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Networking, Convergence Take Hold In Audio At CES

Audio products are trying to get along better.

At CES, suppliers plan to unveil more audio products that network together or with PCs, and more products are expected to go a step further by integrating previously separate products into a single chassis.

In networked products, Yamaha will launch the first hard-drive music server incorporating wireless Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) technology to stream music to similarly equipped clients throughout the house (see story, right). Philips will unveil a Wi-Fi-equipped shelf system that connects wirelessly to a broadband modem to connect to Internet radio stations (see p. 110).

They’ll join the Onkyo and Integra Net-Tune systems, which use wired Ethernet to connect client devices to a PC’s hard drive in the Onkyo implementation and to a hard-drive audio component in the Integra implementation.

Other companies will converge once-separate products. Some companies will expand the selection of home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) systems built around DVD-receivers (see p. 106), and at least three companies — Audiovox, Panasonic, and Samsung — will launch their first HTiBs that cram a DVD/VHS combo into a receiver.

Suppliers will also unveil a slightly broader selection of “universal” SACD/DVD-Audio/Video players. Motorola plans to take convergence a step farther with an audio receiver that incorporates DVD-Audio/Video player, ATSC analog and high-definition TV tuner, and digital-cable tuner.

Also at the show, Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES decoding will appear in more HTiBs and in a growing selection of receivers priced down to a suggested $320 from Onkyo. They’ll take advantage of a growing number of EX- and ES-encoded DVD titles. The number of Dolby Digital EX titles in the U.S. grew to 50 by late 2002 and is projected by Dolby Labs to grow by at least 20 more this year. The number of titles encoded in DTS ES Discrete or Matrix rose to 36 by late last year, DTS said.

In other show developments, the call of home theater is leading:

  • AudioControl to launch its first multichannel preamp/processor, which features THX Ultra II certification at a targeted $5,995.
  • Primare to offer its first multichannel (7.1-channel) processor (at a suggested $3,995) and its first five-channel power amp.
  • amp maker Sherbourn to launch its first preamp/processor/tuner, a 7.1-channel model at a suggested $1,500.
  • and Nakamichi to return to the video market, this time with a bigger selection consisting of three 720p plasma TVs, two 720p LCD TVs, and at least one rear-projection DLP TV.

In EX/ES developments:

  • Kenwood will offer its first HTiBs equipped with Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES decoding, joining Pioneer and Onkyo in this segment. And Onkyo will expand its selection of EX/ES HTiBs down to around a suggested $500 for a model without DVD and $700 for A model with separate single-disc DVD.
  • Opening price points for EX/ES receivers will drop to a suggested $400 from $500 from Kenwood and $320 from Onkyo, which previously started EX/ES at a suggested $530. These models come with six-channel amp. Kenwood is also increasing its selection of 6-channel EX/ES receivers to three, from two outside the high-end Sovereign series, with EX-only receivers still starting at $300.
  • JVC plans to show four new receivers, most incorporating EX/ES. They include the company’s first receivers with 6.1-channel amps.
  • Panasonic will expand its selection of EX/ES receivers to three with a closed-door showing of two new models. The opening EX/ES price point will go below $499, the company said without elaborating.