RCA Readies First MP3 Player With Wireless Headphones

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Indianapolis — The market’s first MP3 player with integrated wireless-headphone technology will be available in October from RCA, and wireless accessories due in coming months from other brands will use the same wireless technology.

The 2.4GHz technology, developed by Cupertino-based semiconductor developer Kleer, is promoted as a better-than-Bluetooth alternative that delivers longer battery life, lacks Bluetooth’s latency drawbacks and delivers lossless CD-quality audio over the air. The technology transmits uncompressed 16-bit, 44.1kHz PCM audio at an effective bit rate of 1Mbps to 1.4Mbps instead of using Bluetooth’s compression algorithm. It was designed from the ground up to deliver lossless CD-quality audio, said Kleer marketing VP Ron Glibbery.

The first product incorporating Kleer technology is RCA’s $139-suggested Jet Stream MP3/video player, targeted at fitness buffs who complain of tangled cords when they’re working out, said sales and marketing VP Dave Arland. A Harris Interactive survey commissioned by RCA found that 51 percent of adult men who work out do so with an MP3 player, and of them, 40 percent say tangled wires are their No. 1 complaint, Arland said.

Jet Stream features ear buds that are wired together but not wired to the MP3 player. One ear bud incorporates pause and volume controls. Because it’s targeted to fitness buffs, the 1GB device features a splash-proof case, stop watch, pedometer, calorie counter and body-mass index calculator. Likewise, it ships with armband, wristband and ear clips to prevent the ear buds from falling out of the ear. Wired earphones included in the package double as an FM antenna for the embedded FM radio. Other features include FM recording, MP3 and protected-WMA playback, JPG viewer and 1-inch OLED display whose text turns upside down for viewing when the device is attached to a jogger’s arm.

The Jet Stream will be available in October through select Wal-Mart stores, Amazon.com, Buy.com and Home Shopping Network.

The included wireless ear buds deliver 10 hours of playback time on one charge, whereas Bluetooth delivers about two to three hours in music-playing cellphones, Kleer said. The technology would deliver up to 10 times the battery life of Bluetooth if Bluetooth were used to send uncompressed PCM over the air, and Kleer would deliver eight times the battery life if Kleer used Bluetooth’s audio-compression algorithm, Glibbery told TWICE. Range is up to 30 feet in the clear or about 15 to 20 feet through walls.

At January’s International CES, about 10 to 15 products from other companies will debut with Kleer technology, most of them accessory items, and all will be interoperable with the RCA player and with one another, he said. “Part of our strategy is an interoperability program to ensure all accessories work with the RCA product,” he added. Later this year, the first Kleer accessory — a wireless iPod transmitter packed with bicycle speakers — will be available. RCA said it also sees potential for additional applications in its line, including home audio, because of encouraging retail response to the technology.

Kleer is a superior alternative to Bluetooth in MP3 players, Glibbery contended, because Bluetooth consumes too much power and uses lossy compression rather than uncompressed PCM. Kleer also doesn’t suffer from Bluetooth’s latency problems, making Kleer a good choice for use in wireless home theater speakers. “We found a good balance between latency and sound quality,” Glibbery said.

The advantages roughly doubled the price of the Jet Stream compared to a wired-only version, Arland noted.

Kleer reduces power consumption compared with Bluetooth in part by shunning Bluetooth’s spread spectrum implementation, which causes a signal to hop continually around channels in the 2.4GHz band. “We use one channel, but if we find interference is increasing in that channel, we hop before you hear the pop to find the channel with the most available bandwidth,” Glibbery said. Kleer also uses buffering to drop the pop.

Other Kleer advantages over Bluetooth include point-to-multipoint broadcasting, ability to coexist with three LANs while Bluetooth fails in the presence of two LANs, and assured product interoperability because Bluetooth has so many versions and profiles that don’t all support the same functions, Kleer contended.

Kleer technology delivers sound to up to four receivers simultaneously, although that capability wasn’t implemented in the Jet Stream. For use in a wireless multizone music server, suppliers could incorporate multiple Kleer chips to deliver multiple different songs simultaneously to different rooms in a house, Glibbery noted. Range could be extended to up to 700 feet to cover a whole house by boosting a power amp by 20dB, he added.

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