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Amid a panoply of massive electronics companies showing off next-generation technology at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, a little-known startup is hoping to make a splash with a new way to experience music in the home.
Los Angeles-based Phorus is introducing its PlayCast Speakers and PlayCast Receivers, two wireless home audio devices that will transform the home into an always-on, Android-powered entertainment space at a price point that will appeal to cost-conscious shoppers.
It’s the first system of its kind optimized to work with Android devices, Phorus CEO Dannie Lau told VentureBeat in an exclusive interview. “We chose to develop for Android first because we felt it was an underserved market,” he added.
At just 5.5 inches high and 8.3 inches long, the PlayCast Speaker is a small pyramid-shaped speaker that delivers pristine music playback in a 360-degree radius. The device, which will retail for around $199 when it ships in March 2012, streams audio over Wi-Fi from any Android device (running 2.1 and higher) with the companion PlayCast application.
The speaker also doubles as a smartphone and tablet docking station. Multiple speakers can be linked together for a synchronous multi-room listening experience, or they can play different streams from several Android devices.
The even smaller PlayCast Receiver, which will retail for roughly $149 in March 2012, stands at just 1.2 inches high and PlayCast-enables the consumer’s current home audio setup for push-button music streaming over Wi-Fi. Music is streamed to the receiver via the PlayCast Android application, and then output to a connected entertainment system, boom box or speaker dock through a line-in jack.
The PlayCast Android application works as a controller for both the speaker and retriever systems. The application indexes the user’s music library and integrates with select streaming music services (Lau would not disclose supported services). It includes Bluetooth connectivity so that the user can stream any type of audio — Internet radio and cloud-based libraries, for instance — to their speakers. The application also works to control the volume across multiple PlayCast devices.
Phorus’ hardware-software hybrid home audio system is both impressive and ambitious — the young startup will be competing with Sonos and its veteran wireless speaker system, as well as the myriad of manufacturers now incorporating Apple’s AirPlay technology into their speakers. But Lau insists that the approachable price point of the PlayCast devices — Sonos speakers start at $299 and require a $49 bridge to create a wireless network — and the growing population of Android owners will help his little company stand out.
“Wireless audio is experiencing very rapid growth,” Lau said, indicating that existing players will do the important legwork of convincing consumers to explore wireless speaker systems. “There’s going to be a lot of consumer education around wireless audio.”
Phorus, which recently raised $2 million in its first institutional round of funding, is manufacturing the PlayCast Speaker and Receivers. The devices and the Android application are slated for March 2012 release, and will be sold on the startup’s website and on Amazon. Phorus will eventually make its PlayCast technology compatible with additional operating systems, Lau said.