Sony Readies Budget Multi-room Audio System

Sony demoed its latest distributed audio solution at its 2008 Open House this week in Las Vegas. The affordable design brings multi-room capability to those on a budget, incorporating wireless RF transmission operating in the 2.4-GHz band.

The S-AIR design also promises idiotproof setup. Users plug the transmitter end of the system into one outlet and the Air Station receiver into an outlet in another room. They recognize each other and begin communicating without the need for complicated user setup.

The 2.4-GHz space is crowded territory occupied by cell phones, microwave ovens, remote controls and Wi-Fi networks, but Sony claims it has solved potential interference issues. Marketing exec Aaron Levine told journalists the 2.4-GHz RF solution was a cost decision made to reach a mainstream price point.

The S-AIR technology is built into four Bravia Theatre systems starting with the $300 DAV-HDX275, which becomes the main controller for a multi-room system with the addition of an optional kit.

The wireless kits bundle a wireless transmitter and a choice of wireless add-ons: either rear speakers for surround sound or a powered Air Station. The wireless speaker kit will retail for $149 when it arrives in stores in March. Air Stations will list for $120 each.

Higher end $400 and $500 Bravia Theatre systems pack the wireless technology and don't require an outboard kit. Air Stations receive signals up to 164 feet away from the base unit and can play music from CDs, DVDs, an iPod or other A/V source The size of a standard clock radio, the Air Station has clock/timer functions, an 8-watt amplifier and stereo speakers to create a self-contained playback device.

The two-zone S-AIR technology allows users to watch and listen to one video source in the main room while delivering a second music source to an Air Station in another room. An iPod charging dock is included in the package. Multiple Air Stations can be added to a system, but all Air Stations share a single source of music.

S-AIR products come in various configurations. The top model includes both an Air Station and wireless speaker kit and comes with floorstanding speakers. All Theatre Systems include a five-disc CD/DVD changer and 1080p upconversion.--Rebecca Day