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Sirius Goes Live At CES For Demos

LAS VEGAS -At least three aftermarket autosound suppliers plan CES demonstrations of prototype satellite radio tuners that will let retailers listen into the first public satellite-to-receiver broadcasts from Sirius Satellite Radio.

The suppliers-Clarion, Kenwood and Panasonic-will demonstrate products due in midyear as part of Sirius’ planned launch. Demonstrations are planned in booths and in moving vehicles. At press time, Jensen said it might show a mock-up.

In the first quarter, Sirius plans to distribute a limited quantity of car tuners for user-friendly trials in select markets nationwide “to make sure every link in the system, including transaction management and customer acquisition, is performing flawlessly,” said Doug Wilsterman, Sirius’ receiver marketing VP.

Because of initial limited availability, aftermarket receivers will become available beginning late in the second quarter “in a limited number of markets nationwide,” Wilsterman said. Distribution will expand each quarter after that.

Select automakers will begin offering tuners in limited quantities in the first half. Sirius declined to name those companies, but it has distribution agreements with Ford, DaimlerChrysler and BMW.

At CES, Clarion, Kenwood and Panasonic plan to show Sirius tuners packaged with an FM modulator and a wired controller for addition to existing sound systems. They’re due in midyear. Clarion, Kenwood and perhaps Panasonic said they also plan to show outboard tuners that can be controlled from in-dash CD-receivers, but only Kenwood has announced plans for midyear shipments of such devices.

Here’s what the companies plan:

Clarion: The company plans June-July shipments of a package incorporating tuner, FM modulator and wired controller. Pricing hasn’t been set. Clarion also plans to demonstrate a working prototype of an outboard tuner controlled from an in-dash CD-receiver modified specifically for the demo. The tuner and Sirius-ready CD-receivers, however, won’t ship until first-quarter 2002, a spokesman said, because of the time needed to design control software into the head units.

Jensen: The company might show a mock-up of an FM modulator package with detachable wired controller. It’s due in limited quantities in the third or fourth quarter, when the company also hopes to ship at least one CD-receiver that controls an outboard Sirius tuner. The CD-receiver/Sirius-tuner combination won’t be displayed at CES.

Shipments, said senior project manager Dale DiBernardo, “are driven by Lucent chipset deliveries.”

The tuner in Jensen’s FM modulator package is about 1.75 x 7 x 9 inches and designed to mount in a trunk. It will connect to a teardrop-shaped magnet-mount antenna that would be mounted about 4 inches from the rear windshield.

Sirius has been working with a dozen antenna manufacturers to develop antennas, and so far, about six manufacturers have made spec, DiBernardo said. One of those manufacturers makes the teardrop antenna. “We’re also working on multiple in-car diversity antennas,” he added.

The tuner in the FM modulator package will also feature an RCA output so it can feed audio signal into head units with back-panel RCA inputs, making it possible to dispense with the FM modulator to boost sound quality, DiBernardo noted.

Kenwood: The company will demonstrate a Sirius-tuner/FM modulator package, an outboard Sirius tuner, and a line of head units that control the tuner. The head units are D-MASK+ units with motorized, self-hiding faceplates. They’re due by February at prices starting at a suggested $280.

The outboard tuner and FM modulator package are due in May-June, said sales and marketing VP Bob Law. Prices will be finalized at CES, but the prices targeted in late December were about $300 suggested for the outboard tuner and in the mid-$300s for the FM modulator package.

“The first few generations [of Sirius tuners] will likely be external boxes,” Law said. “The first-generation model might be bigger than DIN.” It wasn’t certain in late December whether the first-generation antenna, shaped like a hockey puck, will be roof-mount or glass-mount for rear-window installation, he said.

Panasonic: The FM modulator package that will be demonstrated is targeted to ship in the summer at a price that the company hasn’t determined.

The company said it might also demonstrate a working prototype of a CD-receiver that controls an outboard Sirius tuner. Panasonic said it would like to ship the duo in 2001, but at press time, a spokesman said, “It’s difficult to confirm.”

For its part, Sirius plans to demonstrate in its booth the aforementioned aftermarket products, as well as show products from Visteon and Delphi.

For the demos, Sirius will beam 80 of its planned 100 channels, with the 100th due by the end of the year. Fifty of the live channels will be commercial-free music channels; the other 30 will be information and lifestyle programs.

“We’re extremely confident they [the music channels] will be near-CD-quality,” Wilsterman said. “The talk channels will be better than FM.” The subscription price for 100 channels is still $9.95 per month.

Also at the show, Sirius will introduce a charter subscriber program in which enrolled consumers will get early notification of tuner availability in their market, access to special webcasts, a newsletter, and the ability to preorder a tuner.