Philips tunes up for Internet radio

Listening to Internet radio is now almost as easy as tuning in to your favorite AM or FM station, but that convenience comes with a premium price tag.

Philips Electronics NV introduced its FW-i1000 mini hi-fi stereo system Friday, which includes a 3-CD changer with CD-R/RW playback and a dual cassette deck, with a suggested price of US$500. That's about double the price of a similar 240-watt Philips system without the Net radio dial.

What separates the FW-i1000 from other shelf stereos on the market today is the addition of the IM band, a feature developed by IM Networks Inc. that allows listeners with a broadband connection to dial in audio streams from Web radio stations as easily as AM and FM signals.

A total of 40 IM presets are available. Listeners can sort radio stations by genre, region, or language. They can also access and playback MP3 play lists stored on any PC with included software from IM.

"The only way we are going to compete is to offer something better," says Jean-Marc Matteini, general manager of Internet audio for Philips. "We want to put as much room between this unit and PC sound."

Web radio has been around for several years, but streaming audio has yet to find a mainstream following. Both commercial stations and independent netcasters have entered cyberspace with thousands of streams of music that range from classic genres like rock, pop, and blues to eclectic musical offerings and foreign language programming.

While the IM tuning capability is a first in a standalone system, it is not the first Internet radio device. In March, 3Com Corp. discontinued its consumer Internet appliance business, which included a Net radio called Kerbango.

Since announcing its partnership with Philips in January, IM Networks has signed similar deals with Ericsson Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc., which are both working on Internet radio devices.

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