Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 3/8/2005Hey, man! Look over there! It's Rupert and the Sky Gnomes!

Wednesday 3/8/2005

Hey, man! Look over there! It's Rupert and the Sky Gnomes! My namesake Mr Murdoch is feeling the pressure from Freeview and digital cable, and as a result he's reported to be pondering giving away his Sky+ personal video recorder boxes. He's also developing some other new toys such as high definition broadcasts – and today sees the oddest move of all. Welcome the Sky Gnome.

Proudly bearing the trippiest product name evah – and sparking rumours that The Sun is to rename itself The Rainbow Fairyland Express – the Sky Gnome is a small yet brightly-coloured pyramid with rechargeable batteries, buttons and a backlit LCD. It wirelessly communicates with its host Sky box, and acts as a combination remote control and audio relay. The idea is that you cart it about the house and it acts like a radio, picking its programming off the main box.

So far, there's no technical detail of how it works. If it's analogue, it'll use the same UHF band as cordless headphones, and will probably suffer from the same interference and crackling at the edge of its range. Digital would be more fun, and Wi-Fi would be the most fun of all. In fact, you could do that yourself with a wireless-enabled PDA and audio streaming software: you’d need to get IP audio out of the set-top box and have some way of controlling it over the Web. That’s unlikely to happen given Sky’s paranoia about controlling content, which is a shame now that devices such as Torian’s InFusion (warning – very annoying Flash site) are on their way.

InFusion is a portable Wi-Fi radio which isn't named after a garden ornament and doesn't look like something you'd want to hide under a knitted tea-cosy. In fact, it looks like something you'd be proud to show off in the hippest of places, assuming that they had a hotspot and you'd got past the problem of how you connect to a public access point without having a web browser. Then you could dial up Radio Vatican, WFMU or any of the many thousands of other streamed audio services and look extremely smug: something that gnome ownership will never bestow. Sorry, Rupert.