October 21, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Television: The Killer Music Platform

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Every year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I hear the same story from home audio companies: Almost nobody buys nice stereo speakers anymore.

Instead, they’re picking up surround sound speakers for their home entertainment centers, desktop speakers for their computers and iPod docks for everywhere else. That means the best speakers in many houses are the surround-sound ones in the living room. And as any audiophile will tell you, speakers are the most crucial component for great sound.

The most interesting ways to listen to music are delivered by the web and smartphone apps. Soon, these two crucial links in the music listening chain will connect, thanks to apps that run on television sets.

Television set-top boxes — and even some televisions that run apps all by themselves, like the Google TV-enabled Sony Bravia — are the catalyst that will put the chocolate of music apps into the peanut butter of quality speakers, to use an outdated metaphor from an ancient television commercial (see video). For the first time, the best speakers in the house will be connected to the best music services the world has to offer, thanks to an app mentality that started on the smartphone and is about to migrate to the living room.

Apple TV currently doesn’t support apps — instead, it uses its AirPlay feature to stream music from the smartphone, where the music app lives, to the Apple TV, which is connected to all those great surround sound speakers everyone’s been buying. Steve Jobs hinted in September that Apple will add native apps to Apple TV “when the time is right,” which probably means “sometime next year if our engineers figure out how to do it in a sufficiently ‘Apple’ way.”

Google’s already there. You can already buy Google TV in retail stores that run Android apps, including music apps that go way beyond what any stereo system has ever been able to do in terms of social connection, discovery, interaction, music gaming, and even music creation.

Then you have Boxee, Roku, and multiple Android OS manufacturers, all of which are also capable of delivering music app music to those nice surround sound speakers we’ve all been underutilizing for music — and that’s before you count videogame consoles, some of which already run music apps, and all of which also connect to those speakers.

Smartphones are the perfect remote controls. Music apps are the ultimate music delivery system due to their versatility. Televisions are the largest screens in the house, and the surround sound speakers they’re connected to are probably the last vestige of mainstream hi-fi culture.

Within the coming year, as these musical elements combine into one big musical super-molecule, music will become way more interesting for music fans — and for a music industry that’s still in the process of finding its next big thing.