By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Multiple companies are entering the digital audio receiver market this year, including Barix, Linksys, Sony and Thomson.
Meantime, Netgear and Philips are also developing their first models, and suppliers Motorola and Turtle Beach plan second-generation models with lower prices and extra features.
All stream compressed-music files from a PC's hard drive and stream Internet radio stations via the connect PC's modem.
Here's what the companies plan:
Barix: The Zurich, Switzerland-based startup focuses on networked audio products, and its first U.S. product will be the $149-everyday Exstreamer, which comes with built-in MP3 decoder. It connects to a home audio system via an analog output and to a PC via an Ethernet network. It lacks an on-screen display or remote control, but it can be controlled from a Web browser on a networked PDA or Web pad. It can also be controlled through home automation systems via RS-232.
The product, available in January through master distributor Grid Connect, was to be followed in February by a $249 model with built-in Wi-Fi.
Linxys: As part of its venture into the home and car audio markets, the networking supplier plans a second-quarter launch of the Wireless Digital Media Adapter. It's a 54Mbps Wi-Fi 802.11g-equipped device that streams MP3 files, Internet radio stations and digital pictures from a PC via 54Mbps wireless connection. The company is targeting an everyday retail of $149-$199.
Consumers will use an IR remote to control a menu and select songs appearing on a connected TV screen. A spokesman wasn't sure whether a memory buffer or proprietary QoS technology is used to prevent audio dropouts.
Motorola: The company's Broadband Communications Sector recently upgraded its year-old simplefi device, which retails for an everyday $259-$279 and uses HomeRF technology. The upgrades include the addition of Windows Media Audio playback to MP3 playback and the ability to use a PC's Web browser to issue commands.
An IR remote is still available.
The company also added two new streaming services, Virgin Radio and Shoutcast, to complement Live365. The company dropped mp3.com.
Late this year, the company will ship a new digital audio receiver that will be smaller, incorporate Wi-Fi 802.11b in lieu of the dying HomeRF spec, and target an everyday retail of less than $200. It will add Music.com's Rhapsody streaming service, available for a subscription fee, and streaming news and sports content. The new device will be smaller, and it might include a TV output to display the system's menu and song selection.
Netgear: The company staged a technology demonstration at CES but declined to target a ship date for the 802.11 device, which streamed MP3s from a PC and accessed the interactive Rhapsody streaming service via the PC. It featured built-in amp and displayed playlists selected on the PC.
Sony: The RoomLink "network media receiver," due in February at an expected everyday price of about $200, does more than transmit music from a PC to a home audio system. It also transmits digital images and TV programs recorded onto the PC's hard drive via a PC's PVR function. The paperback-size RoomLink is designed to work via an Ethernet port with Vaio Media software on Sony Vaio PCs.
Through the device's IR remote and a TV-screen display, consumers can select songs, stream Internet radio stations, and select TV programs for recording via the Sony PCs' free EPG. The RoomLink device incorporates decoders for MPEG-1 and -2 video, for multiple audio formats (ATRAC3, ATRAC3plus, WAVE and MP3), and multiple image formats (bmp, tiff, jpeg, gif and png).
To add wireless, Sony offers a Wi-Fi 802.11 Ethernet/wireless adapter due in March at an approximate everyday $200.
Thomson: The entry-level $99-suggested Lyra Wireless uses 900MHz wireless technology to transmit near-CD-quality audio from a PC to a home stereo system up to 100 feet away. It integrates with MusicMatch PC software and comes with RF remote to send commands directly to the PC to adjust volume, skip songs, select playlists and choose among sources (hard drive, CD and Internet radio).
Retail distribution is planned in March or April, following sales that began late last year on RCA's Web site.
Turtle Beach: The company is expanding its selection of AudioTron receivers and making the move to wireless Wi-Fi 802.11b.
The company's original 100 series, available since 2000, consists of two models, one with Ethernet connection at a suggested $299 and one with both Ethernet and HomePNA networking at $349. The devices incorporate MP3, Windows Media Audio, .wav decoders and plays streaming WMA and MP3 internet radio stations.
An IR remote and front-panel display let users navigate a menu and select songs. Specific Internet radio stations, playlists, genres or artists can be programmed into up to 20 remote presets for playback.
The new AudioTron 200 and 300 series, due in May, add TV-screen display, crossfading, and expanded search and management functions. One model in each series will come with Ethernet port, and the second version will add built-in 802.11b.
The 300 series models will also add multizone capability and integration with distributed-audio and integrated-home systems. As a result, from a single AudioTron, consumers will be able to play different songs simultaneously in different rooms. The current models provide multizone functionality only when multiple models are placed in multiple rooms.
The 300 will be controllable from the touchscreens or keypad systems of a distributed-audio or other home system.
Pricing hasn't been revealed.
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