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Audio Industry To Toot New Tunes At CES

The home audio industry will continue to reinvent itself during January’s CES, where CE suppliers will embrace new audio technologies, diversify into one-stop home-theater and custom-install sources, and evolve their assortments to reflect shifts in the surging home theater business.

Everyone, meanwhile, will chase the home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) business, particularly with DVD-equipped electronics/speaker solutions. At least four companies will unveil the first HTiBs equipped with DVD-Audio/Video players and changers.

Companies embracing new technologies include at least four CE suppliers that will introduce their first hard-drive audio recorders. One product will be a shelf system. Another will be a component-size device that will also pause live TV broadcasts and incorporate a DVD player.

Companies diversifying to appeal to custom installers include audio suppliers B&K and Rotel, which will show their first distributed-audio networks.

Companies expanding their assortment to offer all components in a home theater include Yamaha, which will show its first high-end speakers and flat-panel speakers to accompany its recent move into home video. Similarly, at least two CE companies will diversify into the audio business with DVD-equipped HTiB systems.

Though they have little in common, suppliers of shelf systems and component speakers will evolve their lines to reflect home theater’s dominance. At least two suppliers, for example, will exit the home theater shelf-system market, whose sales are shrinking as consumers opt increasingly for more powerful HTiB solutions. In shelf systems, these and other companies will concentrate on improving the audio performance of two-channel mini systems, in part through bumping up power, and on developing new eye-catching microsystems, whose sales and share are growing at the expense of minis.

Among speaker suppliers, at least one company will redirect its efforts from tower speakers to bookshelf speakers, and companies such as Canton will unveil downsized home theater speaker packages because of shrinking consumer interest in filling their living space with five to seven tower speakers. The new products will also reflect the growing penchant of installers and consumer to put small speakers in custom-built and case-goods AV cabinets.

As part of the move away from in-your-face speakers, at least four companies — including Canton, Jamo and Yamaha — will show their first wall-hanging speakers.

Also at the show:

  • Suppliers will try to stimulate consumer interest in the DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD formats with an expanded selection of low-cost DVD-Audio/Video players and the first hybrid players that do it all: play multichannel SACD discs, DVD-Audio discs, and DVD-Video discs.

The growing selection of DVD-AV and multichannel-SACD models priced down to an everyday $299 or less could seed the market with enough players to encourage the music industry to more aggressively support and promote the formats.

The first multichannel-SACD/DVD-AV players from at least three companies might also encourage sellthrough by overcoming consumers’ reluctance to choose between formats. That in turn could encourage the music industry to ship more software.

  • Some companies will expand their selection of DVD-AV players, and at least one mainstream CE company will launch its first.
  • At least four companies will show the industry’s first receivers and processors featuring Dolby Digital EX decoding licensed from Dolby Labs.
  • At least two companies will show their first THX Ultra2-certified products, joining Pioneer in this segment.
  • More receivers will deliver a phantom rear-center channel. At least two companies will join Sony in offering this feature.
  • More receivers will offer 5.1-channel DTS 96/24 audio decoding for DVD-Video discs and for the video zone of DVD-Audio discs. At least one company will offer its first products.