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CEDIA Expo Draws A Wider Audience

It was a decidedly unconventional convention for custom installers here at the CEDIA Expo, where alarm installers turned out in greater force to mingle with traditional A/V installers and where more commercial-installation and IT suppliers turned out to compete for installers’ dollars.

The newcomers helped boost attendance to more than 26,000, beating last year’s record attendance of 24,500.

Untraditional exhibitors included high-end PC maker Alienware. It previewed a system for streaming audio, video and other content over wired Ethernet or wireless 802.11g from one of its audio-component-style Media Center PCs to Ethernet-connected A/V equipment throughout the house. Through a wireless 802.11g touch pad or a TV GUI, the system will also control other home subsystems, said product manager David Aiello.

The Alienware system will be available in the first or second quarters exclusively through custom-install channels, as will select new Media Center PCs earmarked for home-control applications. Other Alienware PCs, including Media Center PCs, will continue to be sold direct to consumers.

Equally unconventional was the introduction by MusicGiants of its authorized music-download service and companion Sound Vault HDD-based single-zone audio jukebox, which downloads protected Windows Media Audio (WMA) Lossless music files from its site at $1.29 per song or $15.29 per album. The site, which officially launches in late September, has been authorized by the four largest music companies and targets consumers ages 30 and up.

The Sound Vault retails for $9,500 and features a 400GB HDD and CD slot that lets consumers rip their own CDs. Select commercial-installation suppliers also exhibited for the first time and included lighting-control company WattStopper, which showed its first residential products.

More familiar A/V and home-control names were also active at the show with new satellite radios, iPod connections to distributed-audio systems, and a growing selection of Z-Wave-equipped wireless home-control devices.

In satellite radio, Onkyo introduced a total of five A/V receivers with XM-ready capability, two more than previously disclosed. The opening price for an Onkyo XM-ready A/V receiver is now a suggested $400.

Besides showing a previously disclosed XM-ready A/V receiver, Marantz showed a two-channel XM-ready stereo tuner, due in December at a suggested retail of about $399. Installers can choose from among three sets of control codes, enabling them to stack up to three tuners to create a three-zone AM/FM/XM system.

More companies than previously reported also connected iPods to distributed-audio systems to play back iPod-stored music in multiple rooms. ChannelVision and Audio Access showed their first iPod interfaces, the former for its A-BUS distributed-audio systems. At least four other distributed-audio companies — Audio Design Associates, Crestron, Niles and Oxmoor — announced plans before the Expo to show such interfaces, joining SpeakerCraft and Sonance in that market.

For a show that caters to wire pullers, an unconventional technology — the Z-Wave wireless mesh-network home control technology — posted gains, with Logitech introducing a pair of programmable handheld remote controls incorporating Z-Wave and Monster Cable announcing plans to offer Z-Wave devices at an unspecified date.

At least five companies showed residential-market Z-Wave devices, including lighting supplier Watt Stopper. By year’s end, 30 to 40 companies will likely ship Z-Wave devices, mostly into the residential market, up from about a half dozen residential suppliers, said Intermatic, which markets Z-Wave devices.

In more conventional product categories, companies such as Bowers & Wilkins, Meridian, coNEXTion, BG, and Polk expanded their selection of custom-installed speakers. BG showed its first in-wall subwoofer and a $10,000 a pair 89-inch-tall in-wall speaker with upgraded ribbon technology to boost sensitivity.

Polk showed its first THX-certified in-wall speaker, the $1,400-each RTS105, and its first single-enclosure five-channel surround speaker system, the $949-suggested 43-inch-wide, 4.5-inch-tall Surround Bar. For the surround drivers, it uses passive circuitry to cancel interaural crosstalk and equalize the drivers’ signals to deliver a surround effect without bouncing sound off walls.

In a development that shattered conventional wisdom, Dolby Labs announced that consumers will be able to stream all of the optional high-data rate soundtracks on Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs through a newer A/V receiver’s HDMI 1.1 inputs, not just through a receiver’s 5.1- and 7.1-channel analog inputs. That’s because all soundtracks on a high-definition disc will be converted to PCM before exiting a player’s HDMI output. The multichannel PCM streams could then be decoded by an existing A/V receiver with HDMI 1.1 inputs, Dolby said.

Future A/V receivers could still incorporate decoders to internally decode the high-bandwidth soundtracks in their native forms, such as lossless Dolby TrueHD, lossy Dolby Digital Plus, and new DTS lossy and lossless codecs. These surround streams would be carried to future by planned HDMI 1.3 connections, whose specs are expected to be finalized later this year. (More CEDIA coverage will appear in the Sept. 26 issue of TWICE).