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Hard-Drive Jukeboxes, Servers To Proliferate

The selection of hard-drive-based home audio servers and jukeboxes will expand at CES to include the first models from traditional audio specialty and mainstream CE companies and more models from computer-industry companies.

Audio specialist Linn, for example, will show its first hard-drive-based audio server, which was shown at the CEDIA Expo, and Thomson will show its previously announced Digital Media Manager. At press time, another audio specialty company was considering the introduction of a hard-drive server at CES.

For its part, technology company Imerge America of Herndon, Va., will show its second audio server, this one a single-zone model based on its multizone SoundServer.

Taiwan-based CMC Magnetics, a maker of data-storage hardware and software, will show its first hard-drive-based jukebox, the Cyberboy CB-200, which incorporates a CD player/MP3 ripper at a suggested $499. It’s due in May through CMC distributor Hotan of Dublin, Calif.

The CB-200 features a 20GB hard drive and CD player compatible with data and music CD-R/RW discs. After ripping songs from a CD to the hard drive, consumers can transfer the songs to a MultiMedia Card (MMC) via an MMC slot.

Imerge’s single-zone model, priced around $1,100, is due in April and will store and play uncompressed CD audio and MP3 files, as the multizone model does. It will come with one 20GB hard drive, expandability to accept optional higher-capacity drives, and built-in 56K modem to stream audio via any streaming site and to access the CDDB website to download CD and DVD disc titles.

An Ethernet connection allows for broadband-modem connection. A video output displays a menu on a TV screen.

Imerge’s multizone model, which ranges in price from $5,000 to more than $25,000, comes with a 45GB hard drive expandable to two 75GB hard drives, and provides expandability to offer 16-zone capability-with each zone being able to play a separate song simultaneously. It also streams audio from the Web via its internal modem or connected broadband modem.

What could be the industry’s first hard-drive-based audio/video server is expected to be demonstrated in prototype by Imerge for late-year delivery.

Imerge’s Home Media Server will record and store CD audio, VHS video, DVD Video, broadcast and cable programming, and satellite programming on multiple internal hard drives, expected to number at least three and deliver a combined 360GB of storage. It will also pause live TV and satellite programming.

Via a built-in 56K modem or an Ethernet-connected broadband modem, the device will also stream Internet audio and video. It features an internal DVD/CD drive to rip DVD and CD discs but not play them back.

It will use an RS-232 port to connect to other brands of distributed-A/V and home-network systems to deliver content on demand to different zones in a house. Supported systems include those from AudioAccess, Crestron, Panja, Phast, Sonance and Xantech.

The Home Media Server might be available in two or four-zone versions and will likely be expandable to add more memory, Imerge said. It’s versatile enough to record one audio program and one video program simultaneously while playing back a previously recorded program.

Although the disk capacity is large enough to store large CD libraries, video-storage capacity isn’t so clear for now. A brochure states the device would store “tens of hours” of MPEG2 digital video.

At first, video outputs will be analog, but digital outputs are planned when the content industry agrees on a copy-protection standard, Imerge said.

Music could be stored in uncompressed form or as MP3 files at a default 128-Kbps data rate.

Thomson’s plans include a component-style Digital Media Manager that streams audio from websites and uses an internal hard drive to store songs ripped from CDs. It features a built-in single-play CD/DVD drive, CD ripper and MP3 encoder to rip music from CDs for hard-drive storage.

To access the Web, the Thomson device connects to a modem via an Ethernet connection. A USB output allows downloads of stored music files to memory cards that can be played back through Internet audio portables.

The device might also ship with support for other Internet audio codecs, said a spokesman.

The Digital Media Manager doesn’t record video programs, but it will feature Gemstar’s TV Electronic Program Guide. It was due between mid-December and mid-January at an unannounced price, but a spokesman recently called the product “still a ways out.”

For its part, the Lansonic division of Digital Voice Systems will display its hard-drive-based multizone audio server, which is available. It also accesses streaming audio from websites when a consumer types in a site’s URL or selects one from a menu of bookmarked sites.