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Best Buy Licensing Wireless Audio To Vendors

Minneapolis – 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

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, multizone 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 technical 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 multizone 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 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
minijacks and RCA inputs. From another room, however, consumers can remotely
switch among multiple sources that are already on.