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Agere Handheld Server Uses Bluetooth Cellphone As RC

Chipmaker Agere has developed a handheld, battery-operated content server that uses a Bluetooth-equipped cellular phone as a remote control to stream audio and video content to multiple networked consumer electronics devices, including TVs, PCs and multimedia-capable portable devices such as cellular phones and PDAs.

The server, called BluOnyx, also serves computer files to networked PCs, laptops, and PDAs and it can be used to back up and store content from PCs, digital cameras, and cellphones. Backed up content includes a cellphone’s contact lists.

The prototype that Agere plans to demonstrate at CES uses Bluetooth, wired USB and SD memory cards to back up and share content, but a second-generation model due in April will add Wi-Fi-certified 802.11b/g wireless networking, said Nik Bahram, strategic marketing VP for Agere’s storage business unit. Up to seven different multimedia files can be streamed simultaneously from the server to nearby devices or, via Wi-Fi, to remote devices over the Internet. The peer-to-peer device doesn’t require a PC to operate.

“This is not a reference design,” Bahram added. “It’s a product we’re putting out on the table for our customers with our own chipsets and industrial design and with third-party chipsets.”

The server, available on an OEM basis to consumer brands, lacks a display but uses Bluetooth to push a user interface, media-player application, and an H.263 or H.264 audio/video decoder to any Java-equipped Bluetooth cellphone. The server also transcodes its audio/video content to H.263/264 streams for playback by the cellphone.

In addition, consumers can use the phone as a remote control to push untranscoded content and digital images to any networked PC or digital media player (DMP) for decoding without having to install new software on the receiving device, Bahram said. Likewise, about 75 percent of all cellphones shipped worldwide in 2006 will ship with Bluetooth and Java installed, so they will be capable out of the box of playing BluOnyx content and acting as a BluOnyx remote, Bahram added. An exception is Verizon-network phones, which incorporate Java but would need Verizon to “open a port” to allow BluOnyx access, Bahram said.

BluOnyx will be available in 1GB, 2GB, and 4GB flash-memory versions and 10GB and 40GB hard disk versions at expected retail prices ranging from $99 to $250, he said. The depth of the 3.54-inch by 2.36-inch server ranges from 0.24 inches to 0.59 inches depending on storage capacity. BluOnyx’s rechargeable battery operates for up to 12 hours, but the server can also be powered by an AC adapter.

The server itself does not decode media files before streaming them, instead relying on the receiving device to do the decoding. As a result, the server can store and stream protected music files to devices equipped with the correct decoder and digital-rights management (DRM) technology, Bahram said. Select cellular phones incorporating Apple’s iTunes codec and DRM, for example, feature limited embedded memory and could use BluOnyx to store additional protected iTunes files for playback, he noted.

Agere sees additional use scenarios, such as enabling Bluetooth-enabled cellular phones and PDAs that lack broadband Internet capabilities to access the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection. Another use would be to create a “digital campfire” in which a BluOnyx server broadcasts content to multiple people gathered around a table.

“Agere has historically been known for making chips, software, and reference designs for consumer electronics, computers, and communications,” a spokesman said, but with BluOnyx, “The company built a device to show potential customers how they might build their own customized product based on our BluOnyx hardware and software.” Customers, however, could choose to use Agere’s design.