Backstage: Sonos’ ZonePlayers iPodize home stereo

pic If it looks familiar at first glance, wait until you touch one. That’s the CR100 remote control unit ($399) for Sonos’ new ZonePlayer Digital Music System, which uses $499 units called ZonePlayers to distribute digital music throughout your house. We’ve been playing around with a couple of ZonePlayers and the remote (total package price: $1199), and thought you might enjoy a little peek before the official writeup.

The CR100 is staggeringly iPod photo-like, down to the user interface, controls, and button layout. Beyond the use of a 2G/3G iPod touch-sensitive scroll wheel, Sonos has placed its menu/back button above the wheel, play/pause below the wheel, and backward/forward buttons respectively to the left and right of the play/pause button. Then there’s a central action button. The Now Playing screen shows album art on the left with track details and icons (such as Shuffle) on the right. And the menus look like most of the iPod clones out there these days – small differences, with additions such as Internet Radio. Coincidence? No way.

There is, of course, a big difference. Sonos’ CR100 isn’t a portable music player – it’s just a rechargeable remote control with a nice interface. The point is to give you the easy ability to send digital music wirelessly to speakers in different rooms of your house, and while iPod-like, the remote has no use outside of the system. And there are some legitimate iPod distinctions: separate volume buttons on the left side of the color screen are joined by a mute button, and a few other buttons quick-jump to your music library, list of installed ZonePlayers, and offer screen-specific options.

If Apple had an iPod-style wireless remote (or iPod wireless accessory) to complement its AirPort Express and Mac mini combination, we get the feeling that it might be game over for Sonos – especially given that the ZonePlayers can’t play back AAC files from the increasingly popular iTunes Music Store. But that’s not the case – for now, at least.

Click on Read More for a couple of larger pictures. They’re certainly interesting.

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