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New devices boost MP3 use at home

Request Multimedia and S3 develop new products that may expand the popularity of digital music beyond portable devices and desktop PCs.

Request Multimedia and S3 have developed new products that may expand the popularity of digital music beyond portable devices and desktop PCs.

S3, which markets the Diamond Rio portable MP3 player, today unveiled the Rio Digital Audio Receiver, designed to stream digital music from the PC to stereo speakers throughout a house using existing phone lines. In addition, Request today began shipping a home MP3 player that stores hundreds of hours of MP3-coded music on a 17GB hard drive.

The new digital music appliances are another indication that the MP3 craze is not a portable phenomenon alone. Although pocket-sized devices such as the Rio and Creative Labs' Nomad popularized MP3, electronics companies are recognizing it as a potential "killer app" for home networking. MP3 is a popular standard for compressing digital music into manageable file sizes.

"There's a lot of interest, and it will develop over time as the technology becomes more mainstream," said Kevin Hause, an analyst with International Data Corp. He added that the market is still in its infancy, which offers opportunities for companies outside the consumer electronics realm, such as S3, a maker of graphics chips, and start-up Request.

"This market may be a couple hundred thousand units, which isn't as interesting to Sony or Thomson as it is to a start-up company," Hause said. "It's a good opportunity to put a stake in the ground, especially for a company like S3 with Diamond who wants to continue their market leadership."

S3's strategy, for example, is to integrate Diamond's home networking technology and the Rio product line, with the goal being a home full of digital stereos and speakers connected by S3 technology.

"When you think about what a home network is useful for, the applications of digital media and entertainment jump to the top of the list," Hause said. "It's the next logical step in enabling other types of devices."

The Rio Digital Audio Receiver is a sort of stop-gap solution. The appliance transfers music stored on the PC to a receiver, which then pipes music throughout the house using existing phone lines, Diamond said. For example, a person could plug S3-compatible speakers into phone jacks in the bedroom and the kitchen and use the receiver to play different songs in each room.

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"We're continuing to make good on our promise to take digital music beyond the PC," Mike Reed, director of marketing for the Rio group at S3, said in a statement today.

The device works with RealNetworks' music management software and with Diamond's own proprietary software. Rio's Digital Audio Receiver is priced at $299.

The new AudioRequest appliance from Request is essentially a large hard drive connected to speakers that acts as a digital music server for the home. The 17GB drive can store up to 300 hours of songs and can store songs from a CD after it is played once.

Eventually, Request plans to sell a device that connects directly to the Internet to permit the downloading of MP3 music without a PC. But this first version acts as a middleman: It will receive and store music from the PC and send it to the home stereo. The company also announced a deal today with EMusic, which will provide sample MP3 music to AudioRequest users.

"Listening to music directly from CDs will soon become a thing of the past," Steven Vasquez, Request's CEO, said in a statement.

The AudioRequest is priced at $799.95.