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Switched On: From Bluetooth to the bedroom and the backyard


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Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment.

Last year, Switched On discussed the KeySpan TuneView and the DLO HomeDock Remote, two products that allowed remote control of an iPod using small screens on a remote. One of the limitations of those products was that they each required their own docks instead of working with any of the scores of iPod docks already on the market. At CES 2008, though, a company showed a product that not only allows you to use your iPod -- and many other devices -- as a wireless remote with the iPod dock you may already have. Even more unusually, the company that sells it is not one well associated with these speaker docks, such as Altec Lansing, Bose or Logitech, but rather It is iSkin, a company that made its name selling silicone cases for iPods.

iSkin's music product line is called Cerulean, the most flexible configuration of which is the $129 TX+RX (transmitter / receiver). The transmitter, like those bundled with iPod wireless headphones for years, allows you to use your iPod as a remote, sending music to any Bluetooth stereo speaker. But not only does Cerulean free the iPod from the dock, it frees the dock from the iPod.

Plugging the Cerulean Bluetooth receiver into practically any iPod dock opens a door for many Bluetooth stereo music sources -- such as MacBooks and notebook PCs, digital music players from Sony and Samsung, and many cell phones. When used with a subscription service such as Rhapsody, the Cerulean lets you create playlists from thousands of songs or listen to YouTube music videos on your notebook with better audio quality, but there's even one more trick up its sleeve.

The Cerulean TX+RX includes a way to connect non-Bluetooth audio products wirelessly to an iPod dock via an unusual cable that includes a headphone jack, a USB connector, and a slot for its transceiver. The audio cable can be connected to practically any device that can output music, and the USB cable provides power to the transmitter. The USB connector can be plugged into a PC, a wall adapter, or a number of portable rechargeable battery packs that include USB connectors. While kludgy, it provides a flexible bridge between an iPod dock and practically any audio source.

Things get even more interesting with the Cerulean receiver is used with some of the more capable iPod docks such as the EOS Wireless iPod speaker system. The EOS, also released earlier this year, begins with a $249 2.1 speaker dock that can be connected with up to four other satellite 2.1 speaker systems, which effortlessly and reliably communicate with the base dock. The company positions the system as being a good fit for ambient music such as instrumental classical or jazz that one might want playing softly in the background.

Among the EOS' limitations is that you can't remotely control the volume of music in other rooms. However, at less than $800 for a system that can bring good quality multi-room audio to most houses, it is a fraction of the price of a comparable Sonos configuration and needs only an iPod in its dock to access as a music library. For those looking to step up this configuration, Klipsch now offers the RoomGroove, which can perform similar features when used with the company's CS-700 speakers. These Wi-Fi alternatives are delivering simple ways to control wireless music playing throughout the home.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.

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