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Internet Radio Streaming Into Home Audio

1/08/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Traditional audio products continue their cautious embrace of Internet radio here at CES, where attendees will find new Internet radio products coming in the form of digital media adapters (DMAs) and tabletop radios.

The products will join a short selection of high-end A/V receivers equipped with PC networking and embedded Internet radio at prices of about $1,699 and up; high-end tuners dedicated to the custom-installation market; tabletop Internet radios from Wolverine Data, Grace Digital, Aluratek, and Com One; DMAs from CE companies such as Philips and Logitech; and Sonos' wireless multiroom audio system.

Select home theater in a box (HTiB) systems and compact stereo systems are equipped with standard or optional PC networking but do not stream Internet radio, with the currently available exception of a Denon compact system.

At this year's show:

  • Cobra will enter the home audio market with a pair of FM/Internet-radio tabletop systems, one a three-piece unit with CD player;

  • Coby, Sanyo, Sonoro, VTech and Danish audio supplier Tangent Audio will show their first tabletop Internet radios;

  • iLuv will show its first Internet clock radio;

  • NetGear will launch a networked Digital Media Adapter with hard drive and Internet radio access (see p. 96);

  • custom-install A/V-server maker Sooloos will add Internet radio station streaming to its servers, which already access Rhapsody's subscription-download and streaming services; and

  • AudioControl and Harman/Kardon will show their first A/V receivers with Internet radio at a suggested $5,500 and $2,799, respectively. They were previously announced.

Recently, Philips announced plans for January shipments of an expanded selection of music DMAs.

Internet radio listening, many suppliers pointed out, is gaining in popularity, though it's still a PC-based listening experience for most people. An Edison Media Research survey found listenership growing between 2000 and early 2008, when 13 percent of people ages 12 and older, or 33 million, said they listened to Internet radio in the past week. That's up from only 2 percent in early 2000.

Although suppliers laud the advantages of Internet radio in home A/V systems, they've been slow to bring the technology to mainstream audio components and HTiBs for multiple reasons, including cost, the challenges of making it simple to use, and many retailers' inability to connect the products on the sales floor to the Internet, said David Bales, Pioneer marketing and planning manager.

"We are moving to a world where local storage and physical media will give way to hosted media," said Doug Henderson, B&W Group sales and marketing VP, of the potential for Internet radio in CE devices. "There will always be collectors of physical media — this market won't go away any time soon—but having immediate access to literally millions of songs and thousands of movies is immensely appealing. The consumer is still somewhat in the dark about these products, but it's only a matter of time before they dominate the market."

With that in mind, Internet radio is turning up here at CES in a wide assortment of one-piece tabletop radios and clock radios. Here's what dealers will find:

Cobra: The company is entering the home audio market with the launch of two tabletop Internet radios, both able to stream audio from a networked XP or Vista PC. Both ship in March.

The $199-suggested CIR 1000A is a one-piece mono unit with 4-watt amplification, built-in Wi-Fi, wired Ethernet port, access to more than 10,000 Internet radio stations through the vTuner portal, audio streaming from a networked PC and Internet radio station presets. It decodes MP3, WMA and Real Media streams.

The step-up CIR 2000A at $299 is a three-piece unit with separate speakers, FM tuner, single-CD player, USB Wi-Fi dongle, wired Ethernet port, 2x10-watt amplification, music playback from an SD card and USB drive, and Gracenote database to display the artist and album name of a CD. It accesses the ShoutCast and WorldStation portals to access more Internet stations. An IR remote is included.

Both stream only unprotected music from a networked PC, and both support MP3, WMA and Real Audio.

Coby: The company's first two Internet radios, both single-chassis tabletop stereo models, consist of an entry-level model and a premium unit, both with analog AM/FM tuner, speakers, built-in Wi-Fi, and upgradable Internet-radio chipsets that will allow for later upgrading to add free or subscription Internet music services. They'll also feature RCA outputs and aux input. Shipment is possible in the second quarter. Additional details were unavailable.

Grace Digital: Two new Internet radios will be on display in the booth of the company's distributor, TeleDynamics. Both products were to ship prior to CES.

The $249-suggested GDI-IR3020 is an iPod-docking one-piece Internet radio with built-in Wi-Fi 802.11b/g and Ethernet port and ability to stream music from a networked PC. It uses the Reciva service to access more than 15,000 Internet radio stations, and it streams premium Internet music services such as Pandora and Sirius Internet Radio. It also streams multicast HD Radio stations over the Internet. Features include 99 presets; RCA outputs to connect to an existing stereo system; and support for the following formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and AIFF.

The $199-suggested GDI-IRP600 is a portable AC/DC Internet radio with FM tuner, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, access to more than 11,000 Internet radio stations and 14-hour Wi-Fi playback time on six AA batteries.

iLuv: The iNT170 Internet dual alarm clock will let users access more than 15,000 internet radio stations and podcasts from around the world. It's available at a suggested $199 at www.i-luv.com.

The dual-alarm one-piece device features 20 Internet radio/20 FM station presets; 3.5mm aux input; auto time update through Internet; and ability to wake to Internet radio, FM or a buzzer. It also features sleep to Internet or FM radio.

Sanyo: The company's first Internet radio is the Wi-Fi-embedded R227, due this month at a suggested $169.99. The 5.6-inch by 8.7-inch by 4.92-inch radio features FM tuner, stereo speakers, ability to find Internet stations by country or genre, and ability to stream music in the AAC, AIFF, MP3, RM, WAV and WMA formats. Other features include eight internet station presets.

Sonoro: The company's elements W tabletop radio access more than 13,000 Internet radio stations searchable by genre or region. Owners can also access a custom Web site, mysonoro.com, to program additional stations for access by the radio. It comes in high-gloss black or white-lacquered finish and has a glowing dial for intuitive control of tuning or volume, and a remote. Shipments are scheduled tentatively for January at a price unavailable at press time.

Tangent Audio: The Danish audio brand, marketed in the U.S. by Kevro International, entered the U.S. market with products that include premium table radios, including a Wi-Fi-connected Internet radio. All of the single-chassis products are promoted as offering high performance at reasonable prices.

The $399-suggested Quattro Wi-Fi Internet/media player/ FM-clock radio accesses Internet stations through Reciva's portal, features aux input for connection to MP3 players, and comes with LCD display. It and its non-Internet counterparts are one-piece models offer retro styling, 3-inch upward firing speaker, wooden cabinets, walnut-wood veneers and choice of finishes. All but the opening-price AM/FM table radio feature clock-radio functionality.

VTech: The maker of corded and cordless phones and electronic learning products is entering the home audio market with a tabletop AC/DC Internet radio that also streams music from a networked PC.

The $199-suggested IS9181 incorporates 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, 2.1 speaker system rated at 2x3+10 watts, station presets and access to more than 11,000 free Internet radio stations. Access to additional stations is possible if consumers use VTech's Web site to access a guide to all available stations, the company said. Consumers would push the additional stations to the radio. From the PC, it streams music in the MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and Real formats.

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