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Russound Taps The Top, Adds Media Server

Newmarket, N.H. — Russound will step farther up into the high end of the multiroom audio business with the summertime launch of its E Series, which includes a 12-source, eight-zone controller/amplifier and the company’s first A/V media server.

The inaugural series also includes a double-gang in-wall controller with iPod-like scroll wheel, hard LCD display and hard keys. A series expansion is planned.

The series will be sold only through dealers who have been certified to sell them under the company’s new Sphere certification program. To participate, dealers must complete training in installing Russound RNET systems and have experience in the home theater, home automation or custom A/V industries. They must also belong to an industry-recognized trade association, provide support for custom A/V installations and agree not to sell Russound products via the Internet or through mail order, the company said.

The SMC-E5 Smart Media Console is the company’s first A/V server, complementing a Russound model that stores music and photos. The SMC-E5, based on Intel Viiv technology and the Windows Vista operating system, was purpose-built for custom-install applications, so the console’s OS was stripped of applications, including Web browsing, that aren’t related to audio or video, the company said.

The SMC-E5 console incorporates 1TB hard drive to store music and video, and it drives a 7.1-channel home theater system while simultaneously distributing music or video to other zones in the house via an Ethernet network. Music can also be distributed through Russound multiroom audio systems, including one built around the E Series ACA-E5 controller/amplifier and the KLK-E5 in-wall keypad with scrollwheel.

The console, expected to retail for about $6,500, uses its hard drive to store and distribute time-shifted standard- and high-definition TV content, music ripped from CDs, and video and audio transferred from a networked PC. It incorporates dual ATSC and dual NTSC tuners, a CD/DVD recorder, FM tuner, surround-sound decoders and the ability to download copyright-protected music and movies directly from select Web sites without using a PC. The sites include Napster for music and video-download sites such as MovieLink and CinemaNow. Unlike the Kaleidescape video server, the SMC-E5 does not rip DVDs with its supplied software.

Up to three separate songs can be distributed to up to three separate audio zones through a traditional multiroom audio system. Up to five separate songs can be played simultaneously in five different zones if the music is distributed over a wired or wireless Ethernet network to five Media Center Extenders, of which the Xbox and models from Linksys and D-Link are examples.

Similarly, up to four standard-definition or high-definition TV programs stored on the hard drive can be streamed simultaneously over wired and wireless Ethernet to up to five Media Extenders. Video from all four embedded TV tuners can likewise be streamed simultaneously over wired and wireless Ethernet connections.

In order to stream that many video programs, however, Russound said a 1GB Ethernet network and wireless 802.11n wireless network would be needed.

Russound plans Blu-ray and HD DVD drive options and an external dual-tuner CableCard module, which would connect via USB. The company is also developing lower capacity versions of the console for use in secondary rooms. These versions and the SMC-E5 console would be able to share content via an Ethernet connection.

The Smart Media Console also supports home automation and systems integration when loaded with Lifeware software by Exceptional Innovation.

The console can be integrated with a multiroom audio system based on the E Series controller/amplifier and scroll wheel keypad. The controller/amp connects to 12 sources and drives eight zones, more than previous Russound controller/amps whose capabilities top out at six sources and six zones.

The controller/amp features internal AM/FM tuner, optional Sirius and XM satellite-radio modules, source inputs, doorbell and paging interface, and composite-video switching. Pricing was unavailable.

The KLK-E5 scroll wheel keypad features LCD screen, menu-driven interface, capacitive-touch scroll wheel, IR receiver and metadata display. It can be used only with the E Series controller/amplifier.

New products outside the E Series include the iBridge Bay, a device that turns an AppleMacmini computer into a single-stream media server controlled from Russound’s in-wall controllers. Music, video and photos, including audio and video downloaded from the iTunes Web site, can be streamed to audio products and video displays connected to a Russound multiroom-A/V system.

Users of Russound’s RNET keypads and touch screens control iTunes functions such as play, pause, next song, previous song, playlist up and playlist down. Touch screens such as the UNO-TS2 and UNO-TS2D also select media by playlist, genre, artist, or album.

The iBridge Bay will be available in April 2007 at $599 MAP.

Also new: the VM1 video switcher, capable of handling HDTV resolutions up to 1,080p and distributing the video to zones up to 300 feet over a single CAT-5 cable. It ships in the third quarter.

Distributed video is routed from the VM1 to Russound’s single-gang VMR1 wall-plate/receiver, which converts the signal back to analog component video. The slim, in-wall design of theVMR1 is suited for concealed mounting behind flat-panel displays.

The Video Matrix VM1 is available in five configurations to suit any installation.

The basic VM1 4 is a four-source to four-zone video matrix designed for component video sources. The VM1 8 offers eight component video sources and zones. For installations involving video format up-conversion from composite and S-Video, the VM1 4UC offers up-conversion on two sources and four zones. The VM1 8UC up-converts the formats of two sources for eight zones, while the VM1 8UC2 provides up-conversion for four video sources.

The five Russound VM1 matrixes will be available in the third quarter. Pricing was unavailable.