By Tony Briggs
In the beginning, the Internet was for computers -- and nothing else.
It allowed two parties to share information over long distances. At first, using big mainframe computers and later, PCs. At first, using only primitive text and later, with the development of the World Wide Web and Internet browsers, graphics.
Today, it seems almost every electronic device can connect to the Internet, from phones to refrigerators. They can share anything that can be reduced to digital form, including music and video.
So perhaps, it should not be too surprising the latest device to become Internet-connectable is the stereo receiver.
My first reaction to this concept was: "Huh? To what purpose?"
But once I got my hands on one of these things, it became a little clearer.
The focus of my attention was the Pioneer VSX-1022K, a relatively low-end model that retails for around $500 but can be found online for about $250. That's about the lowest price point you will find for an Internet-capable receiver in today's market, although expect this feature to become more common in the future.
Unlike some higher priced models, this Pioneer does not have wi-fi capability. A hard-wired Ethernet connection is required. That may be a problem in many households, which lack a direct Ethernet connection in the living room, where a home theater system is often found.
The cheapest and easiest way around that problem is a power line Ethernet setup, which costs about $50. Plug in one module in the room where your Internet connection (and router) exists. Plug in a second module in the living room where your receiver resides. Voila! Instant Ethernet.
OK. So now what? Plug in the Ethernet cord into the back of the receiver and let it make its connection. Now comes the hard part. Because the whole receiver-Internet thing is sort of new, the manufacturers still haven't developed a simple, intuitive way for this all to work. So be prepared for a steep learning curve.
On my particular receiver, I had several Internet options, which are chosen from the input menu. In the old days, that used to include a short list of devices like a CD player, DVD player and cable box. Now it also includes Pandora, an Internet-based radio service that allows you to listen to songs by your favorite artist; Netradio, which allows you to listen to hundreds of different live radio stations from around the world; and Media Server, which allows you to tap into any media center you have connected to your network. Perhaps more useful, if you have a wireless network at home, is the ability to use the wireless AirPlay function on any Apple device you own.
The first roadblock you may encounter is the requirement that you have a TV connected to your receiver via an HDMI connection. That's necessary to display the options available and/or sign up once you connect to Pandora and Netradio.
Think of it like this: Your receiver is the computer and your TV is the monitor. But where's the keyboard? Unfortunately you are stuck with Pioneer's somewhat lame remote control, which is small, lacks a backlight and is studded with dozens of tiny, oddly organized buttons. Be prepared to dig into the user manual, which, by the way, comes only on a CD in PDF format to figure it all out. Keep a laptop handy or print out the pages you need.
If you opt for Pandora, and don't already have an account, you have to set one up. That's a slow and tedious process using the remote. But once complete, Pandora works pretty well. What you see on the screen, however, is pretty primitive. Mostly text. You can see a much better implementation of Pandora on most smart TVs, blu-ray players, Xbox or Roku.
On to Netradio. This is a great idea and it works. But again, the implementation is incredibly primitive. If you remember what the command line environment of DOS looked like circa 1990, you have a good idea. Just a bunch of jittery black and white text -- a folder and file format -- that you must navigate using the lousy remote. Stations are organized by genre and country and there are lots of them. Once you find a station you like, be sure to save it to favorites because you have to start over every time you start Netradio and it's slow going finding the stations you like.
Apple's AirPlay provides a more pleasing experience, if you can figure out how it works. Again, it's not all that intuitive. Generally speaking, if you have a wireless network at home and the receiver is connected to the network through your router, your Apple device will allow you to play the song through the receiver when you look at the AirPlay options. Just choose VSX-1022 and, like magic, the receiver will spring to life (if you have set it to work on standby from the setup menu) and begin playing the song. If your TV is on, the cover art and song will display.
Pioneer also offers a free app via the Apple App Store that gives you some control of the receiver. But it is pretty basic and there is considerable lag time as the commands move through the network.
Pioneer really needs to spend a little more time refining the visual interface on the network functions. There is no excuse for screen displays this ugly and this primitive in 2013.
That said, the VSX-1022 is a capable receiver with good sound quality and a workable network option at a fairly low price. But don't expect to figure out how it works right out of the box. Spend some time studying the manual to better understand the options and functions. Get ready for a little journey in the wayback machine when it comes to dealing with some of the network menus.
Tony Briggs has been writing about technology issues in the Daytona Beach for more than 20 years.