PC-to-Stereo Music Playback, With or Without Wires

With the announcement here of new MP3 file-management, wireless connection and home networking products, sound-technology company Voyetra Turtle Beach Inc. is looking to domesticate the Internet music download revolution. In doing so, the vendor is participating in a race among PC vendors, including Dell Computer Corp. and Gateway Inc., to offer PC-to-stereo connectivity products for plugged-in music lovers.

The new Voyetra Turtle Beach products, launched here Monday, are designed to allow users to keep track of music files downloaded from the Internet, select tunes to play via a remote control, and wirelessly connect PCs to home stereos so that songs stored on computer hard drives can be played, for example, over loudspeakers placed anywhere around the a user's house.

The AudioStation Remote package, priced at US$59.95 and available now, combines a universal remote control, which can be used with televisions, CD players and other consumer devices, with an updated version of the company's AudioStation player. When it was first released in 1992 the AudioStation was among the first digital music players. The new AudioStation 4.0 version has been upgraded to include jukebox capabilities that let users organize MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) music files as well as encode them -- for example, copy a song on a CD into MP3 format that can be stored on a PC hard drive.

Separately, the fully functional AudioStation program, without the remote control piece, is available for $19, while a free version of the software that is limited to encoding 20 MP3 files is available from the company's Web site.

The $129.95 SonicLink package, also available now, provides a radio transmitter, a receiver and AudioStation software to let users wirelessly send WMA and MP3 files on a PC to be played on stereos or powered speakers. The 2.4GHz RF (radio frequency) transmitter connects to a sound card on the PC and sends the AudioStation signal to the receiver, which attaches to stereos or speakers via RCA and one-eighth of an inch mini-jack plugs. The SonicLink wireless connection, file-management software features, stereos and other media players all can be controlled with the AudioStation universal remote control included with the package.

Voyetra Turtle Beach is also "taking orders" for its forthcoming AudioTron digital appliance that links PCs to stereos via home phone lines, according to Voyetra spokesman Mike McDougall. The $299 AudioTron, first unveiled at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in New Orleans in April, is a Windows CE device that connects to a stereo, and accepts MP3, WMA, or WAV files from a PC through either an Ethernet or USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection or the regular home phone line.

AudioTron works with the Home PNA 2.0 specification. A home phone line networking card is required for PCs to send out the music files through the home phone line. The device can sequence and organize up to 6,000 files.

An upgraded version of the AudioTron expected to be available in the first quarter next year will be able to play streaming files from the Web, McDougall said.

Voyetra Turtle Beach is shipping AudioStation Remote and SonicLink to North American retailers starting Monday, and is looking to hook up with distributors for Europe, though it has not yet concluded any deals yet, according to McDougall.

Voyetra Turtle Beach has also signed an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) deal with Gateway, which will sell the AudioTron units rebranded as the Gateway Connected Music Player beginning within a few weeks, McDougall said. As for Dell, the PC vendor is expected to release a similar home music connectivity product, the Dell Audio Receiver, over the next few weeks, in what promises to be a growing battle to supply music-loving PC owners with music management and connectivity products. Dell developed its receiver with SonicBlue Inc. (formerly S3), which announced its own version of the product, the Rio Audio Receiver, in the third quarter.

Voyetra Turtle Beach can be reached in Yonkers, New York, at +1-914-966-0600, or on the Web at http://www.voyetra.com/.

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