Internet radio listeners will be able to take a step or two away from their PC and still listen to their favorite Web station, purchase music CDs with the press of a button, or vote on their favorite music, when Sonicbox ships the Sonicbox Tuner early next year.
The Sonicbox Tuner, introduced at Internet World in New York City, allows Internet radio to play through any FM receiver wirelessly via a small antenna attached to a PC's serial and audio out ports. The device, controlled by a notebook-size remote, will undergo a test trial this fall and start volume shipments in early 2000. It is expected to sell for less than $50.
The Tuner is optimized for use with broadband Internet access due to the low quality and unreliability of 56 Kbps modem connections.
Sonicbox founder David Frerichs said the device will give consumers access to about 800 Web and terrestrial broadcast stations available on the Internet. This could prove particularly valuable to Web broadcasters, he said, because it gives them a high-quality national outlet, putting them on equal footing with the terrestrial stations that are on the Web.
The antenna has a 100-foot range, and because it broadcasts an FM signal, the music is played through the host receiver in full stereo. To receive the signal from the base antenna the stereo receiver is set to a blank frequency, Frerichs said. The computer must also be turned on.
The stations are categorized by format and can be changed by turning a knob on the remote control.
As much as the Sonicbox Tuner is designed as a consumer product, the company has configured it as a money-making tool for the radio stations and other interested parties.
Sonicbox includes technology that would allow the stations to strip in local advertising, in the same manner cable companies do with television. "This way someone listening in California to a broadcast from Chicago won't hear an ad for Zimmerman Ford in Chicago," Frerichs said.
Several of the remote's buttons are configured to supply market research information and allow the user to purchase music heard on the radio. Sonicbox and NetRadio.com have struck a deal allowing listeners to buy an album by pressing the "Tell Me More" button on the remote.
The consumer presses the button when he or she hears a song from the album they want to buy, a signal is sent back through the PC to NetRadio.com, and the purchase is automatically completed using address and credit card information already downloaded to Sonicbox.
Listeners can also supply market research data to music companies by pressing another button when a favorite song is played.