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Satellite Radio Turns To Home, Portable Users

Aficionados of satellite-radio’s programming diversity will enjoy a greater diversity of listening options this year when satellite-radio suppliers expand their selection of dedicated headphone portables and dedicated home tuners.

In 2005, at least 13 companies will offer satellite radio tuners dedicated for home use, and at least three companies — Delphi, Tao, and Xact — will offer dedicated handheld headphone-stereo models small enough to be “wearable,” the companies say. Xact’s model could be the first such model designed for Sirius reception.

At least two companies –Delphi and Xact — will continue to offer add-on battery pack/headphone packages that turn larger plug-and-play tuners into headphone stereos for outdoor use.

To expand listening options in the home:

  • XM plans to announce a program encouraging availability this year of the first satellite-ready home audio products, which will include AV receivers and possibly shelf systems, home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) systems, and table radios. The program has attracted multiple licensees who plan this year to ship XM-ready home audio products that control a small universal add-on XM tuner. Details were unavailable at press time.
  • Delphi plans to unveil a wireless in-home distribution system called the XM Signal Repeater. It distributes XM satellite-radio signals from a single indoor XM antenna to satellite radios in multiple rooms, including basements, where reception would otherwise require long runs of cable from an XM tuner to an antenna near a window. A wireless repeater system unveiled last year by Sirius hasn’t shipped, and the company declined to comment on when or if it will ship.

In car audio developments at CES, Panasonic will offer XM in 2005, and Pioneer will offer head units that control a Sirius or XM tuner, joining Alpine with this capability (see page 118).

These and other developments will help retail-level satellite-radio sales exceed $1 billion in 2005, up from an estimated $520 million in 2004, according to estimates by XM senior VP Dan Murphy.

The portable and home audio announcements underscore consumer demand for listening to satellite radio outside the car, Sirius and XM contend. About two-thirds of Sirius subscribers who buy a plug-and-play tuner are also buying home docking stations or boombox docking stations, Sirius said. XM reported that within a month of the time consumers buy an XM plug-and-play tuner, 90 percent of purchasers buy home or boombox docking stations.

Dedicated home units will become more popular as the satellite customer base grows and expands to reach more performance-oriented customers, said Audiovox VP Rick Monpetit. For now, however, most home listeners are opting for plug-and-play options for the home, he said, because of the low price of $99 plug-and-play tuners and $49 home kits.

The performance market, however, may be starting to catch fire. Polk reports that its single-zone XM tuner, shipping since November at a suggested $330, is off to a strong start, particularly in the custom-install market. There, installers stack two or three models to create a two- or three-zone XM system that’s more affordable than currently available two- and three-zone XM tuners, said marketing manager Paul DiComo. “We were a little surprised by the degree of enthusiasm on the custom side.”

Headphone portables sales could be similarly poised to gain traction now that more suppliers are entering the market. Here at CES, Tao-brand marketer Giant International plans to unveil its first XM headphone stereos, joining the industry’s first such XM model available since last December from Delphi. Pioneer is considering a 2005 launch of an XM headphone portable and at press time was considering a CES announcement.

These models, marketed under the XM2Go banner, are compact wearable portables built from the ground up as headphone stereos. They also include a time-shifting feature to record programs that users can play back when a satellite signal is unavailable.

For its part, Xact Communications plans to show what could be the first wearable headphone radio for the Sirius network. It also shifts Sirius programming and doubles as an MP3 player.

Among new home introduction here at CES, at least three companies — Control4, Elan, and Krell — plan to show their first dedicated home tuners, all with XM service. Audio Design Associates will show its second home XM product, a multizone receiver, and Russound will expand its XM tuner selection to two.

Although not displaying satellite radio here at CES, Yamaha and Onkyo USA say they will enter the market with home satellite radio products in 2005, the latter likely with XM service. Other companies planning to enter the home market in 2005 are NuVo, with an XM tuner, and Niles, with a Sirius or XM device or both. Russound also plans to offer a Sirius option in 2005.

All of the companies are targeting owners of high-performance component-style home stereo systems or the custom-installed distributed-audio market.

The latest dedicated home tuners would join models already available from Audiovox and Kenwood, both of which offer single-zone Sirius tuners; Polk, which offers a single-one XM tuner; Antex, which offers multizone Sirius and XM tuners; and Tivoli, which offers a Sirius-equipped tabletop radio.

Companies such as JVC, Panasonic and Sony say they have no plans for home or portable satellite radio or HD Radio in 2005.

To increase the sale of home kits for its plug-and-play XM tuners, Delphi plans to show a wireless repeater system to improve in-building reception in areas where few ground-based repeaters operate. The system will also assist consumers who have problems with reception in their home or office in markets with many repeaters.

Delphi’s XM Signal Repeater, likely to ship in late March or early April at a tentative suggested $169, consists of a 915MHz transmitter and companion receiving antenna. Additional receiving antennas will be available at a tentative suggested $70 for use with additional XM tuners. Range will be 70 to 100 feet ”through a couple of walls and floors,” said Delphi CE director Joe Damato.

The transmitter is about 4-inches by 4-inches by 1 inch in size and connects to a consumer’s existing flip-up in-home XM antenna, which can be placed where reception is best. The transmitter’s power supply is built into a wall wart that plugs into a home’s electrical outlets. The receiving antenna, about half the size of a cigarette pack, plugs directly into a tuner’s antenna input and gets its power from the tuner, eliminating the need to plug it into an electrical outlet.

XM’s system differs from the planned Sirius system, which will require a master antenna at the highest point in a house.

Delphi’s Damato promises the XM solution ”will open up the market for satellite radio quite a bit” and increase the opportunity to sell more home kits or dedicated home tuners. ”The biggest objection to home kits is that you can’t have the equipment where you want it without long antenna runs,” he said.

XM’s Signal Repeater also promises to open up satellite-radio distribution to office superstores, whose customers might want to use their plug-and-play tuners in the office, Damato contended.

To distribute Sirius signals in a home, Sirius plans to announce the January shipment of a $59.95-suggested Sirius/DBS Combiner System, which allows RG-6 coaxial cable to share a Sirius signal and a DBS TV signal for whole-house distribution. It was announced last year.