Digital music players shrink, play multiple formats

Competition in the mobile music player market in Japan is heating up, with a variety of tiny, long-playing, multiformat music players about to hit the market.

Panasonic has unveiled what the company claims is the world's smallest and lightest audio player. Just 42.2 by 41.6 by 15.8 millimeters, the SV-SD80 weighs 26 grams.

The device, unveiled at World PC Expo this week, can play music encoded in the AAC (advanced audio coding), MP3 or WMA (Windows Media Audio) formats.

The player, stores music on an SD (secure digital) memory card, the format developed by Matsushita and others in 1999. The company currently provides cards up to 64M bytes in size, and plans to introduce a 256M-byte card at the end of December, it said. A 256M-byte memory card can store four hours of music, Matsushita said. The internal rechargeable battery will power the device for 16 hours, while an external 'triple-A' battery can extend this to 50 hours, the company said.

The device only plays music from memory cards and has no network interface.

The SV-SD 80 will be on sale on Nov. 10 in Japan and will be priced around 22,000 yen (US$189). The company plans to ship it in North America too, but spokeswoman Kazumi Tamamoto would not say when.

Panasonic also unveiled a prototype SD audio recorder that allows users to directly record music from CDs (compact discs) to SD cards without using a PC. It is shaped like a portable CD player, but with an SD slot. By connecting it to other, analogue, audio devices such as record players and cassette tape players, users can also record their old music collection onto SD cards.

The company has not announced its launch date, but it should follow soon after by the November launch of the SV-SD80, according to Panasonic.

Another SD card supporter, Toshiba showcased its existing SD card-compliant mobile audio players at World PC Expo. The MEA211AS and the MEA212AS, launched in April this year, can be connected to mobile phone handsets on DDI Pocket Inc.'s PHS (Personal Handyphone System) network.

DDI Pocket runs a music distribution service site for its PHS users, enabling subscribers to download music direct to an SD card.

Another way to store music, the Memory Stick, received a boost with the launch by Sony of a new version of its Network Walkman. The product, first launched in December last year, now has double the memory capacity. Its 128M-byte Magic Gate Memory Stick includes copy protection technology. The new model will be introduced in Japan on Oct. 21 for between 35,000 and 40,000 yen, according to Fumiko Yamanouchi, a spokeswoman Sony's Memory Stick marketing division.

With its SSP-PD10 digital memory player, Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. is taking neither side in the battle of the removable memory formats. The SSP-PD10, unveiled at the show, has a built-in 64M-byte flash memory that lets users to record up to three hours of music on the device via a USB (Universal Serial Bus) cable.

The device plays WMA, MP3 and AAC files, and also files encoded with Microsoft's WMRM (Windows Media Rights Manager) and Liquid Audio Inc.'s SP3 (Secure Portable Player Platform) copyright protection technologies.

The built-in battery lasts up to five hours, and can be recharged via the USB cable, the company said. The device also works with a triple A battery. The SSP-PD10 will be on sale in Japan on Oct. 21 for 24,000 yen.

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