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Hands on: Cisco wireless Media Player

Wireless digital stereo system in action

Cisco has been showing off its wireless music system in an exclusive demonstration to PC Advisor and Macworld at CES in Las Vegas. The Cisco wireless music system consists of a Player, a Director, a Conductor and a handheld remote control unit that is around the size of a PlayStation Portable games console.

The home audio system will have a similar modular setup to the Sonos wireless music controller that launched in 2006 and that enables music playback in separate rooms to be controlled from a central console. It will cost $999 for the complete setup, but can also be purchased as separates.

The $449 Director unit has a built-in 50 Watt amplifier and optional speakers, while the $349 Conductor is essentially a complete stereo setup. It has an integrated CD player and a touchscreen display and acts as a fixed controller base from available tracks can be viewed and playback can be initiated.

Users can purchase the remote control and one or more other elements of the Cisco system in order to stream music wirelessly around their home. The system uses the 802.11n wireless standard to connect devices such as PCs and laptops, iPods and other wireless-enabled music players. Content is aggregrated from all these sources, explained Cisco's Mike Duin, with the source and output device selected via the 7in touchscreen display on the remote control. An $80 iPod dock can also be bought.

Album art and track details are acquired using an online music database. In the US this will be Rhapsody, while in Europe Cisco will use Audiolounge software.

The Cisco Media Player wireless home audio system is built on open-source software and conforms to DLNA (digital living network alliance) standards, so any DLNA-compliant wireless-enabled device should be able to become part of the Cisco audio cluster.

UK pricing and launch details for the Cisco Media Player have yet to be decided and the wireless setup we were shown at CES used a prototype remote control.

At the same event, Cisco was also demonstrating its Media Hub wireless network drive. Available with or without a small LCD status and basic control screen, the Cisco Media Hub will come in 500GB and 1TB versions. Media can be played back and accessed directly from the drive on a remote machine or a networked device.

Although it is essentially a NAS (network-attached storage) drive, Cisco is steering away from describing it as such. "We took all the complexity out", said Mike Duin. It will be supplied with a single platter Western Digital Green hard drive preinstalled, but will have space inside for the user to add a second drive. Cisco's Duin said informal tests suggest the near-silent drive uses between 12 and 15 Watts of power when in use.

The Media Hub drive offers one-click data backups and comes with NTI Shadow Backup software. Customers purchasing the Media Hub with a screen will be able to get a visual preview of how much of their hard drive remains free using the simple device of a pie chart.

Content can be accessed and played remotely by entering the drive's details at cisco.mediahub.com.

Cisco has developed an attractive interface for controlling the media stored on either the Media Hub or networked devices. As well as the standard tree folder structure, consumers will be able to view album art of their music, thumbnail images of their photo and video collection and so on. A basic media manager that bears a passing resemblance to iTunes is also accessible. All this means content can be controlled and directly played back using the Cisco interface.

Duin says the system will also be playable on a Flash-enabled mobile phone handset, though a demonstration of this was not given.

The setup is a uPnP (universal plug and play) server and includes an iTunes server.

The Cisco Media Hub will be available in the UK from the end of February or early March and will costs £299 for the non-screen version or £349 for the 500GB model with a LCD preview screen.


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