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Yamaha Takes New Directions With MusicCAST, New Controller

Yamaha significantly revamped its MusicCAST wireless multi-room-audio system and unveiled a new type of audio component as its strikes out into new directions.

With the shipment of the MusicCAST2 wireless system, Yamaha made its MusicCAST system more affordable, eliminated an embedded music-storing hard drive, and embraced such new music sources as iPods, networked PCs and network-attached storage (NAS) devices.

With the shipment of three NeoHD media controllers, the company created a new type of home-audio component said to simplify the operation of connected music sources and home-theater components.

All NeoHD controllers, including the $599-suggested YMC-500, are loosely based on A/V receivers, but their front panel sport only an on/off button and one large control wheel. They feature an FM tuner but incorporate five-channel amp, surround decoders, virtual surround technology, HDMI and IR-repeater connections, USB port, and connections to an optional iPod dock and Bluetooth transceiver.

A second version, the $799 YMC-700, adds Ethernet port and embedded Wi-Fi to stream music directly from the Internet and from networked PCs. A third version, the $799 NeoHD System 2.1, bundles the YMC-500 with a 2.1-speaker system to deliver virtual 5.1 surround.

All three models serve up a simplified onscreen icon-based user interface to a connected TV. And all three come with embedded database of IR codes to control connected TVs and sources from an included handheld IR remote, which also features a minimal number of buttons. IR codes not embedded can be learned by the device.

Here’s how the controllers’ interface works:

After a consumer hits the remote’s power button, the Media Controller and connected TV power up. The TV screen presents the user with three choices: watch, listen or play. After a choice is selected, the display prompts the user to choose among more specific activities, such as watch live TV, watch a movie, listen to a CD and the like. Next, icons for the requisite A/V components appear on the screen. Once the user selects a component, the component automatically powers up.

To connect with A/V components in the home, all three devices feature one HDMI output to a TV, three HDMI inputs and three IR outputs to control up to six IR-controlled sources in the A/V equipment stack, the company said. The controllers also feature a variety of other video inputs and audio inputs as well as proprietary connections to an optional $99-suggested Yamaha iPod dock and to an optional $129 Yamaha Bluetooth transceiver. A USB port connects to USB-equipped sources, such as non-iPod MP3 players and USB drives.

For surround-sound playback, the YMC-500 and YMC-700 features five speaker-level outputs, a preamp-level subwoofer output and embedded surround decoders.

The System 2.1, though featuring five speaker outputs, connects to a bundled 2.1-speaker system to deliver a virtual 5.1 surround field.

In updating its MusicCAST wireless multi-room-audio system, Yamaha is recognizing that music resides in multiple sources scattered around the house. The previous MusicCAST system was built around a source component that incorporated FM tuner, CD ripper and 160GB hard drive, which stored music that was streamed via Ethernet or 802.11b Wi-Fi to amplifier-equipped tabletop clients. The main unit, controlled via IR remote, also connected to legacy devices such as A/V receivers to stream their audio content to other rooms.

The new system, in contrast, depends on one or more networked PCs or NAS devices as main music sources as well as on connected iPods, Bluetooth-equipped cellphones and music-laden USB drives. The latter three devices must be connected to the system’s tabletop clients or to select networked Yamaha A/V receivers.

The new model also adds a pocket-size Wi-Fi remote controller, or Network Music Commander, with large color LCD screen to control all networked sources and networked clients from anywhere in the house. Like before, the MusicCAST2 streams Internet radio with a networked PC turned off.

One tabletop client features an embedded amp, which powers any pair of speakers. A second client comes with an embedded preamplifier for connection to a room’s existing sound system. The preamp model also features three IR outputs to connect to the components of a home-theater system, including A/V receivers, DVRs and TVs. Once connected to the client, home-theater components can be controlled from the pocket-size Wi-Fi controller, which also controls networked Yamaha A/V receivers.

MusicCAST2 consists of the $499-suggested pocket-size MCX-RC100 Network Music Commander remote with included tabletop charging cradle, the $399 MCX-A300 amplified client and the $399 MCX-P200 preamp client. A two-zone bundle retails for a suggested $1,199.

The previous MusicCAST system, launched in late 2005 with 160GB hard drive/CD ripper, retailed for a suggested $2,199 with amplified clients costing $599 each.