Sony debuts thinnest Walkman as MD turns 10

Sony is marking the tenth anniversary of its MiniDisc (MD) audio format with the launch of the smallest MD Walkman to date and a promise to continue pushing the format overseas in the hope it will finally catch on among consumers the world over, the company said Monday.

The MZ-E10 is Sony's thinnest MD Walkman yet. At 9.9 millimeters thick, the entire device is not much bigger than the MiniDisc itself and was made possible by the use of a chip that is 33 percent smaller than Sony's previous model, a new 3 millimeter thick lithium ion battery, a magnesium frame and a headphone jack that is 3 millimeters deep.

Also announced Monday was a slightly larger but more full-featured MD Walkman, the MZ-N10. Features include a recording function and support for the NetMD function to allow fast downloading of digital audio, although not MP3 files, from a computer. The device implements NetMD at 64X speed.

A desktop CD/MD player, SoundGate, was also unveiled. The player has an innovative design in which the front panel slides left or right to reveal slots for the CD and MD. It is available with a matching pair of speakers.

Prices for the devices are yet to be announced. Sony said the SoundGate will hit the market on Nov. 21 while the new players will go on sale on Nov. 10, almost ten years to the day since Sony debuted MiniDisc and launched its first MD Walkman, the MZ-1.

The MZ-N10 is one eighth the size of the original and much lighter. The machine that debuted on Nov. 1, 1992, weighed 680 grams and had a battery life of 1 hour and 15 minutes. The MZ-N10 and MZ-E10 announced Monday weigh 84 grams and 55 grams respectively and have battery lives of 23 hours and 29 hours in standard play mode.

Despite its 10 years on sale, MiniDisc has still to catch on in many markets. However Sony is continuing to push the format and has updated it several times, with the addition of a better compression system, a long-play function and most recently the NetMD function.

"In Europe we are having a very good year and have seen a huge jump in terms of volume," said Keiji Kimura, president of Sony's Mobile Network Company division. "We have confidence MD will become a standard (in Europe). Our biggest missing link is the U.S., but, since the launch of the NetMD system in Japan last year and in the U.S. in April, signs are promising."

While the format is still winning over users in Europe and the U.S., it has all but replaced cassette tape as the medium of choice for portable audio in Japan and is becoming a standard feature in many stereo systems. The system has not been without its failures, though. In addition to its slow take-up among consumers, early attempts to sell pre-recorded music failed and the MD Data format for personal computer use was also discontinued after a lack of interest from users.

By the end of 2001, Sony said, sales of MD products, including those produced by other companies, had totalled 56 million units while blank media sales had reached 930 million units.

Today's product announcements are the first in a string of new products expected to be announced by Sony Corp. over the next two weeks as the company's Dream World exhibition approaches. The event, which will be held in Yokohama, Japan, on Sept. 14 and 15, is the first of its kind for Sony and will bring all the group's companies together under a single roof to promote their products to consumers.

The next announcement is expected on Wednesday this week when Sony promises to unveil a television-related home audio-visual networking product.

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Martyn Williams

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