New Internet audio products on the way from Casio, Lansonic, Philips, SigTech and Thomson will bridge the PC and CE worlds.
Some of the new products are shelf systems and headphone CD players that play MP3-encoded CDs created on a PC's CD-R/RW drive. Others are component-style hard-drive-based audio servers that also deliver streaming audio from the web to an A/V system.
Here's what the companies announced:
Casio Communications: The PZ-5000 headphone CD player, due in the fourth quarter at $159, plays back MP3-encoded CD-R discs. Its menu system lets user search for songs by the first letter of the song title or by directories.
Lansonic: A hard-drive-based multizone audio server is the first finished consumer product from Digital Voice Systems of Burlington, Mass., which is marketing the product through its new Lansonic division. The parent is a supplier of voice-compression technology to the communications industry.
The DAS-750 is available in 20GB, 60GB and 120GB versions that connect to home audio systems, but a separate PC must be used to rip CDs or download music from the Internet. The music files can be transferred from a PC to a DAS-750 via an Ethernet connection.
The device itself stores compressed MP3-compatible MP2 files or uncompressed Wav files, which are dragged and dropped from the connected PC.
Multiple DAS-750 devices, including diskless versions, can be connected in an Ethernet network to access music from any other connected DAS-750 or from a connected PC. A single server plays back up to five streams simultaneously to up to 32 devices and PCs simultaneously.
The 20GB model, retailing for a suggested $995, stores up to 345 hours of MP2 music at a data rate of 128 Kbps. The diskless unit retails for a suggested $695. The 60GB model goes for $1,495, with the 120GB model at $1,995.
The cost of networking multiple units to a PC is about $100 for a four-port Ethernet hub and two network interface cards, Lansonic said. To connect only one device to a PC, only a network interface card is needed for use in the PC.
The devices are available in July through Lansonic's website and will be rolled out to custom installers.
To access streaming audio from a website, a consumer uses front-panel controls to type in a site's URL or select from a menu of bookmarked sites.
The device incorporates SCMS (Serial Copy Management System) to make direct digital copies of a CD or other prerecorded digital format. It features four digital inputs and three analog inputs and comes with preprogrammed universal remote.
Philips: The company plans summertime shipments of a headphone CD player and minisystem with built-in MP3 decoder to play back MP3-encoded CD-R and CD-RW discs. The products are part of the new eXpandium series. Both products play back MP3 files at data rates from 32 Kbps to 320 Kbps.
The headphone CD player, retailing for $199, incorporates an antishock memory buffer that stores up to 100 seconds of 128-Kbps MP3 music. The $299 FW-M55 minisystem features three-disc carousel CD changer, two-way speakers, and digital AM/FM tuner.
Thomson: Product plans include a component-style Digital Media Manager that streams audio from websites and uses an internal hard drive to store songs ripped from CDs. It features a built-in single-play CD/DVD drive and MP3 encoder, which is used for ripping CDs and storing them on the hard drive.
The Digital Media Manager also accesses the CDDB website to autobuild a database of stored music files and album cover art, which can be sorted in multiple ways and displayed on a connected TV. To access the Web, the device connects to a modem via an Ethernet connection. A USB output allows downloads of stored music files to memory cards that can be played back through Internet audio portables.
The device might also ship with support for other Internet audio codecs, said a spokesman.
The Digital Media Manager doesn't record video programs, but it does feature Gemstar's TV Electronic Program Guide. It's due between mid-December and mid-January at an unannounced price. A spokesman declined to reveal additional product details, including disc size.
A second product is a tabletop AM/FM/Internet radio developed in conjunction with Cupertino, Calif.-based Kerbango to stream audio from the Web via the Kerbango Tuning Service (KTS) site. The service helps PC users find and listen to more than 4,000 streaming audio sites that use Real Network streaming codecs. Users won't be able to punch in a specific URL to access sites.
The radio is due in October for less than a suggested $500 and requires the use of broadband modem connected via wired Ethernet. A later version will add a built-in dial-up modem.
Kerbango also monitors the streaming sites continually to determine whether their URLs have changed and whether they're still operating. Site updates are automatically uploaded to a Kerbango device whenever the device logs onto the KTS site.
The radio lets users scroll through top-level audio content categories such as music, news, sports and weather. From there, users click on subcategories such as music genres, then click onto sites within those genres.
The product incorporates speakers and amplification, but for improved audio quality, it features a line-level output that connects to more elaborate audio systems.
Last month, Thomson announced a headphone CD player and a shelf system that play MP3-encoded CD-R and CD-RW discs. They're due in late September or October.
SigTech: The $199 stereo-link 1200, available only through the site at www.stereo-link.com, connects a PC to an audio system to play back streaming Web audio or stored MP3 files. It connects to a nearby PC via USB connector to capture audio before it reaches the PC's internal sound card. Then the device converts the digital signal to analog via 20-bit DACs and sends it to a home stereo system via RCA connection or stereo output jack.