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Multiroom Audio Pushes More Wireless, Plug-And-Play Solutions

1/08/2007 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Acknowledging the popularity of custom–installed multiroom audio systems, suppliers here see potential for more mainstream solutions that use wireless to distribute music around the house.

Here at CES, Klipsch and Panasonic plan to introduce their first wireless multiroom systems, and Philips will launch its second-generation wireless systems.

Custom-installation specialty suppliers acknowledge the market potential but say the trend won't tie them up in wireless knots.

A "newer emerging group" of multiroom AV systems, said Elan executive VP Paul Starkey, "will provide plug-and-play, lower function but very usable audio and video systems." Such systems, he added, "will drive very-low-cost easy-to-install solutions and will favor retail and home set-up services like cable installers.''

Russound strategic development VP said that "entry-level plug-and-play" systems that won't compete with "full-out custom systems'' and that "regardless of how sophisticated wireless, powerline carrier and other such technologies become, it will likely be a long time before they can outperform hardwired dedicated backbones in terms of reliability and QoS."

Although suppliers of wireless systems might vouch for the reliability of their wireless technologies, they would clearly agree that their wireless systems don't offer the flexibility of their wired custom-installed counterparts. Some wireless systems, for example, don't include remote-source turn-on from another room, and some limit the number of rooms to which music can be delivered at a time.

Here's a look at some of the systems debuting at CES:

Klipsch: The company's $349-suggested RoomGroove combines a tabletop iPod-docking speaker system with a wireless transceiver to send and receive music from other RoomGroove-docked iPods. An iPod-controlling remote is part of the package.

Consumers can create a wireless two-zone iPod-audio system from multiple RoomGrooves, each of which sports a retractable iPod dock/charging cradle, two-way speakers, and 2x20-watt amplifier. A RoomGroove-only system can wirelessly stream music simultaneously from up to two docked iPods between rooms while an additional docked iPod plays locally.

From a RoomGroove in one room, users can't remotely turn on and off a docked iPod in another room, but if a remote iPod is on, users can remotely tune into it and remotely perform up/down track selection.

Alternatively, a multi-RoomGroove system can simultaneously stream music from one docked iPod and from one audio source embedded in or connected to the $1,299-suggested CS-700 DVD Entertainment System, a 2.1 home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) system with virtual surround technology.

The CS-700 HTiB consists of two satellite speakers, a wireless subwoofer, and a set-top A/V Center incorporating single-disc DVD player with MP3-CD playback, AM/FM tuner, HDMI input and output, and universal IR remote. The A/V center incorporates Dolby Virtual Speaker technology to deliver 5.1 sound from 2.1 speakers. The 8-inch 200-watt downfiring subwoofer can be set up for a wired or wireless connection the A/V center. The satellite speakers are two-way models with 3-inch woofer and horn-loaded 0.75-inch tweeter.

The CS-700 can wirelessly transmit one source at a time to RoomGrooves from among the following sources: the disc transport, the AM/FM tuner, and any of three sources connected to its three auxiliary inputs. The CS-700 won't simultaneously transmit two of its sources simultaneously because one of its wireless channels is dedicated to the wireless subwoofer.

From a remote RoomGroove, users can turn on the CS-700's disc transport and tuner but not remotely turn on any of the auxiliary sources. If any of the auxiliary sources is already turned on, however, consumers can remotely listen to it by hitting the aux 1, 2 or 3 buttons on the RoomGroove remote. From a RoomGroove and its included remote, users also control tuner and DVD player track up/down and station up/down functions but not the up/down functions of an auxiliary source.

All products ship in April.

The system uses 2.4GHz adaptive frequency-hopping digital spread spectrum technology to reduce interference. Before it transmits, the technology sniffs out the entire 2.4GHz band to detect wireless home networks and other wireless technologies in use, then transmits around the spectrum used by those sources.

Panasonic: The SC-PTX7 music-serving HTiB features 80GB HDD and ability to distribute two separate sources simultaneously to separately available one-piece amplified-speaker clients. One source could be the music server, and the other could be CD, DVD, AM/FM, or connected XM Satellite tuner/antenna. The system, at a suggested $799, supports up to three clients simultaneously.

Each wireless client ships with 2.4GHz frequency-hopping DSS card that plugs into the HTiB. The clients feature full-range speakers and built-in controls for play, stop, up/down skip, and volume but not for source selection. The targeted suggested retail is $199.

The HTiB rips and encodes CDs in MP3 format, and it stores unprotected files transferred from an Ethernet-connected PC. It also features Column Wrap3.1 speakers with center channel in the L-R speakers and Dolby Virtual Speaker to deliver simulated surround sound. A 1080p-upscaling HDMI output is included.

Home audio marketing manager Jim Kiczek called the PTX7 the company's "first true multiroom, multisource system. "