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Bose Knows Living Rooms

The road to streaming is heading to the living room, apparently. Bose recently released its $449 Bose Wave/PC music system that connects to a PC with access to streaming, CDs, radio and digital music. And on Tuesday, Sony announced it was releasing a new entertainment appliance called the eVilla that will come built-in with RealPlayer.

RealNetworks ( www.realnetworks.com) said Sony is the first major consumer electronics company to directly embed RealPlayer 8 software into a device. According to the companies, the $500 eVilla (www.evilla.com) will ship later this month.

The eVilla appliance is essentially a scaled-down PC, complete with a 15" monitor and keyboard. Not only can it play streaming Real files, but it can also play MP3s, MPEG-1 video and Flash. Users can listen to audio with the built-in speakers, or connect to home stereo systems through the audio out port.

Real's deal with Sony (www.sony.com) also includes an on-screen preset button for the Real.com Web site and features the Real.com radio tuner. This is not the first deal between Sony and Real. Last month, Sony announced it would embed RealPlayer 8 into its PlayStation 2 later this year.

"The combination of our leading RealPlayer technology and the ease-of-use of the eVilla unit will deliver a high quality multimedia experience to this burgeoning market," said Mark Bretl, vice president, Consumer Appliances. "This device represents a new class of consumer appliances designed for the home and we are excited to leverage this growth opportunity as we realize our vision of delivering a great Internet media experience from any platform, to any device."

Bose Tunes Into Digital Music

Bose's new system is slightly different than Sony's. In fact, it's similar to its existing Bose systems — compact in size, with surprisingly powerful speakers.

According to Rob Brown, spokesperson at Bose (www.bose.com), the company created the system to answer the need for a full music system that can play local MP3s, streaming, AM/FM and CDs. It comes with a full function remote control, which can hold preset stations and playlists, as well as regular volume, play, pause, etc. "We combine all music sources, with access at the touch of a button," said Brown.

But the Wave/PC is not a standalone box. It needs a PC for Internet access, storage and streaming support. Why not just make a standalone box? Brown said that the target customers were home office users who spend a lot of time near their PCs. "Fifty eight percent of users already have a PC near their stereo. We wanted to harness that capability," he said. Because it's not a standalone box, Brown said it sees the PC as a "peripheral" to access the Internet or play stored local files from the computer.

The Bose system also connects to the PC through an audio-out port, but also comes with a serial connection. But practically anyone can duplicate the functions of the Wave/PC with a cable from a local Radio Shack. Brown said that if you did that, you'd lose access to all your music in one place. The advantage of the Bose system, he said, is that it can control playback and volume through the computer with the remote control. "We felt this was the best way to merge it together," he said.

Bose created its own software that can play CDs from the PC, tune into local radio, listen to MP3 files on the PC and catch streaming RealAudio content. VTuner (www.vtuner.com) is used as the Web radio aggregator, which feeds the Bose player about 200 stations that were screened for criteria like uptime and stream quality. Even though there are radio presets, Brown said that it can tune into any Real or MP3 stream.

Unfortunately, the system does not support Windows Media streaming. Why? "We looked at what is the likelihood, and what the majority of streams are and Real is the dominant payer," said Brown. He did admit, however, that Bose hasn't pursued Microsoft at this point.

To some, it may seem odd that Bose is targeting a market that hasn't seen much success. Just consider the ill-fated Kerbango, which never was released to market, even after it was acquired by computer giant 3Com. Brown wasn't concerned about competition, failed or otherwise. "We believe this approach is the most desirable for the user. Even if you disconnect from the PC, you can still tune into the AM/FM tuner," he pointed out.

The end result is to drive the music experience, said Brown, and that means streaming, too. "We want Web radio to be as easy as AM/FM," he said.

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