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Audio Systems Embracing New Sources, Technologies

Home audio products, from components to systems, will embrace new sources of content at next month’s International CES, where more products will control optional satellite-radio tuners; feature HDMI cable connections to HDTVs and high-definition disc players; stream music from networked PCs; and connect to iPods, MP3 players and even Bluetooth-equipped MP3-playing cellphones.

Dealers will also find at least three more companies, most of them mainstream brands, adopting wireless technology to stream music to clients throughout the house from a central source, mainly a hard-disk-drive (HDD) music server. One other company will expand its selection.

Wireless technology will also emerge as a way to eliminate speaker cable from powered subwoofers and, in its ultimate form, eliminate wires to all speakers and to a high-definition flat-panel display (see story, left.)

In component audio specifically, dealers will find:

  • A/V receivers solidifying their role as the hub of a high-definition home theater system, with more models sporting video upconversion and HDMI connections to eliminate multiple video-cable connections between receiver and display;
  • more A/V receivers with embedded high-definition video upscaling to 720p and 1,080i, which could theoretically outperform the scalers built into many HDTVs;
  • a handful more receivers with 1,080p up-scaling to match the capabilities of new 1,080p displays. These receivers will start as low as a suggested $1,000, having been available from Sony starting at about $1,500 and ADCOM at $2,899.
  • some of the first receivers that are simultaneously XM- and Sirius-ready at prices as low as a suggested $299;
  • a proliferation of XM-ready A/V receivers; and
  • speakers that take design cues from flat-panel TVs and from design-conscious consumers, with at least one more company unveiling a wall-mountable horizontal speaker that packs in left, center and right channels in one enclosure. A torchiere-style lamp with built-in omnidirectional speaker will also be unveiled. And another company will show a 2.1-speaker system said to deliver 5.1-channel surround sound.
  • Also new in home components: the first A/V receivers models with internal native decoding of all surround sound codecs that are optional and mandatory in the HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc high-definition movie-disc standards. They’ll start at about a suggested $1,000 and feature HDMI 1.3 inputs to receive all HD DVD and Blu-ray surround formats in native form for internal decoding. Earlier versions of HDMI do not transport losslessly compressed Dolby True HD or DTS HD Master Audio in native form, although those HDMI versions can transport the formats if the player first transcodes them to PCM.

In home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) systems and compact music systems, many of the same features and technologies will proliferate, as will virtual-surround solutions.

At least three suppliers will unveil HTiBs with various virtual-surround technologies to eliminate speaker clutter and simplify setup. At least two others will expand their selection. Some systems will incorporate all speakers, and in some cases electronics, into a single bar that can be placed above or below a flat-panel display.

Also in HTiBs and music systems:

  • More suppliers will add HDMI connectivity to their HTiBs to deliver a one-cable connection to new HDTV displays and in many cases to upscale the system’s DVD output to high-definition 720p and 1,080i video;
  • At least two HTiB suppliers will incorporate HTiBs with HDMI outputs that scale up to 1,080p making their first appearance;
  • At least two HTiB suppliers will add iPod dock/chargers to their systems, while at least four suppliers will add iPod-docking to their shelf systems;
  • At least two suppliers will show the first home theater systems and shelf systems designed to dock and recharge a specific brand of MP3 player other than iPods;
  • More XM-ready HTiBs and shelf systems; and
  • and a tabletop radio that features both an iPod dock and Sirius-ready capability.