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Kenwood Stepping Up In 2001

FORT LEE, N.J. — Kenwood announced technology partnerships with Faroudja and Boston Acoustics as part of a continuing step-up strategy that includes the debut of the company’s high-performance Sovereign series of networked A/V products.

Here at the first of four regional dealer shows, the company outlined plans for its component-focused Sovereign lineup, which was previewed at CES and is targeted exclusively to independents and regional specialty chains.

In its separately franchised Kenwood series, the company expanded its selection of home theater solutions to eight SKUs from six with the addition of its first two DVD-receivers packaged with home theater speakers. One solution features Boston Acoustics speakers. Four derivative packages with DVD-receiver are also planned.

The mainstream Kenwood series will continue to offer a wide selection of receivers, DVD players and other components and a limited selection of shelf systems.

In the Sovereign series, Kenwood launched four multizone receivers priced up to a suggested $3,000 compared to a current top price point of $2,000. As part of Sovereign’s performance focus, the receivers are Kenwood’s first THX-certified products in about four years. Two are THX Ultra-certified and two are Select-certified. All are equipped with THX EX and DTS ES Discrete and Matrix. They’re also among the industry’s first products to offer Dolby Pro Logic II.

In the Sovereign series, Kenwood is also incorporating Faroudja video processing in the industry’s first 400+3 DVD-AV changer, priced at a suggested $1,500, and in a 5-disc DVD-AV changer at a suggested $1,200.

Networking: The company is adding RS-232 ports to all but one Sovereign product to network them with the $1,800-suggested Entré entertainment hub, a digital media-management device built on the platform of another technology partner, OpenGlobe.

Underscoring Sovereign’s network focus, the company said the components can be integrated into Panja and Crestron home-control systems. In addition, Entré incorporates the HomePNA 10Mbps phone-line network standard. Entré can be used to send up to four separate streams of CD audio, MP3 audio or Internet radio (but not DVD-Audio or DVD-Video because of limited bandwidth) over phone wires to up to four rooms at a time. The content would be streamed from RS-232-connected DVD changers, Entré’s internal 20GB hard drive or Entré’s built-in Internet radio.

Kenwood is moving from “standalone products” to “products that network in the house and connect to the outside world through the Internet,” said sales and marketing VP Bob Law.

Unified access: Due in August, Entré unifies the selection of all content in connected Sovereign products through a TV-screen GUI. The GUI lets users select music and movie discs stored on the connected 400+3 DVD-AV changer or on a 400+3 DVD-Video changer (each with both-side play), AM/FM stations through connected Sovereign receivers, and Internet radio stations accessed through Entré’s Internet radio tuner. The GUI also lets users select MP3 songs stored on the Entré’s 20GB hard drive. Users can select content by title, station name, medium or genre.

Entré downloads song and movie information, and local and Internet radio station information, from Web sites through its internal dial-up modem or USB-connected broadband modem. The device doesn’t currently download music directly from the web. A USB connection also allows for MP3 file transfers to connected Internet audio portables.

Via HomePNA network technology, a small remote controller dubbed Axcess can be used in different rooms to select and play back content available through the Entré hub. Axcess, targeted for October or November shipment at a yet undetermined price, features a Class D amplifier to drive speakers but can be connected to powered speakers and to select shelf systems.

Entré currently streams Internet radio via a service operated by Internet appliance developer Kerbango. Kerbango owner 3Com plans to close Kerbango by May 31 if it doesn’t find a buyer but an OpenGlobe spokesman said his company is looking at alternate Internet-radio service providers in case Kerbango folds.

3Com’s plans have already forced a delay in Thomson’s plans to introduce Kerbango Internet-music appliances.