitech's Squeezebox line for their reasonable $200-400 price range and rich set of features like Internet radio station support and wireless remotes. The report also touts the high-quality experience and broad feature set of Sonos' system, but notes that consumers are not likely to consider it an option due to an extremely high cost barrier that begins at $999.Ultimately, Forrester predicts competition to begin heating up this year in the whole-home audio market due to the tumbling of aforementioned barriers and a renewed manufacturer focus on greater convenience.