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Russound Taps The Top, Adds A/V Media Server

Russound will step further up into the high end of the multiroom audio business with the summertime launch of its E Series, which includes a 12-source, eight-zone controller/amplifier and the company’s first A/V media server.

The inaugural series also includes a double-gang in-wall controller with iPod-like scroll wheel, hard LCD display and hard keys. A series expansion is planned.

The series will be sold only through dealers who have been certified to sell them under the company’s new Sphere certification program. To participate, dealers must complete training in installing Russound RNET systems and have experience in the home theater, home automation or custom A/V industries. They must also belong to an industry-recognized trade association, provide support for custom A/V installations and agree not to sell Russound products via the Internet or through mail order, the company said.

The SMC-E5 Smart Media Console is the company’s first A/V server, joining a Russound server that stores music and photos. The SMC-E5, based on Intel Viiv technology and the Windows Vista operating system, was built for custom install applications so the console’s OS was stripped of applications unrelated to media distribution, the company said.

The SMC-E5 console, which incorporates a 1TB hard drive to store music and video, drives a 7.1-channel home theater system while simultaneously distributing music or video to other zones in the house via an Ethernet network. Music can also be distributed through Russound multiroom audio systems, including one built around the E Series ACA-E5 controller/amplifier and the KLK-E5 in-wall keypad with scroll wheel.

The console, expected to retail for about $6,500, uses its hard drive to store and distribute time-shifted standard and high-definition TV content, music ripped from CDs, and video and audio transferred from a networked PC. It incorporates dual ATSC and dual NTSC tuners, a CD/DVD recorder, FM tuner, surround-sound decoders and the ability to download copyright-protected music and movies directly from select Web sites without using a PC. The sites include Napster for music and video download sites such as MovieLink and CinemaNow. Unlike the video server oofered by Kaleidescape, the SMC-E5 does not rip DVDs with its supplied software.

Up to three separate songs can be distributed to up to three separate audio zones through a traditional multiroom audio system. Up to five separate songs can be played simultaneously in five different zones if the music is distributed over a wired or wireless Ethernet network to five Media Center extenders.

Similarly, up to four standard-definition or high-definition TV programs stored on the hard drive can be streamed simultaneously over wired and wireless Ethernet to up to five Media Extenders. Video from all four embedded TV tuners can likewise be streamed simultaneously over wired and wireless Ethernet connections.

In order to stream that many video programs, however, Russound said, a 1GB Ethernet network and wireless 802.11n wireless network is needed.

Russound plans Blu-ray and HD DVD drive options and an external dual-tuner CableCARD module, which would connect via USB. The company is also developing lower capacity versions of the console for use in secondary rooms. These versions and the SMC-E5 console would be able to share content via an Ethernet connection.

The Smart Media Console also supports home automation and systems integration when loaded with Lifeware software by Exceptional Innovation.

The console can be integrated with a multiroom audio system based on the E Series controller/amplifier and in-wall scroll wheel keypad. The controller/amp connects to 12 sources and drives eight zones, more than previous Russound controller/amps whose capabilities top out at six sources and six zones.

The controller/amp features internal AM/FM tuner, optional Sirius and XM satellite-radio modules, source inputs, doorbell and paging interface, and composite-video switching. Pricing was unavailable.

The KLK-E5 scroll wheel keypad features an LCD screen, menu-driven interface, capacitive-touch scroll wheel, IR receiver and metadata display. It can be used only with the E Series controller/amplifier.

New products outside the E Series include the iBridge Bay, a device that turns an Apple Mac mini computer into a single-stream media server controlled from Russound’s in-wall controllers. Music, video and photos, including audio and video downloaded from the iTunes Web site, can be streamed to audio products and video displays connected to a Russound multiroom-A/V system.

Users of Russound’s RNET keypads and touch screens control iTunes functions such as play, pause, next song, previous song, playlist up and playlist down. Touch screens such as the UNO-TS2 and UNO-TS2D also select media by playlist, genre, artist or album.

The iBridge Bay will be available in April at $599.