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Sonos Multi-Room Music System Gets Handheld Touchscreen

7/27/2009 10:01:00 PM Eastern

Santa Barbara, Calif. - Sonos upgraded its wireless multi-room-audio system with a new wireless handheld controller that replaces its predecessor's scroll wheel with touchscreen and virtual QWERTY keyboard.

"With up to 25,000 Internet radio stations available now through Sonos, the controller needs to change," said Sonos co-founder Thomas Cullen. "You need a [virtual] keyboard to find stations easily." With a touchscreen and virtual keyboard, consumers will also be able to access functions and select PC-stored songs in fewer steps, he said. "You can use the keyboard to search for anything, including artists in my library, create custom Pandora stations, or name a room [zone] without scrolling to a letter and hitting enter."

The touchscreen uses capacitance technology, so consumers can use their fingers rather than a stylus to navigate the menu.

The CR200 controller retails for an everyday $349, including tabletop cradle/charger. Its predecessor was priced at $399, plus $40 for the cradle. It's available in stores July 28. Like before, the controller is part of a $999 bundle that includes the Zone Player ZP120 amplified client and ZonePlayer ZP90 unamplified client. When purchased separately, the clients retail for $499 and $349, respectively.

Sonos got its feet wet in touchscreen control with the launch late last year of a free iPhone/iPod Touch app that uses a home's Wi-Fi network to control a Sonos system.

Sonos' system distributes music over a proprietary wireless mesh network from a networked PC or network-attached storage (NAS) device to clients, or Zone Players, in other rooms. The clients also stream music from Internet radio stations and music services directly through a networked broadband modem without the use of a PC. To access PC-stored music and Internet radio, consumers must hardwire one client, or a $99 ZoneBridge repeater, to the Ethernet port of a home network's router.

The controller is "fast, simple and reliable," Cullen said. It also sports full VGA resolution compared to its predecessor's QVGA resolution, delivering twice the resolution of an iPhone screen, he said. The company also removed hard-button playback controls, placing them on the touchscreen in a location where they are always visible, but a hard volume button and hard mute button remain. Other changes include replaceable rather than embedded lithium-ion battery and an "I" button that lets users add stations to favorites and view additional information, such as artist bios, streamed from the www.last.fm Internet music service.

Other Internet music services streamed directly to ZonePlayers are Rhapsody, Napster, Sirius and Pandora.

Like the old controller, the new controller uses a variation of wireless 802.11g, as does the ZoneBridge repeater. The two clients, however, use a variation of g-compatible 802.11n with three-antenna multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology to boost range and thus reduce the potential number of dead spots within a home. That simplifies the placement of clients within a home by consumers, the company said. In some homes, especially larger homes or those with lots of brick walls, consumers might not need to buy one or more dedicated $99 Zone Bridge repeaters to fill in coverage gaps, the company explained.

Because the system is wireless, Sonos said sales through custom-install channels are growing faster than over-the-counter sales as installers more aggressively target retrofit installs. In a retrofit install, installers mount Zone Players in the attic, running speaker wire from them to in-ceiling or in-wall speakers. In a home with previously installed custom system, installers retrofit the system with multiple Zone Players in the main A/V rack.

For a video demo, visit www.sonos.com/demo.

Sonos CR200

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