Cisco launches wireless multi-room audio system, digital media NAS

Cisco by Linksys aims for the living room with multi-room audio system

The news of Cisco's home entertainment product push came out last month, but today we have learned some more details about the product names, pricing and availability. Linksys by Cisco (another name change?) announced today two new home entertainment-related products (the Wireless Home Audio system and Media Hub) that it will show at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio system reminds me of the Sonos, Logitech Squeezebox Boom and other multi-room audio systems, in which users can stream audio files stored on PCs, devices and over the Internet throughout different "zones" set up around the house. The Cisco system uses Wireless-N (802.11n) technology to deliver music throughout the home, and supports Internet music services such as Rhapsody, AudioLounge and RadioTime.

The system includes the following devices: The Conductor (DMC350, pricing not yet announced, availability in Q1 2009) is a self-contained unit with integrated speakers and a 7-inch LCD touch screen for navigating the music library, as well as an integrated CD player for songs that haven't been digitized. An IR Remote is included. The Director (DMC250, $449.99) is a Wireless-N Music Player with 50-watt per channel integrated amplifier, with line in and out ports to connect to speakers. The system includes an LCD screen for navigating through music, and an IR Remote is included. The Stereo Speaker Kit (DSPK50, $149.99) can be added to the Director if you don't have speakers. The Player (DMP100, $299.99) Wireless-N Music Extender lets you access digital music from existing stereo or surround sound systems, and also includes the IR Remote. The Controller (DMWR1000, $349.99) is a touch-screen remote that controls all of the system components. It includes a thumbwheel, and lets you control any of the audio devices, including the docked iPod, from anywhere in the home. The Docking Station for iPod (MCCI40, $79.99) lets users attach an iPod to the audio system to allow for the playing of podcasts, audio books and purchased iTunes content throughout the home. Music can be accessed from existing digital music libraries stored on PCs, other devices (any DLNA-enabled or UPnP-supported device), the iPod (with the optional docking station), and Internet music services. Cisco will sell different "audio kits" to help consumers decide which components work best for them. The Premier Kit ($999.99) is a two-room starter kit that includes the Director and IR Remote, a Player and IR Remote, and Wireless-N Controller. The Trio Kit ($849.99) is aimed at users looking to add to an existing audio system, and includes two Players, two IR Remotes, and a Wireless-N Controller. The Executive Kit ($549.99) includes a Director, IR Remote and matching speakers. The audio system will also work with the company's other new product, the Linksys by Cisco Media Hub, a network-attached storage device that "gathers, organizes and presents all the digital video, photos and music that users have spread amongst various devices in the home." When connected, the Media Hub automatically searches the user's home network for other media devices, to present all available digital media to the user in a single location. Content made available to the Media Hub is then presented to users in a browser-based UI, and music albums are consolidated and presented along with the appropriate album art, regardless of where the tracks sit within the network, Cicso says. For photos and videos, information is displayed via thumbnail images, and can be organized by date and name. The Media Hub can be accessed remotely across the Internet, and setup doesn't require any special software or network configuration changes, Cisco says (other than choosing the Remote Access name). Users will be able to access their Media Hubs through a Cisco Web site. The device will include automatic backup software for backup purposes, and folders on a PC within the network can be set to automatically copy any new files to the Media Hub. The system includes two drive bays and external USB ports for expansion needs. Available now in the U.S., the Media Hub will come in three versions – the NMH305 (500GB drive, $300), NMH405 (500GB hard drive with LCD and 6-in-1 card reader, $350) and NMH410 (1TB hard drive with LCD and 6-in-1 card reader, $430). Availability for Canada, the U.K., Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands is expected during Q1 2009, Cisco says.

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