MTV, DataPlay offer 500MB digital music player

MTV Networks is slapping its brand name on a digital music player due out in April that can hold up to 11 hours of music stored in the MP3 format, the company announced at the Consumer Electronics Show Monday.

The player uses an innovative disk drive developed by newcomer DataPlay Inc. It is about the size of a matchbook and holds up to 500M bytes of data. The device will be able to record and play back songs, and also doubles as an external drive for storing digital photos, video clips and documents for viewing on a PC, the companies said in a statement.

Pricing wasn't immediately available, but DataPlay has said in the past that players using its technology will retail for US$200 and $300, with blank disks priced at $5 to $10.

The MTV device measures 8 centimeters by 7 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters and stores music in the MP3, WMA (Windows Media Audio), AAC (advanced audio coding) and QDX formats. Users navigate content using a small LCD (liquid crystal display) screen on the front of the device. It has a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port for connecting to a PC and runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

The company manufacturing the device, Evolution Technologies Inc., will be unfamiliar to many, but having MTV's logo plastered across the device should help attract users and boost the credibility of DataPlay's fledgling storage technology, said Richard Doherty, a director with the research company Envisioneering Group in Seaford, New York.

"MTV may be more important as a partner than someone like Toshiba (Corp.)," he said.

Besides music players, DataPlay hopes its drive will be used in gadgets including digital cameras, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and portable games. Vendors who've climbed on board include Toshiba, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and SonicBlue Inc., although none have released products yet despite DataPlay's original launch target of late 2001. The MTV gadget could be the first DataPlay device to hit the streets.

Major record labels have said they will offer DataPlay discs preloaded with music, although none are available yet. Some prepackaged content may be available by launch.

"The big challenge for DataPlay is achieving a critical mass," Doherty said. "They need enough device makers and content providers behind them to achieve momentum."

The MTV device joins an already crowded field that becomes yet more crowded this week. Bantam Interactive has said it will launch its Explor BA800 player, which comes with 256M bytes of solid-state memory and incorporates a 1.8-inch LCD for viewing digital pictures.

Luck Technology of Korea will show off its super-slender slimAudio player, which is about the size of a credit card and uses a new compression technology dubbed the Bytero format that the company claims can store three times as much digital music as a standard MP3 player with the same memory.

Samsung said it plans to introduce new players, including wearable devices and a combined CD/MP3 player, and SonicBlue Inc. also promised a new music player at the show.

CES officially opens Tuesday, although the show kicks off Monday night with a speech from Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates. Information is at http://www.cesweb.org/.

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