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PCs, Video Influencing Audio Launches At CES

The computer and video industries will step up their influence on the audio industry at CES, where hard-drive-based audio systems will compete for attention with a growing number of DVD-equipped audio products such as receivers and shelf systems.

In video-equipped audio introductions, DVD players or changers will appear in shelf systems from Aiwa, JVC, Philips and Proton for the first time and in more Nakamichi home theater systems. And Panasonic will in-crease its selection of DVD-equipped shelf systems to three from two.

DVD players or changers will also be integrated into more receivers, with Panasonic and Sony showing their first models of this type as part of home theater receiver/speaker packages.

Naturally, audio and video will come together more intimately in DVD-Audio/Video players that will play back DVD-Audio music discs and DVD-Video discs, although their introduction has been delayed until summer or the early fall at best.

In other video-related audio developments:

  • Several suppliers will unveil their first products that decode Dolby Digital EX-encoded DVD soundtracks and are compatible with DTS ES soundtracks. Both types of soundtracks add a matrixed rear-center channel to a 5.1-channel soundtrack.
  • More audio suppliers will also display their first DVD-Video players. They include NAD, Rotel and Sherwood.
  • And Dolby Digital/DTS receivers will come down in price to a suggested $249.

In computer-related developments, start-up Lydstrom will demonstrate its three-zone SongBank MZ3-7000 hard-drive megachanger, which integrates into home stereo systems.

After inserting a CD into it, the machine rips it at 10x-20x speed and encodes it in the MP3 or Lucent ePAC Internet-audio formats. The songs and associated CD Text information are then stored on a hard drive for playback.

Up to 7,000 MP3 songs can be stored at 128-Kbps quality. Users can find songs by artist, genre or title, and they can create an unlimited number of playlists.

The unit retails for a suggested $599 and is already available on the company’s Web site. It comes with touchscreen remote.

In the spring, a planned software upgrade will enable the device to download and pay for songs from the Web without a PC connection. A slave unit will be available in the late first quarter to store up to 14,000 songs.

Creative Labs, another company entering the audio market from the computer world, plans to unveil a transportable 6GB hard drive intended for music recording and playback.

The battery-operated Nomad Jukebox ships in the spring at an undetermined price with headphones and with RCA outputs for connection to home stereo systems. It will play MP3, Windows Media Audio and Wav files. It features a five-minute memory buffer, stores up to 150 albums, and weighs 14 ounces with four supplied NiMH batteries, which will deliver six to eight hours of playback time.

In more traditional audio products, here’s a sample of what dealers will find in the audio receiver category:

Aiwa: The company is expanding its receiver line with the launch of four new AV receivers, due in April and May, all featuring DD decoding. The top two add DTS.

The entry-level DD receiver with 5 x 70 watts retails for a suggested $300. The DD/DTS receivers are priced at a suggested $400 and $450.

JVC: Six new receivers include one Dolby Pro Logic model at an expected everyday $179 and five DD/DTS receivers starting at an expected everyday $249, compared to $499 on the current opening-price DD/DTS receiver. They ship beginning February through April.

The opening-price DD/DTS RX-6000VBK features two digital inputs, 5 x 100-watt amp, and one S-video input and output — but no 5.1-channel inputs, which are included in the step-up $299 RX-6500VBK. Both receivers are due in February.

At $499, the RX-8000VBK, due in March, adds a high-current 4-ohm-capable amp.

The top-end RX-9000VBK at $699 is due in April with multiroom, multisource capability, and two-way RF remote, enabling a TV in the second room to display CD titles from a JVC megachanger in another room.

Kenwood: A new Spectrum receiver line for high-volume retailers will dispense with Pro Logic receivers. Five of six models in the new line will feature DD/DTS decoding, and the opening-price model will feature DD.

A top-end model features RF remote. The VR-410 DD/DTS receiver with five DPS modes is due in April at a suggested $499. The remote sends RF to the receiver, which also controls other Kenwood components, and IR to other system components.

The remote can be programmed with three macros, and it displays disc titles downloaded into its memory from compatible 200-disc Kenwood changers.

Sherwood: The Newcastle line gets the company’s first two receivers with Circle Surround decoding, one of which is also Sherwood’s first with Dolby Digital Surround EX and DTS ES decoding. They’re due at the end of March.

The R-756R at a suggested $899 decodes DD, DTS and Circle Surround. It features 6.1-channel input for DVD-Audio players; 96/24 DACs on the L-R channels; virtual surround; cinema EQ; and 5 x 100 watts RMS into 8 ohms.

The $1,499-suggested-retail R-956R adds decoding of Dolby Digital Surround EX and DTS Extended Surround (ES) video discs, 96/24 DACs for all channels, multiroom capability, onscreen display, 6 x 105-watt RMS into 8 ohms, and seven preamp outputs.

Technics: The opening DD/DTS receiver is down in price by about $50, to a suggested $349, with the introduction of the SA-DX140 — due in April with three optical digital inputs, universal remote, six-channel input, and 5 x 100 watts (at 1kHz into 8 ohms).

The SA-AX540 at a suggested $249 features Dolby Pro Logic decoding. It lacks DD/DTS decoding, but features a six-channel input for the company’s external DD/DTS decoder or DVD players with built-in discrete-multichannel DD/DTS decoding.

Yamaha: The company is dropping the opening price point on DD and DD/DTS receivers by $100, to $299 and $399, respectively, for the RX-V396 and RX-V496.

But more important, the company is extending its top-end receiver price point to a suggested $3,299 from $1,599 with the introduction of the champagne-finish RX-V1GL ($3,199 for the black RX-V1 version). It will eventually succeed a top-end integrated amplifier, which will be the company’s last such component.