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Suppliers Cook Up New Options To Serve Music

Multiple companies at CES are targeting the custom-installation market with a variety of upscale music servers that can be integrated with installed distributed-audio systems.

The companies include the following:

Escient: The company is offering its first media management system to combine an internal music-storing hard disk drive with the ability to control up to three connected DVD/CD megachangers. The FireBall DVDM-300 features 300GB HDD and control of up to 1,200 CDs and DVDs stored in three Sony DVD megachangers, three Kenwood DVD megachangers, or three Sony CD megachangers.

The Ethernet-networked device streams music via an Ethernet connection to Escient clients or to networked PCs. The FireBall and clients will also stream music from a networked PC. It ships in the second quarter at a suggested $4,999.

McIntosh: The 300GB MS300, McIntosh’s first music server, can distribute up to four different songs simultaneously to four zones. Supported formats include PCM and lossless FLAC (Free Audio Lossless Audio Compression). It can be networked via Ethernet to a PC to transfer PC music files, andcan be controlled from Web-browsing PCs or other devices in the house. It’s due in the first quarter at a suggested $5,100.

Meda Systems: The Oakland, Calif., startup has begun shipping a series of Bravo HDD music servers that incorporate CD ripper, multisource multizone audio switching, and preamplifier to distribute audio from an internal multizone HDD and from connected sources, including Ethernet-connected PCs.

Via their built-in Web server or supplied control software, the servers can be controlled from networked PCs and — if off-the-shelf wireless access points are added to the system — from 802.11b/g-equipped Pocket PCs and Web pads. The servers can also be controlled from other suppliers’ IR-, RS-232, and IP-based in-wall keypads and touch screens.

The servers distribute music in speaker-level analog or digital SP/DIF form to multiple rooms. Via optional upgrades, the servers will also send digital audio over an Ethernet network to Ethernet-connected eZone tabletop clients, which decode the WAV, lossless FLAC, MP3, unprotected WMA, and OGG codecs. The encoded music can reside on a Bravo HDD server or a networked PC.

The clients feature analog RCA outputs that must be connected to amplifiers and speakers in each room.

Four standard servers, equipped with built-in Internet-radio tuner, are priced from a suggested $3,295 to $6,795. The top-end Bravo 12 features 250GB drive, 15-zone capability (12 analog, three S/PDIF), and the ability to play 12 sources simultaneously. It accepts an upgrade to distribute four more zones of music via an Ethernet network.

Stack9 Systems: The Boulder, Colo., startup has launched a four-SKU series of HDD-equipped Digital Media Systems that combine FM tuner, HDD music server, PVR, surround-sound decoding (5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 channels), analog over-air/cable-ready PAL/NTSC tuner, and wired and wireless control of various home systems. They also rip and store PC-based videogames, which can be used with the included wireless keyboard and mouse.

All are based on Microsoft’s Windows Media Center 2005 OS. They are priced from $3,295 to more than $9,000, and they integrate into distributed-A/V systems. Features include RS-232 control and Ethernet, USB, and FireWire connectors.

The opening-price 9100 features 250GB HDD to store MP3 or losslessly compressed music, or up to 50 hours of TV programs. It also features a multi-format memory-card reader to view digital images and other content, 512MB of memory, FM radio, TV tuner, remote, wireless keyboard and mouse to surf the Web, and wired X-10 and wireless ZWave home-control technologies.

The $6,450 9300 adds 1-terabyte HDD, 1GB memory, and dual TV tuners. The $9,450 9500 adds 2GB memory and 1.5 terabyte-disk capacity, mirrored disk library to reduce chances of content loss due to a HDD crash, and built-in wireless 802.11g, which connects to a wireless LAN to distribute music and PVR video to planned wireless clients.

The custom-ordered 9500Pro offers up to 4GB memory, 1.5-2.4 terabytes of storage, and security-camera capture; it starts at about $9,000.