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iPods Take To The Airwaves To Deliver Multiroom Audio

1/29/2007 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Radio station WIPOD is on the air.

Suppliers at International CES turned iPods into in-home radio stations to transmit stored music to audio systems and amplified speakers throughout the house. Creative Labs and IntelliTouch unveiled their first such products, and SoundCast expanded its selection. All use 2.4GHz digital transmission.

In 2006, startup Soundcast Systems of Chula Vista, Calif., launched its 2.4GHz iCast system, which transmits music from docked iPods to one or more legacy sound systems in other rooms of the home. A separate Audiocast system does the same for all other brands of MP3 players. Both systems consist of an arch-shaped docking station/transmitter and wireless receivers connected to legacy audio systems. The iCast version also charges docked iPods.

At CES, Soundcast expanded its selection with two iPod docking systems not meant to be connected to legacy audio systems. Both systems incorporate receiver, speakers and amplifiers in a single chassis, and both stream music wirelessly from an iPod docked in a companion iCast transmitter/dock located in another room. The dock also recharges iPods.

One of the two, the indoor-use SpeakerCast system, consists of an iPod tramsitter/dock and a companion tabletop amplified speaker system at a targeted retail of $399. For outdoor use, the all-weather OutCast is a floor-standing full-range, battery/AC operated wireless speaker system at $699 with companion transmitter/dock.

Both models are due in the second quarter. Additional models designed for use with other music sources, such as other-brand MP3 players and PCs, are planned for the late second quarter.

Each included iPod transmitter/dock delivers music to up to two receivers. In addition, two iPod transmitter/docks can each transmit a separate song simultaneously from its docked iPod, and each of the songs can be received by up to two receivers.

The AC-powered SpeakerCast features a single chassis incorporating two 3-inch full-range speakers, a 2x50-watt digital amplifier and a wireless receiver. Controls on top of the chassis let users wirelessly control pause/play and track forward/back on the remote iPod. The included handheld remote features those controls plus on/off, muting and volume up/down.

The AC/DC-powered OutCast features an 8-inch downward-firing woofer, four 3-inch high-frequency drivers in an omni-directional array, a 100-watt digital amplifier and the Soundcast receiver. OutCast is made of water-resistant plastic and operates for up to 10 hours on a built-in, rechargeable battery pack. Its internal AC power supply can recharge the NiMH battery pack and operate the OutCast at the same time. On-chassis buttons control the pause/play and track forward/back of the remote iPod as well as volume, on/off and mood lighting.

All company products transmit signals up to a distance of 150 feet through multiple rooms indoors and more than 350 feet outdoors, the company said. They "effectively eliminate" interference with 2.4GHz cordless phones, microwave ovens and wireless IEEE 802.11b/g networks by combining digital 2.4GHz adaptive frequency hopping spread spectrum technology with proprietary technology enabling the transmitters to search for open channels and almost instantly jump to them.

For its part, Creative introduced an Xdock Wireless system said to deliver iPod audio to legacy audio systems "in as many rooms as you want" and to enhance the sound quality of compressed music "beyond CD quality" via proprietary Xtreme Fidelity signal processing. The system is due in the spring on Creative's Web site.

Creative's system consists of the $199-suggested Xdock Wireless transmitter/docking station and companion $99-suggested X-Fi wireless receiver. Besides enhancing compressed-music sound and transmitting it to other rooms, the dock features composite and S-video outputs to display iPod-stored photos and video, a line output to deliver iPod sound to an adjacent stereo system and an optical output to deliver music in DTS surround-sound to an A/V system.

Each X-Fi receiver comes with a remote control to adjust volume and control select music playback functions: track up/down, pause and stop. The remotes also activate Xtreme signal processing and X-Fi CMSS-3D signal processing, which expands imaging for headphone and speaker listening.

X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity makes MP3s sound better than CDs by analyzing and identifying the audio stream parts that were truncated or damaged during compression, the company claimed. It then intelligently and selectively restores the lost highs and lows from instruments and vocals.

Xdock Wireless plays music up to 100 feet away in two ways: In broadcast mode, multiple X-Fi receivers in different rooms can simultaneously receive the same song. In zone mode, up to four different X-Fi Wireless Receivers independently can be on or off.

Wireless transmission to up to four rooms is also promised by Eos Wireless, a division of Intellitouch, which makes SBC-brand corded and cordless phones and On Hold Plus music-on-hold devices for business.

Eos features a main unit combining an iPod dock, wireless transmitter and amplified speakers. It sends music via 2.4GHz frequency-hopping digital spread spectrum to up to four Eos amplified-speaker systems through walls up to 150 feet away. Each transmitter and receiver unit features stereo speakers and ported woofer.

A bundle consisting of a main unit and a receiver/speaker retails for a suggested $299. Additional receiver/speakers are $129 each, as is an outdoor amplifier/receiver that can be connected to any pair of outdoor speakers. Shipments begin in March.

Two main units can be used at a time to transmit different songs simultaneously from two iPods to up to two receivers each. The transmitters can also be used to stream music from any connected audio source via an auxiliary input. Each receiver can be re-registered to receive music from any transmitter.

Each docking station/transmitter features on-chassis controls, but it and its docked iPod can also be controlled by included IR handheld remote. The receiver/speaker units feature volume control but can't control a remote iPod.

The remote speakers also feature an integrated but removable power supply. When the power supply is left inside its dock, the 2.5-pound speaker system is light enough to be plugged directly into a wall outlet. When the power supply is pulled out, the system can sit on a shelf or countertop near a wall outlet.