Sony readies new HDD jukebox

Sony will launch a new version of its network jukebox in March in Japan, the company said Thursday.

Sony will launch a new version of its network jukebox in March in Japan, the company said Thursday. The device is designed to replicate many of the digital music functions offered by personal computers, such as a music library, CD ripping and the ability to purchase music from online services.

The NAS-A10 contains a 40G-byte hard-disk drive, a CD drive, AM and FM radio and a MemoryStick slot. Users can add music to the disk-based library from CDs or downloads from the 'Any Music' service in Japan -- and also by connecting the unit with the company's Network Walkman or NetMD Mini Disc players. The jukebox also allows music stored on the disk to be transferred to either of the two prior portable music players or onto a MemoryStick Duo memory card for playback in a device such as the PlayStation Portable (PSP).

While the system supports playback of MP3 content stored on CDs or MemoryStick cards, it won't allow users to store or playback MP3 files from the hard-disk drive. These functions only support audio stored as a PCM file or encoded in Sony's proprietary ATRAC3 format.

That's because the system's concept is that users will start with music obtained via a download site or ripped by the unit from a CD, said Yuki Kobayashi, a spokeswoman for Sony in Tokyo.

"Users can borrow a CD from a rental shop or buy a CD and then stock up to 20,000 titles on it," she said of the intended usage model. CD rental is allowed in Japan and is a popular way for many users to obtain copies of CDs. The 20,000-title capacity is measured when using ATRAC3 encoding at 66K bps (bits per second) bit rate.

The lack of MP3 support mirrors a restriction that was present in early versions of Sony's Network Walkman. That restriction has since been dropped and Sony now offers users the ability to upgrade previously purchased players to support MP3.

When ripping CDs, the system will automatically connect with the Gracenote CD database service and attempt to download track details for the CD. These details will then be saved with the music.

Another new feature on the device is support for version 1.0 of the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) specification that means the unit can play music stored on a personal computer that is streamed across the home network.

The new jukebox contains several changes from the first-generation model, the NAS-A1, that was launched in May last year.

The new model sits upright rather than flat and so takes up less space and is more focused on the main audio application. It doesn't include a web browser or support for viewing image files. Like the previous model, its front face has a minimum number of control buttons with most functions controlled via the remote control. There's also no display, so it requires a connection to a television or monitor.

Compared to the previous mode, the NAS-A10 is also significantly cheaper. It will go on sale on March 15 in Japan and will cost around YEN 63,000 (US$598). The NAS-A1 cost about YEN 90,000. Sony has no plans to sell it outside of Japan.

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Martyn Williams

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