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Audio Components Get Connected

1/07/2008 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Things got a little soft in the component home audio business last year, but hard-driving suppliers won't ease up on introducing new products to perk up their market shares.

After a 7 percent gain in factory-level sales in 2006 to $1.09 billion, component-audio sales slipped during the first nine months of 2007, Consumer Electronics Association(CEA) statistics show. Sales of electronic components fell 6.6 percent to $365.8 million during the nine-month period, while speaker sales slipped 0.6 percent to $418.8 million, including custom installed speakers. Sales of receivers, the heart of the electronic component segment, fell 7.1 percent to $272.1 million, although unit sales were down 17.9 percent, the statistics show.

The declines comes as the iPod, high-definition flat-panel TVs, and new sources of digital music — including the PC, Internet radio, HD Radio and satellite radio — are forcing the home audio industry to invest in new technologies to connect with new audio sources and a new generation of media-saturated consumers.

"Typical A/V receivers are increasingly being designed to serve as a home theater hub with features such as HDTV connectivity and video enhancement becoming commonplace," said Polk product manager Al Baron. Connectivity to other sources is also driving receiver design, he said. "I think we'll see iPod connectivity becoming a standard feature as well, as will Bluetooth streaming, USB inputs, internal hard disk drives and other source options that encourage the user to make the receiver the true centerpiece of a home entertainment system."

Even speakers are not insulated from developments in other technology sectors. Speakers are shape-shifting to match the cosmetics of flat-screen TVs, and makers of high-end in-room speakers are tapping into the youth market with high-performance iPod-docking speaker systems.

Here at International CES, some of the changes will be on display, including:

  • the first Sherwood receivers that accept a Bluetooth module to stream music from Bluetooth-equipped cellphones;

  • an expanded selection of Jamo and Definitive Technology speakers to complement flat-panel TVs;

  • enhanced iPod-docking capability in new Pioneer AVRs, and Lexicon's first iPod-docking AVR;

  • the first Pioneer receivers with proprietary auto level control, which evens out volume levels when switching between different audio sources and different TV channels; it's also said to level out the volume differences between TV shows and TV commercials; and

  • a demonstration by Dolby Labs of an engineering-sample Onkyo-brand receiver with Dolby Volume technology, which uses up to 40 bands of parametric equalization to automatically maintain a consistent perceived volume level when sources are switched, TV channels are changed, and a TV program transitions to a commercial. It also compensates for the human ear's lower sensitivity to bass and treble sounds as volume levels decrease. The first AVRs with the technology could appear as soon as the fall, Dolby said.

See story on p. 137 for details of these and other audio components appearing at CES.

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