Streaming services bring music to masses

ZARA BAXTER
Last updated 05:00 05/12/2012

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OPINION: New Zealand has seen a rapid growth in the number of streaming services in the last few months.

Streaming services essentially give you radio-style music over the internet, even on your smartphone. Usually, you select an artist, song, or "station", and the service then plays songs that are similar to your request. It can help to find you new music, or supply old favourites. Most let you cache music on your PC to listen to even if you're offline.

Spotify, one of the world's largest music-streaming services, launched in May, as did Rdio. Pandora, another huge streaming service, had a "soft" launch in September - that meant New Zealanders could listen to the service online, but signing up and getting a smartphone app wasn't possible until next week when Pandora officially launches.

Most New Zealand radio stations also offer streaming online, so you can listen on your PC. If you want to try one of the new services, we've outlined the main features below.

RARA.COM

Rara.com has streaming online, but it also has an Android app that lets you download songs to your phone that you can play back when you're on 3G, saving you data costs that you'd otherwise incur from mobile streaming. It's $8 a month, $14 with the mobile playback; It has millions of tracks, however, it is missing some key artists, including local artists.

MUSIC UNLIMITED

Music Unlimited; Sony's music streaming service is online, and on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and on Android devices. It's $7 a month, with a 30-day free trial. A premium service costs $14 a month.

SPOTIFY

Spotify has a massive music collection, which is what makes it so popular. It offers a free version with adverts, and an unlimited service for PC that costs $7.40 a month. A premium service, that allows caching and the ability to listen to Spotify on your smartphone, costs $13 a month. Note that you need a facebook account to sign up for Spotify.

RDIO

Rdio has a $9 per month plan for web, PC or Mac, or for $14 you can get apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone smartphones. The music selection looks great, but some tracks can't be played in New Zealand.

GROOVESHARK

Grooveshark is free to use and you can access it using a browser - there are no adverts.

For $7.30 a month you can get a downloadable desktop version for your PC, and for $11 you can listen if you're not connected to the internet.

PANDORA

Pandora is free to use, and an account lets you listen on your smartphone or via a web browser. The free version has ads, but for $4.85 a month, you can have it ad free and you get a desktop version as well as high-quality audio. It launches next week.

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CHEAP GAMES

Every few months, a set of independent games is released as a "humble bundle" on humblebundle.com. Why is it called a humble bundle? The idea is that you pay what you think the games are worth. That could be as little as a dollar, or you could opt to pay $50 or more. The money predominantly goes direct to the games publishers, and if you pay more than average - essentially, if you pay a little more than most of the people before you - you get an extra game. The games are usually created by small studios, and they're normally free of copy-protection. The humble-bundle idea has also spread to ebooks, with a couple of independent "humble ebook bundles" having been created recently.

The most recent humble bundle is unusual in that a big-name developer, THQ, has got in on the action. THQ has released some of its better known games, including Metro 2033, Darksider and Company of Heroes, as part of the humble bundle selection. The average price fight now is $6.85, so it's an affordable way to sample some top-notch games.

Note that all games will be provided as Steam codes - Steam stores your games online, so you can download them to your Steam account on any computer you are logged into, as often as you want. You can get Steam at steampowered.com.

Zara Baxter edits New Zealand PC World and has reviewed gadgets for 15 years.

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