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XM Unveils Home, Portable Strategies

1/17/2005 02:00:00 AM Eastern

XM Satellite Radio is making a major play in the home audio market with its announcement that 13 major home entertainment suppliers will start marketing XM-ready home audio and video devices in 2005 and 2006. Their products could include low-price A/V receivers, DVD players, HTiBs and boomboxes.

All of the XM-ready products will control a tiny outboard universal XM tuner that’s built into a flip-up home XM antenna, which will be only slightly thicker than current XM home antennas. The antenna/tuner plugs into a proprietary XM connector on home entertainment products, which will display satellite-radio program information, including song title and artist name.

The products will substantially lower a consumer’s cost of purchasing a dedicated home XM product because a universal antenna/tuner combination will retail for only a suggested $49.95. Dedicated XM home tuners currently start at a suggested $329 for a component-size tuner from Polk. Other dedicated home models are multizone models designed for custom-installed distributed-audio systems. They start at $999 for a dual-zone AM/FM/XM tuner from Russound.

In other developments, XM announced:

  • Three new autosound companies — Panasonic, Pyle, and Audiobahn — launched their first XM-ready aftermarket head units, joining models from Alpine, Dual, Pioneer and Sony.

  • Pioneer and Giant International, through its new Tao brand, launched their first XM headphone stereos under the XM2go banner. They ship in the spring, joining Delphi.

  • The company ended the year with 3.2 million subscribers, up by 1.8 million, for a 150 percent gain in net new subscribers over 2003.

  • XM subscribers are expected to hit 5.5 million by the end of 2005.

  • The company signed up talk show hosts Dr. Laura Schlesinger, G. Gordon Liddy and Fox Sports’s Kevin Kennedy and Tony Kornheiser.

  • Pioneer and Alpine this year will offer car navigation systems that display local traffic data delivered by XM for 20 markets. XM NavTraffic data is already delivered to standard-equipment navigation systems in the 2005 Acura RL, and the service will be available on select 2005 models of the Cadillac CTS.

"We are the big dog in satellite radio," chairman Hugh Panero said in referring to rival Sirius’ dog mascot.

Companies that plan to ship XM-ready home products in 2005 and 2006 include Boston Acoustics, Crosley, Denon, Eton, GPX, Harman Kardon, LG, Onkyo, Orient Power, Pioneer, Polk, Thomson and Yamaha.

The first product incorporating the XM-ready "Connect-And-Play" platform will appear in stores in January, when Eton said it will ship an XM-ready one-piece tabletop stereo radio with a $250 street price. That will be followed in April with a palm-size Eton portable stereo at an expected $150. The battery-operated portable features one speaker but delivers stereo through connected headphones. The universal antenna/tuner itself, however, doesn’t ship until late in the first quarter in blister packs, perhaps through a single national distributor, XM said. The first home A/V receivers will appear in the second half, and perhaps sooner, XM said.

The antenna/tuner incorporates tuner and XM decoder. It will transfer a digital signal via supplied 25-foot cable to a home product’s XM input, a mini-USB-like connector that incorporates XM’s protocol. XM-ready devices will access all XM functions, including program search by category. The devices will also be able to display all XM data, including channel number and name, program category, song title and artist name.

The platform can be integrated into products at such a low cost that even a modestly priced boombox will remain price competitive when an XM connector is added, a spokesman said.

XM-ready capability might add only $4 to $9 to the cost of a product, one licensee said.

The retail price of the tuner/antenna, the licensee added, indicates a substantial price subsidy by XM, given that a manufacturer’s cost of adding an XM tuner into a home audio product is currently about $45.

Like a DTS Surround logo on home audio products, an XM-ready logo will be needed to be feature-competitive, the licensee remarked.

The Connect-And-Play program promises to expand consumers’ access to satellite radio in the home, where consumers currently opt for larger dedicated tuners or transportable plug-and-play tuners, which mate with home and car docking stations for connection to home and car stereo systems.

At CES, at least three other companies — Control4, Elan and Krell — plan to show their first dedicated home XM tuners. Audio Design Associates will show its second home XM product, a multizone receiver, and Russound will expand its XM tuner selection to two.

Other companies planning to enter the home-XM-tuner market in 2005 include custom-install supplier NuVo.

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