By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Philips is focusing on PC connections, game machine connections, and the Internet in its new shelf-system lineup.
A third-generation shelf system with streaming Internet radio capability is the company's, and possibly the industry's, first such system with built-in wireless Wi-Fi 802.11b to connect wirelessly to a broadband modem. Seven new shelf systems feature a front-panel USB port and 6-foot two-way USB cable to stream stored MP3 files from a connected PC's hard drive. The music is delivered to the systems as .wav files.
Three of the USB systems and a fourth system, which lacks USB, add front-panel A/V inputs and rear-panel video output for game-machine connectivity. In addition, the systems offer game-sound mixing with four preset sound settings that can be mixed with CD, tuner, or games in progress. Sony already offers minisystems with game-machine connections.
Two of the above systems feature MP3-CD playback.
The USB-equipped shelf systems, due in March, are designed to complement PCs rather than compete with them for the affection of the nation's youth, who are comfortable with using PCs to download, rip, and stream music, said home audio marketing director Art Hays. The systems are targeted to youths whose hard drives are already filled with downloaded or ripped music tracks.
The USB models consist of three minisystems at a suggested $199-$299 and four microsystems at $149 to $399. All feature Microsoft Windows-compatible software that makes it possible for the systems' supplied remote to select hard-drive tracks for playback by skipping forward or backward a track at a time. All feature biamped speakers offering higher power and better sound quality than typical PC speakers, Hays said. The micros are rated at 2x50 watts, and the minis are 330 watts total.
Also citing the younger generation's proficiency with PCs, Philips is dropping CD-recorder-equipped shelf systems this year. Although it will carry over two component recorders, the company is "looking at our long-term strategy" in CD recorders, Hays said.
Although the company insists it doesn't want to compete with the PC, it will show preliminary hard-drive-equipped shelf systems at CES but won't deliver them until 2004. These models would transfer music to connected portables. Additional details weren't released.
In Internet radio, the third-generation Streamium MC-i250 microsystem ships in February at a suggested $399, and the price of the second-generation MC-i200 microsystem will go to a suggested $299 from $399. The new model adds built-in Wi-Fi to the current system's feature portfolio, which includes MP3pro-CD playback, 2x50-watt amp, and ability to play music files streamed via a USB cable or wireless Ethernet connection from a connected PC's hard drive.
Although younger consumers are comfortable with streaming music via a PC, Hays expects the system to appeal to young "PC-philes" and older "PC-phobes" alike. "Younger consumers like to access personally relevant content anytime," Hays said. "They're not into mass-marketed material. They know what they like and go out and find it, and now they can do it away from the PC."
The current model was available on-line and in limited geographic markets, but the new model will be distributed nationwide as part of an increasingly aggressive marketing push, Hays said.
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