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Best Buy To License Wireless Audio Vendors

Best Buy is recruiting major CE brands to adopt Rocketboost-brand wireless multi-room audio technology in home CE products whose sales would not be limited to Best Buy outlets.

Branded products incorporating the technology would interoperate with one another and with a selection of wireless transmitters and receivers launched in October by Best Buy under the chain’s accessories house brand, Rocketfish. These devices connect to existing music sources, sound systems and active or passive speakers to create wireless multisource, multi-zone multi-room audio systems offering what the company called “wired-quality” sound. The Rocketfish products can also be used to deliver audio to up to four surround speakers at a time in a 7.1-channel home-theater system. The selection also includes an amplified outdoor wireless speaker.

Under Best Buy’s initiative, Rocketboost technology could be included in such CE products as A/V receivers, tabletop radios, TVs and Blu-ray players, all built by “the best brands,” to transmit audio from connected sources to sound systems or speakers in other rooms, said Nigel Waites, Best Buy’s chief technology officer for exclusive brands. Best Buy’s current Rocketfish products, he noted, are designed to connection to legacy sources that lack embedded Rocketboost technology.

In one application, TVs and A/V receivers that stream Internet radio could transmit the streamed content to multiple tabletop radios around the house or to wireless outdoor speakers. An inexpensive IR remote that comes with a table radio or outdoor speaker could control the Internet radio application from another room because the remote’s IR control signals would be relayed back to the source via 2.4GHz RF.

The first other-brand products featuring a Rocketboost logo will appear in Best Buy stores in the second quarter along with CE products bearing Best Buy’s Insignia house brand, Waites said. Although CE companies won’t be prohibited from selling the products to other retailers, “we can tell the story the best,” he said.

To ease suppliers’ R&D investment and to speed time to market, semiconductor developer Avnera is offering suppliers its second-generation chip and software solution. CE companies need only integrate a user interface and design the finished hardware to bring a Rocketboost-compatible product to market, said Manpreet Khaira, chairman of Beaverton, Ore.-based Avnera.

Best Buy is an investor in Avnera along with other companies, including Panasonic, which uses the technology in wireless surround speakers.

Avnera’s first-generation technology appeared in 2007 in such products as Acoustics Research headphones and a Best Buy wireless add-on for surround speakers. The point-to-point and point-to-multipoint technology transmitted uncompressed 48kHz/16-bit PCM with no audible or perceived interference despite operation in the crowded 2.4GHz band. Each transmitter could be paired with up to three receivers at a time, though up to 38 independent one-transmitter/three-receiver systems could operate independently in a house if the house lacked 2.4GHz Wi-Fi.

With Avnera’s second-generation technology, appearing in Best Buy’s most recent Rocketfish selection, multisource multi-zone music distribution is simpler. With the technology’s multipoint-to-multipoint architecture, consumers can create a multi-room audio system with up to five transmitters and nine receivers to to stream up to five separate stereo sources at a time. Three such systems could operate independently in a home without Wi-Fi.

The second-generation technology is also more suitable for multi-room audio because it provides for a central control point, such as a handheld remote or PC application, to control Rockeboost devices throughout the house. It also transmits metadata and album art from source to receiver and it reduces latency by almost half to less than 10 milliseconds. Reduced latency improves the multi-room audio experience as well as the multichannel surround experience, the companies said.

For home theater, the new technology uses the 2.4GHz band more efficiently when setting up four wireless surround speakers, and it steps up sound quality to more closely match Blu-ray’s potential by delivering audio in 96kHz/24-bit uncompressed-PCM form, up from 48/16.

When Rocketboost is embedded in source devices, consumers could potentially operate sources from a remote room, turning sources on and off, switching among sources, and selecting individual songs or content channels. With Best Buy’s current Rocketfish selection, in contrast, sources cannot be controlled from another room because wireless transmitters connect to the sources via 3.5mm mini-jacks and RCA inputs. From another room, however, consumers can remotely switch among multiple sources that are already on.