The Hills Are Alive...

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - The world of digital audio is changing faster than you can say "MP3."

In the past week alone, three vendors announced new products designed, in one way or another, to extend the reach of digital music beyond your desktop PC and even the Internet.

The Dell Digital Audio Receiver, from Dell Computer Corp., is an appliance that you can put in any room and network to your PC through existing phone lines. It can be hooked up to your home stereo system or it can work on its own with two passive speakers.

"It allows you to play digital music files stored on your PC anywhere in your home," says Ed Suwanjindar, a Dell spokesperson.

The device, which is black and about the size of a clock radio, has an LCD screen and remote control, and looks more like a piece of stereo equipment than a computer accessory. It supports both MP3 and Microsoft Corp. Windows Media Audio file formats.

According to Dell, the Digital Audio Receiver will be available directly from the company in August. Units will sell for $199 with the purchase of a Dell Dimension computer system configured with a home phone line networking card.

For those with an existing desktop system, the receiver will be available for $249.

Portable Music Too

Elsewhere, Thomson Corp. Multimedia announced five new digital music players to be released between September and Christmas.

The company is launching a new version of the upgradable RCA Lyra, a portable digital music player that supports MP3, WMA, and G2 music files, and now also includes an FM tuner. The new Lyra will cost $249.

Thomson also is producing a mini MP3 player about the size of a matchbox. It holds only half as much music as the full-sized Lyra (about an hour's worth) and supports only MP3 music files, but, at $149, it will also cost a lot less.

For music aficionados who burn their own CDs, Thomson will offer two MP3 CD players, one a personal CD player for $169, the other a five-disc audio system for $399. One MP3-formatted CD can hold ten hours of music.

Thomson also is launching a digital media manager, which has its own hard drive and hooks up to your home stereo and TV. You upload music from up to 300 regular compact discs (2,000 songs), which are then stored in the media manager as MP3 files. You use a remote control and your TV screen as a monitor to build playlists of digital music. The retail price is expected to be under $1,000.

Big-Time Storage

Lastly, Texas Instruments Inc. and Digital5 Inc. jointly announced the release of the "Maestro," a digital music storage system.

The companies will license the Maestro to manufacturers for inclusion in their own products. The device supports a wide range of music file formats, including MP3, WMA, and a bunch of others with acronyms most people won't recognize.

The Maestro features a large memory capacity, up to 10GB. At 15 to 30 hours of music per gigabyte, that's a lot of play time.

According to Digital5, the standard consumer portable jukebox product will retail for less than $300. The Maestro platform will likely be used in home stereo systems, car stereos, CD players, and portable devices.

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