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XM Partners Show Next-Gen Hardware

Las Vegas — XM Satellite Radio yesterday revealed additional details about next-generation products that include the industry’s first MP3/satellite radio headphone portables and XM’s first mini tuners, which can be shuttled among home, boombox and car audio systems.

The MP3/XM headphone stereos receive live satellite programming, but they also store time-shifted XM content and compressed-music files in the MP3 and protected WMA formats.

The combination MP3/XM headphone stereos will be available in the first quarter from Pioneer and Samsung. They are part of XM’s wearable line of battery-operated XM2go headphone stereos, which in their first generation lacked the ability to store compressed MP3 and WMA files. Pioneer said its Inno ships in March at a suggested $399. Samsung details were unavailable.

In a second development, XM announced March availability of the first XM Passport “mini tuners,” transportable 1.3×1.65×0.44-inch modules designed to make it easier for consumers to listen to satellite radio through multiple products but pay for only one monthly subscription. The $29.99-suggested devices will plug directly into $29.99-suggested home, boombox and car audio docking stations controlled from a growing selection of XM-ready consumer electronics devices falling under XM’s Connect And Play program.

In late first quarter or early second quarter, Audiovox plans to ship three products — a boombox, shelf system and home theater in a box system — with a Passport slot to directly accept the module. In about eight to nine months, Audiovox also plans car audio head units with Passport slots.

Passport modules could eventually replace larger and more expensive transportable plug-and-play tuners that combine tuner and controls.

In a third development, XM announced before International CES that it plans in March to become the first satellite radio provider to launch regular 24/7 broadcasts in discrete 5.1-channel surround sound using a technology called XM HD Surround, which was developed by broadcast-equipment maker Neural Audio to be compatible with two-channel stereo systems. Home stereo gear equipped with Neural decoding will be available sometime this year from Denon, Onkyo, Pioneer and Yamaha. They’ll reproduce two 5.1 music channels — one free-form, the other classical pops — and a variety of special shows and live performances broadcast in 5.1 from XM studios.

Since 2002, live performances recorded by XM have been broadcast in a four-channel matrixed surround format compatible with existing home and car surround-sound systems. Early in 2004, rival Sirius began to offer select songs in Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound, a matrixed five-channel format that can be decoded by home and car audio systems equipped with Pro Logic II decoders.

Here are the details on the XM2go and Passport programs:

XM2go: The Pioneer Inno and Samsung Helix, due in the first quarter, are the first MP3 players that get live satellite radio reception on the go.

In contrast, Sirius already offers an MP3 portable that stores time-shifted satellite radio content that it records when docked with a home docking station, and Samsung is launching, here, the first two MP3 portables — the Nexus 25 and Nexus 50 — that store 25 hours and 50 hours, respectively, of time-shifted XM content that they record when placed in a home docking station. The Samsung models ship in the first quarter at a price to be announced at CES.

The Inno and Helix XM2go devices also store time-shifted satellite content, allowing for XM-content playback when out of range of a satellite signal. They, as well as current XM2go headphone portables, also allow users to bookmark XM songs. When the units are docked with a computer, they can be linked to the XM + Napster site to purchase and download the bookmarked songs. Users of the new devices can create playlists that combine XM, MP3 and WMA songs.

“We think that the combination of XM and MP3 creates a whole new portable category that will be huge,” said XM’s retail product marketing and distribution senior VP Dan Murphy.

Mini tuners: Audiovox said it will be the exclusive distributor of Passport mini tuners and Passport-related accessories, including home and car docks but not the passive XM antennas that the docks require. For the car, the antenna will be magnet-mount models, XM said.

The $29.99-suggested car adapter kit can be combined with a new FM modulator product planned by Audiovox to work with any current car radio system. The FM modulator, called the Blade, will ship in April at a price to be announced.

Starting in June, Audiovox expects to offer car head units with rear-panel inputs to connect directly to a Passport car dock. In eight or nine months, the company will begin offering head units with a front-panel Passport slot.

Delphi is also expected to begin offering Passport-ready products in the future.