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MP3 coming to a home stereo near you

A new product from X10 that beams MP3 files from a PC to a home stereo could provide another boost for the popular format.

Downloaded digital music isn't just for the PC anymore.

X10, a company best known for home networking technology that controls lights and alarms, is hoping to capitalize on the popularity of MP3 with a product that beams MP3 files from a PC to a home stereo.

Although consumers can already play MP3-format music on portable players such as the Rio from Diamond Multimedia and Nomad from Creative Labs, playing back MP3 files on a home stereo typically requires converting the songs to a standard audio format and burning them onto a recordable CD.

But with X10's MP3 Anywhere, users can wirelessly send MP3 music from a PC hard drive or directly from the Net to a home stereo. The PC and stereo can be up to 100 feet apart. X10 is selling the transmitter, receiver, and associated software for $99.

A consumer doesn't have to stand at the PC to listen to new tracks, either. An included remote control can change MP3 tracks from anywhere in a home and also functions as a universal remote for VCRs, satellite dishes, and other X10 products.

"MP3 and X10.com are giving people what they really want in terms of music and the hardware to carry that music to anywhere in the home," Alex Peder, president of X10's retail sales division, said in a statement.

MP3 has already become a wildly popular format for acquiring music via the Net. Numerous Web sites provide legal downloads; countless others offer pirated material.

Being able to play the files easily on home stereos, which typically have much better speakers than PCs, could give another boost to MP3 and streaming music formats.

Ratings firm Media Metrix recently said monthly usage of online music players in the United States has jumped to 4 million users, an increase of nearly 400 percent from June 1998.

The recording industry, already upset over the rampant pirating of songs, is not likely to be pleased with the ability to play MP3 files on a home stereo, either. Because the MP3 technology lends itself easily to reproduction and piracy, the recording industry has withheld its support, even going so far as to file a suit against Diamond Multimedia, which was recently settled.