Prizm learns to play only music you want to hear

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Prizm searches cloud music services to deliver tunes based on tracked user tastes

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A group of French hardware and software engineers who tired of having to spend precious time building streaming music playlists have created a new system that aims to serve up the perfect tune every time. Not only does Prizm learn to play music based on the individual tastes of whichever listener is in the room, but it can even decide which type of music is appropriate for what's going on in the room. The device can be used as a standalone connected music feeder or alongside a companion app.

"Prizm brings together the simplicity of a radio and the richness of a streaming services catalog to ultimately enhance the music experience," said CTO Arthur Eberhardt.

Prizm connects to any powered speakers via the 3.5 mm stereo jack or optical/TOSLink to the rear, or over Bluetooth. When powered on it links to a user's premium account in music streaming services like Spotify and Deezer, as well as free-to-use portals like SoundCloud, via the home Wi-Fi network. As tracks are played, the listener can inform the device if the music hits the right spot or doesn't appeal and that info is stored in a unique Prizm profile. "Like" and "Dismiss" buttons on the sides of the unit help in this regard.

The system will learn what music is preferred at different times of day and in different situations and will tweak the listening experience to suit. The more interaction between user and device, the better Prizm will get at predicting individual tastes and preferences. Each member of the household can set up their own Prizm profile, which stores tastes and listening habits in the cloud (through a third party platform provider).

Prizm is also able to detect and identify which users enter a room thanks to the unique smartphone or wearable identifier stored in Prizm user profiles (over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) and acoustic sensors.

"People detection and identification is accomplished using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals from phones or wearables," CEO Pierre Gochgarian explained. "Each user can match his own devices with his Prizm profile to be automatically detected. This one time setup is done in the app. The room mood is inferred by a machine learning algorithm which takes the following parameters as inputs : number of people detected, sound level measured, day of the week and time of the day."

If Prizm registers that a user is alone, it will play music according to that user's tracked tastes, but also depending on context. It won't line up rock in the morning if you like to eat breakfast to classical or jazz music, for example.

When the device detects several users in the room, it merges everyone's profile and throws out tunes to please the assembled crowd. Prizm will even be able to wake you to a different song every day, or send you off to sleep at night.

"We realized that music is deeply linked to the context: you do not listen to the same music when you are working or when you are sharing a drink with friends, when you are waking up, and when you come back from work," said the French startup's CPO Olivier Roberdet. "Prizm leverages your streaming music accounts to create a dynamic music feed, consistent with the room context, without you having to choose what to play. Prizm understands what you like and when you like it. It's magic."

Inside the 3.8 in tall pyramid, the board running a Linux OS sports an ARM Cortex A8 processor running at 1 GHz, supported by 256 MB of RAM. "There is no amplifier in Prizm," Gochgarian told us. "We've got a DAC to provide an analog signal to any speakers with a 3.5mm jack input (or RCA using an adapter). Basically you can connect it to any speakers to which you would have connected an iPod or a phone. The optical output provides the digital signal for higher end systems which have their own DAC."

Though it can function quite happily on its own, the Prizm folks have also developed a companion iOS/Android app which can be used to tweak personal settings and as a remote control for the Prizm unit. Usefully, if you indicate a liking for suggested tracks, they will be added to a user playlist within the app and synchronized with the streaming accounts for listening on the go.

Prizm's developers have launched on Kickstarter to bring its device to market. Backers will need to pledge at least US$119 for a Prizm, which represents a $50 less than the expected retail price. If all goes to plan, delivery is due to start in June 2015.

Have a look at the Prizm pitch video below.

Sources: Prizm, Kickstarter

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