Sony's 20GB hard drive Walkman set for October release

Sony's new 20GB hard-disk drive based Walkman will hit Australian shelves next month but with pricing $100 more than the equivalent sized Apple iPod.

Sony unveiled its first hard-disk drive-based digital music player to bear the Walkman name in Japan in July, as the Walkman brand marked its 25th anniversary.

At the company's 'Sony. Experience More' exhibition in Sydney this week, it said the player, called the NW-HD1, will sell for $599 when it is released in late October.

The equivalent Apple iPod - in terms of memory size - sells for $499. Its 40GB drive sells for $649.

The NW-HD1, according to the company, is the smallest music player at this capacity. It measures 89mm by 62.1mm by 13.8mm and weighs 110 grams.

The capacity is half that of Apple Computer's highest capacity iPod, but Sony says its player trumps Apple's in terms of the number of songs it can store: 13,000 on the Walkman versus 10,000 on the iPod.

Sony's 20GB NW-HD1

However, Sony's measurement is based on songs encoded using its ATRAC3 (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding for MiniDisc 3) compression system at the relatively low rate of 48K bps (bits per second) while Apple's measurement is based on the AAC compression system at 128K bps. At the same bit rate, the Walkman can store around half as many songs as the iPod, which is consistent with it having half the storage capacity.

Sony said that in practice, it's the music quality that counts and that as ATRAC3 is more efficient at compression, it can get away with using a lower bit rate to deliver an equivalent quality. The Walkman supports only Sony's ATRAC3 compression format, versions of which are used with Sony's MiniDisc.

Music files encoded in other formats, such as MP3, first have to be converted to ATRAC3 before they can be played, and software to accomplish this is included. Transcoding typically results in some reduction in quality.

The player runs on an internal rechargeable battery and this will last for up to 30 hours when playing files encoded at the minimum supported bit rate of 48K bps, according to Sony. This falls to 27 hours when listening to files encoded at 64K bps or 128k bps.

Battery life has been one of the biggest complaints that users have had about the iPod and so it's no surprise that the Walkman beats Apple's quoted "up to 8 hours" on battery life.

(Howard Dahdah contributed to this report.)

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