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Wireless-speaker company reconnects

Avega Systems was all the rage at CES last year. Now, its wireless speaker system is finally ready to ship.

Back in January, Avega Systems wowed the crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show with a wireless speaker system, then promptly went silent.

Avega, however, isn't dead. It just took a break to get reorganized, the company's chief executive said.

The Australian-based start-up has tweaked its strategy and will show off a new line of Avega Systems at this year's CES, which kicks off January 7 in Las Vegas. The products could make a big impression, as speakers until now have mostly come with wires.

Oyster speaker
Credit: Avega
Avega's new prototype

"Wireless speakers are the holy grail," says Ted Feldman, president and founder of Neosonik, which will show off its own high-end wireless home-theater systems at January's show.

Avega, rather than try to sell speakers under its own name, will sell software, speaker modules and other technology to speaker companies, which will then finish off the speakers and sell them under their own brand name, said CEO Peter Celinski. In some cases, Avega will also build complete speaker systems or license just intellectual property.

Speakers built under the company's blueprints will hit store shelves in the middle of 2007 for about $300 to $500, he said.

"Building a couple of 'wireless' speakers is not rocket science," Celinski wrote in an e-mail. "Doing it reliably over standard Wi-Fi in the context of whole-home entertainment is."

In January, the company unfurled a line of wireless speakers, called the Oyster loudspeaker, under its own name and said it expected to be producing speakers by March 2006. Also in January, the company said it planned to make speakers for other manufacturers, but also market the speakers under its own brand.

It was a finalist for the Best of CES award from CNET Networks. The speakers, however, never shipped. Celinsky didn't offer many details on the reason for the delays, other than to emphasize that they were not caused by technical issues.

Home networking and wireless consumer electronics will be one of the hotter at this year's massive gadgets gathering. Wireless is firmly established with notebooks and phones, but TVs, speakers and stereo equipment remain largely tethered to each other through tangles of cable.

And for good reason. Video files can be huge, requiring more bandwidth than has been available, and issues such as synchronization and sound quality have bedeviled products in the past. In addition, walls can be hazards to good wireless transmission, and so can distances. Wireless speakers to date have been met with poor reviews. (Reporter's note: most wireless video demos I have seen work well, until someone moves in the room and interferes with the signal.)

Meanwhile, Amimon, an Israeli start-up, will show off a wireless HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) solution. Sony execs have also recently made vague references to home networking.

Neosonik and Avega compete but offer slightly different products. Neosonik will sell complete home stereo systems that come with speakers and a receiver. They will cost between around $6,000 to $10,000, although the company plans to branch into components. The secret sauce, the company claims, is better synchronization: going wireless won't mean muddled sound or flaky video. The company's products use a proprietary version of 802.11(a), one of the Wi-Fi channels.