Creative Labs is delivering a wireless home audio solution for the Apple iPod in the form of two products: the Xdock Wireless and the X-Fi Wireless Receiver.
On the surface, the Xdock Wireless is an iPod dock with some better-than-average features, including composite and S-Video output (for photo and video playback on a TV) and optical digital audio output. The Xdock can output DTS surround sound to compatible A/V receivers (via the optical output) or utilize Creative's proprietary CMSS-3D virtual surround processing to deliver a surroundlike effect from stereo speakers or headphones. Moreover, Creative claims that its X-Fi Crystalizer "makes MP3s sound better than CDs" by "intelligently and selectively restoring the highs and lows from instruments and vocals that are damaged during the compression of MP3s." That sounds impressive indeed, but color us skeptical: we've found similar MP3 enhancers in competing products often do more harm than good. (Thankfully, the Crystalizer can be turned on or off at the touch of a button.)
But what sets the Xdock apart from other iPod docks is that it includes a wireless transmitter that can stream the iPod's music to any number of X-Fi Wireless Receivers (sold separately). Attach one or more X-Fis to stereo or boombox systems throughout the house--say, in the bedroom or the kitchen--and you can listen to the playlist on your living room iPod that's plugged into the Xdock. Each X-Fi can even be assigned to one of four zones, so you can selectively send the music to different parts of the house (such as only the upstairs) at the touch of a button. Creative says there's "no limit" to the number of X-Fis that can stream from a given Xdock as long as they're within the 100-foot range of the base station. Even better, because the system uses its own 2.4GHz wireless connection, setup is plug and play--there's no convoluted home networking configuration to worry about. It's also worth noting that the iPod isn't the only source that will stream to an X-Fi Receiver. A separate Xdock Wireless will be available for Creative Zen owners, as will an Xmod Wireless unit, which streams music straight from USB-connected PCs.
Each Xdock and X-Fi unit has a simple remote, and while the distant X-Fi units can't browse the iPod, they do offer rudimentary control options (play/pause, track up/down, and volume). But given Creative's traditionally aggressive pricing, it's hard to lament the absence of extra features that would only bid up the cost: the Xdock will set you back $200, and each X-Fi Wireless Receiver will cost half that when they ship in the spring of 2007. They'll be available in your choice of black or white.