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Niles Plans Triple-Digit SKU Launch

6/22/2006 12:00:00 PM Eastern

Miami — Niles Audio plans new products numbering in the triple digits later this year to mark its largest product introduction in its 28-year history.

The company plans 115 new SKUs at September’s CEDIA Expo.

The new products are expected to boost growth in 2006 and 2007 following a 2 percent 2005 gain that interrupted double-digit gains of 15 points and 30 points in 2004 and 2003, respectively, said president Frank Sterns.

Sterns attributed 2005’s performance to several factors, including the financial difficulties of some of its A/V dealer customers, notably Ultimate Electronics, which went bankrupt and downsized, and the demise of the Good Guys. “Thirty percent of our business is with specialty A/V dealers,” Sterns noted. Another factor in last year’s slower growth rate was a drop in R&D spending and staff before the company’s purchase in 2005 by Linear, which has been acquiring a stable of custom installation and audio/video brands in recent years.

This year’s gains will be due in part to the recent shipment of the IntelliControl ICS (Integrated Control Solutions) multiroom audio system, a modular receiver-based system whose plug-and-play functionality eliminates the need for programming that would cost anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000, the company said. In new construction, an IntelliControl six-zone system with $250/pair speakers per zone would cost consumers about $10,000.

IntelliControl reduces the need for extensive programming by incorporating a Web server in the $2,799-suggested GXR2 12x60-watt six-source, six-zone receiver, Sterns explained. To eliminate the need to trace wire runs, the server automatically detects and identifies all Niles in-wall keypads and touch screens connected by CAT-5 cable and all source modules inserted in the receiver. The modules include an AM/FM tuner, Sirius and XM tuners, an iPod-docking module and source-input modules to connect legacy audio sources.

The system automatically draws the user interfaces that will appear on each keypad, touch screen and wireless-RF remote interface, eliminating the need for installers to program the interface individually into each keypad or touch screen. “We’re the only ones to do this,” Sterns said, attributing the breakthrough to a three-year $6 million R&D effort.

The system also eliminates the need for installers to return to a previous installation to reprogram each keypad or touch screen whenever XM or Sirius changes their station orders, Sterns said. The keypads and touch-screen interfaces automatically reflect the changes so consumers can continue selecting channels and running macros that include satellite radio.

System programming time is less than 10 minutes with the use of a PC, Sterns said.

The system can also be controlled from a metadata-displaying RF remote based on the ZigBee wireless home automation standard, which Niles modified for use in the upscale multiple dwelling unit (MDU) buildings that are attracting retiring baby boomers. The modification would enable multiple dwelling units in a building to enjoy IntelliControl systems without the risk of relaying RF commands to a neighboring apartment’s ZigBee base station or repeaters.

Niles is planning ICS system enhancements, including:

---an RS-232 translator box, due in late summer, to integrate control of Escient and ReQuest music servers and Lutron lighting systems, and a module to play back music from a networked PC.

--Niles’s first music sever, which will be developed by sister company Imerge to work with IntelliControl ICS without the need for programming, will be displayed at the CEDIA Expo and ship by year’s end.

---Niles is also planning an HD Radio card by year’s end and possibly an Internet streaming card, although year-end availability of the latter is uncertain.

--and a tabletop networked iPod dock/charger to complement the ICS’s modular iPod card. The card requires a user’s iPod to be placed near the main A/V equipment stack, which might be in an out-of-the-way utility closet. With the $200 networked dock due in August, however, consumers will be able to plug their dock into $150 wall plates installed in more convenient spots in one or more rooms. Like before, consumers will still be able to use their multiroom system’s ZigBee remote or in-wall controllers to select iPod music for playback through in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, but if the dock is placed near a PC, consumers will be able to transfer music directly from the PC to the iPod via the dock.

Later this year at the CEDIA Expo, the company will dramatically expand its limited selection of two high-performance cabinet speakers — a subwoofer and LCR — to a full line voice-matched to a new line of home theater architectural speakers. Although cabinet-speaker makers are diversifying into architectural speakers to offset declining sales of cabinet speakers, installers prefer to buy speakers from one-stop shops that supply all the components of a multiroom audio system, Sterns said.

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