Sony unveils new 1G-byte Memory Stick format

Sony introduced Memory Stick Pro at the Consumer Electronics Show on Thursday, a new version of its storage format that will debut by mid-2003 with a capacity of 1G byte, or enough space to record 24 minutes of DVD-quality video or 16 music CDs.

Sony also announced that the Memory Stick Duo, a smaller version of its existing media format for miniature MP3 players, cell phones and other gadgets, will be available in the U.S. by mid-year. It also showed a new feature for the existing Memory Stick format called Memory Select which allows users to organize personal and business files in two separate areas on their storage card.

Memory Stick competes with other storage formats including Secure Digital (SD) memory cards from numerous vendors. Panasonic Corp. on Wednesday announced its own plans to introduce a 1G-byte SD card later this year. Sony claims that MemoryStick has garnered about 30 percent of the worldwide market for such devices since its launch here in 1998.

The new Memory Stick Pro format, developed with partner SanDisk Corp., will go on sale worldwide in the second quarter with capacities of 256M bytes, 512M bytes and 1G byte, priced from US$189 to $879, officials said. They showed a clip from the upcoming "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" movie that had been recorded on a prototype 1G-byte memory card.

The technology is intended to help bring Memory Stick up-to-date with faster networks, higher-resolution digital cameras and the growing use of digital media. A 1G-byte card can hold 385 JPEG images at 5 megapixel quality, 24 minutes of MPEG2 video or 6 hours of lower-quality MPEG 4 video, said Masaharu Yanaga, a senior general manager at Sony.

Data can be written to the cards at a minimum of 15M bits per second (M bps) and a maximum of 160 M bps, and includes software that allows data to be recorded to the device in real-time. This means content shouldn't be lost if a card is accidentally removed during recording, Yanaga said, solving what is a common problem today.

The downside for users: only "certain" MemoryStick devices on the market now will be compatible with the new format, officials here said. New devices that support the technology are expected this year.

The capacity of the cards will increase to 2G bytes next year, and Memory Stick Pro can hold a theoretical maximum of 32G bytes, Yanaga said. The cards support a new digital locking function that prevents other people from opening the cards if they're lost or stolen, but users can't take advantage of that until Sony's hardware partners support it.

The smaller Memory Stick Duo cards will be available by mid-year in 64M-byte and 128M-byte versions, priced at US$70 and $110. They can be used in gadgets like Sony's mini-Walkman, the NW MS70D, introduced at the show this week. The cards can also be used in standard MemoryStick products with an adapter, said Mark Viken, a senior vice president at Sony Electronics.

Finally, the MemorySelect devices allow users to compartmentalize their data by flipping a switch on the card itself to store data on one of two separate areas. Cards are scheduled for availability in the U.S. in April starting with a 256M-byte version (2 x 128M bytes) priced at about $160, Viken said.

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James Niccolai

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