Sony pushes Memory Stick for video

Sony has set a new course for its Memory Stick memory card with the announcement in the last two weeks of several products that target mobile video applications.

The new devices make it possible to record hours of television or other video onto a Memory Stick and then watch it on the move. With the first generation of these products, the company is targeting commuters in their 20s, 30s and 40s, Shoko Yanagisawa, a company spokeswoman said Monday.

The PEGA-VR100K video recorder is part of Sony's Clie Gear range of accessories for its Clie PDAs (personal digital assistants). Like a conventional video recorder the device contains a tuner for analog terrestrial television and input connectors on the rear to hook it up to other video devices, such as a satellite tuner or video cassette recorder, and connectors to link it to a television, according to a company Web site.

In place of the cassette or DVD slot, it has a slot that accepts all flavors of Memory Stick card. The smaller Memory Stick Duo cards can also be used with an adapter. Recording is in MPEG4 at 15 frames per second and can be set at one of four quality levels from "high quality," 384k bps (bits per second) at 320 pixels by 240 pixels resolution, to "long play 2," 64k bps data rate at 176 pixel by 144 pixel resolution, according to the Web site.

What this means is that a 1G-byte Memory Stick can store between 250 minutes and 1,000 minutes of video depending on the resolution selected, while a 128M byte Memory Stick will hold between 30 minutes and 130 minutes of video, Sony said.

The company's newest Clie, the PEG-UX50, is already set up to play such video while movie player software can be downloaded to enable playback on other recent models including: PEG-NX80V, PEG-NX73V, PEG-NX70V, PEG-NX60V, PEG-TG50 and the PEG-NZ90, according to the Web site.

Recording can be started by pressing a button on the device or, if you have a Clie, by using a timer function. Sony's "Video Utility" software can be used to set the timer or connect to an online electronic program guide. The timer data is written to the Memory Stick while it is still in the Clie and then read by the recorder when the Memory Stick is transferred, Yanagisawa said.

The recorder measures about 160 millimeters square by 30 millimeters thick and weighs 470 grams. It will be available in Japan from Nov. 1 and cost around ¥30,000 (US$256). Sales outside of Japan are a possibility, although no plans have been determined as of yet, she said.

If you don't have a Clie or want an alternative, Sony has also come up with a couple of other ways to record video on memory cards.

The first is a handheld video unit, the MSV-A1. The clamshell form factor device, which is 95 millimeters long by 61 millimeters wide by 25 millimeters thick when closed, has a 2.5 inch display and accepts the smaller Memory Stick Duo memory cards, according to a company Web site.

It includes a TV tuner and so can be used as a portable television or video player and also features the ability to record video on to the memory card, Mina Naito, a company spokeswoman said Monday.

Battery life is around one hour and 64M bytes of capacity is needed to record an hour of video, said the Web site. The 135-gram device will hit the Japanese market in November. There are no plans for sales outside Japan at present, Naito said.

A recently announced range of 15 television sets, ranging from a 61-inch Plasma Display Panel set to a 28-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) model, can also record television programs on memory cards, according to a statement released Friday. They will hit the market between October and November and join existing models of Handycam digital video camcorder and Cybershot digital still camera which also offer some memory card video recording capability, Sony said.

Both the Clie PDAs and the MSV-A1 can be used to view video on the move. A notebook computer can also be used and offers a longer battery life, although it requires more space, Sony said.

The availability of Sony's Memory Stick Pro cards has lent a hand in making the mobile video push possible. Until it launched the cards earlier this year Memory Stick had been stuck for some time at a 128M byte maximum storage capacity. The new cards are available in capacities up to 1G byte, offering much more space for high quality video.

While these cards have helped solve the storage crunch, there still remains at least one other factor that could hinder portable digital video becoming a more popular application: price. A 1G byte Memory Stick Pro card costs around US$430. That's a considerable investment and, in some cases, more than the price of the PDA that might be used to view the video.

Users don't necessarily need a large capacity card, according to Sony: a smaller capacity model will work well, albeit with a shorter recording time and lower quality.

"If you have a 128M byte card then you can record an hour of television and watch this on your commute," said Yoshikazu Ochiai, a spokesman for Sony in Tokyo. "If you record over this each evening you don't need a big card. However, you can store more on a big card."

Sony is not the first company to push digital video on PDAs. Almost three years ago Sharp first installed an MPEG4 video player in its Zaurus PDA and also began selling a companion video recorder that used memory cards. Sharp's unit had a lower resolution and could record two hours of video onto a 64M byte memory card.

The announcement of the new products comes in close succession to a portable digital video camera from Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. which uses Secure Digital (SD) cards to record video. The company, better known as Panasonic, will launch the camcorder in Europe in October.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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