Ventures News: BridgeCo - Networked loudspeakers go wireless

07.05.2003 | Wirtschaftspresse

To enjoy tunes in every room, music lovers once had to either string speaker wires all over their homes or settle for the unsatisfactory sound quality delivered by analog wireless technologies. But today, digital networks, including wireless ones, can carry compressed music files in pristine digital form to all corners of the domicile from a central storage vat (usually a PC).

Manufacturers of loudspeakers see this as an opportunity to transform their products from passive reproducers of sound into intelligent, network-enabled musical systems. Naturally, the idea excites such companies because these advanced speakers would command a price premium. But that doesn't mean the approach doesn't have some appeal. Why not have the speaker itself contain both the ability to connect to the network and the processing power required to decode and play the music it receives?

To get a glimpse of where speakers are headed, witness the reference designs highlighted yesterday at WinHEC (the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) by a Swiss company called BridgeCo.

Centered on BridgeCo's DM1000 network and signal processor, the designs describe wired and wireless speakers that receive, decode, and then play digital audio. In essence, the speakers themselves become remote Internet radios and digital-audio players. Another way to look at it is relocating the functions of the PC sound card to the speaker location.

While the DM1000 and BridgeCo's software stacks also support wired connections such as IEEE 1394 (FireWire), the wireless concepts are probably the most compelling. For starters, one could install stationary speakers without tearing up the walls or ruining a decoration scheme with unsightly wires. In addition, one could enjoy PC-stored music anywhere within wireless range— the garage, the patio—courtesy of a set of wireless speakers or a boom-box- like device.

BridgeCo has announced partnerships that tie the DM1000 to silicon from Cambridge Silicon Radio for Bluetooth connectivity and to chips from Agere Systems for 802.11 networking. Due to its shorter range, the former will probably show up in lower-cost speakers intended to operate in close proximity to the PC. The latter would allow for longer range and even the simultaneous transmission of different streams of music to different sets of speakers, according to Mark Bridgwater, BridgeCo's director of marketing.

Down the road, BridgeCo envisions all kinds of systems integrating its technology, including AV receivers and surround-sound speaker setups. The platform allows DM1000-equipped devices to serve up Web-page "dashboards" that would allow configuration via any PC on the network, or perhaps even a PDA.

Matthew Miller, Special Projects Editor -- CommVerge, 5/7/2003