CES - New MP3 player ready to rival IPod

A small company named E.Digital Corp. hopes to challenge Apple Computer Inc.'s IPod for the title of World's Slickest MP3 Player with its new voice-activated, hard-drive-based Odyssey 1000.

The company announced the US$349 player last week at the Consumer Electronics Show and plans to begin shipping the unit on February 5 to US consumers. Among its many features are 20GB of storage, USB 2.0 connectivity, and voice-recognition technology that lets you navigate menus by speaking.

In addition to playing MP3 and WMA audio files, the Odyssey also has an FM tuner, a digital voice recorder with built-in microphone, and the technology to act as an add-on hard drive to your PC.

Just Say It

Chief among the Odyssey's capabilities is its VoiceNav technology, says Wendy Ravenel, director of product management and communications at E.Digital. By using the included Music Explorer software to transfer albums from your PC to the unit you can then verbally request music by artist or track title.

Best of all, the Odyssey doesn't require voice training: It works out of the box, she says.

"It's just regular American English; there's no need to recite the alphabet," she says.

Users who prefer to access their music by hand can scroll through their collection using the scroll wheel and the backlight blue-green LCD.

The unit is relatively compact and light at 2.9 inches wide, 4.3 inches tall and 0.9 inches thick and 8.2 ounces.

Service, Too

An Odyssey will also come with a variety of music files from E.Digital's WeDigMusic.com Internet music site. The site contains more than 3000 royalty-free tracks from independent artists, says Bryan Jones, vice president of broadband entertainment.

Right now, anyone can access the site for free, but in the future it will likely become a pay-for-play service, he says. Odyssey owners will receive a free subscription, he says.

The site's content runs the gamut from jazz to country to classical, Jones adds. Once the site begins charging, the musicians can receive a cut, he says. In the meantime, it's all about people hearing their music. "Artists should be everywhere they can be to get exposure," he comments.

Taking on the Big Boys

Despite E.Digital's small size (the company has just 30 employees), Ravenel says she's confident its technology and burgeoning music site will help it compete with more established vendors like Apple Computer Inc. and Creative Labs Inc., which recently launched the Nomad Zen.

Ravenel acknowledges the IPod's strengths and admits that Apple's extensive research and development resulted in a sharp product. However, she says, the 1000 "does Windows better." Add to that its voice navigation and lower price and savvy buyers should be willing to give the Odyssey a chance, she says.

The Odyssey is just the latest MP3 player from the company, which launched its first player, the Treo 15, in 2001--just prior to the iPod's launch, Ravenel says. Today the company offers three Smart Media-based players, one that uses a CompactFlash card or microdrive, and two with built-in hard drives.

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Tom Mainelli

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