Last year, there were many audio docking stations, but few had network connectivity. At this CES, it was interesting to finally see so many new brands and models of network-connected audio Digital Media Adapters/Players/Receivers, dubbed "Internet radios." Some were one-piece systems, while others were mini-systems. However, not all of them that were debuted at CES are shipping yet.
Will an Internet radio feature, over time, eventually migrate to the status of a standard feature in most audio mini-systems over a certain price point? Will it be a fad, or have staying power? Will such a product become more of a gift item, or more of a personal purchase?
Will it primarily become a popular choice when replacing an old mini-system, or will it be an addition rather than a replacement? How much will the economic downturn affect the emergence of Internet radios in the short term? Will the mass market care more about just being able to play their portable player music, or will Internet radio and access to all network music become "must have" items in a feature list? Only time will answer these questions.
Launching companies will likely need to be patient and have the money to be patient with this new type of product, because economic challenges will likely affect the length of time it will take for these to reach significant volumes.
Time is also needed so that consumers get exposed to these new products so they even know that they exist. How soon and how noticeable will they be on the average department store retail shelf? Will the point-of-sale cards, marketing materials, and packaging get the message across that these stations will give them more options than the standard radio stations they may be tired of?
Since a home network connection also offers the option of playing audio content directly from sources connected to a home network, will this feature be more or less important to the average consumer than simply docking and playing from an iPod or other portable music player?
Internet radios will compete for the consumer dollar against less expensive non-networked docking stations (some also with a USB port for playing digital music directly off of a USB memory drive), and AM/FM/Clock/CD players with docking and USB port. The primary differentiators include Internet radio and network streaming of digital audio from all sources connected to the home network.
The following includes examples of Internet radio products announced at this year`s CES (all features are not meant to be listed here). The Sharper Image`s own design, the "Wireless Internet Radio with Dock for iPod," has an MSRP of $199. Cobra has two Wi-Fi Internet radio models, an all-in-one box without a USB port or CD ($199), while the other has both those features (and others) and separate speakers ($299). VTech`s Wi-Fi Internet Radio is $199. Sanyo`s recently announced all-in-one R227 Internet/FM Radio + PC Music Streamer with Ethernet and Wi-Fi ($169) was being shown.
Previously launched in Europe, German-based sonoro audio`s Wi-Fi-enabled "elements W" Internet/FM radio also has an iPod dock/connector, and will ship to Saks and Magnolia stores in the US.
Digital multi-room, zoned systems are often priced at about $999 for starter packages/kits. The Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio System includes Internet radio, and kit prices range from $549 to $999 (only estimated street prices were released); however, individual products can also be chosen as well (for example, a $299 player). The price for the company`s upcoming all-in-one wireless music system, the Conductor, has not been announced yet.
In-Stat includes coverage of the Digital Media Adapter/Player/Receiver market in its Residential Connectivity service.
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