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COMPUTING

From...
PC World

Download tunes to a Walkman

September 28, 1999
Web posted at: 12:21 p.m. EDT (1621 GMT)

by Cameron Crouch mp3

(IDG) -- Introduced 20 years ago, the first Sony Walkman was a clunky cassette player that revolutionized the way we listen to music. The turn-of-the-millenium Walkman is Internet savvy and plays compressed digital music downloaded from your PC.

On the Walkman's 20th birthday Friday, Sony announced the NW-MS7 Memory Stick Walkman. Scheduled to be available in January 2000 for a suggested price of $399, the Walkman comes with a 64MB MagicGate Memory Stick that stores up to 80 minutes of digital audio.

 MESSAGE BOARD
MP3: The new wave


The newest Walkman connects to the PC via a Universal Serial Bus port for fast transfer. It is compliant with the Secure Digital Music Initiative, designed by recording and technology companies to distribute digital music electronically.

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SDMI is a framework for technology, says Kevin Hause, manager of consumer devices at International Data Corporation. "It's a two-stage implementation; we need to see the hardware compliant now so that when the [content providers] have the watermarks and secure technologies there, hardware can be upgraded to read it."

Unlike many MP3 music players on the market, such as Creative Labs' Nomad, Pine's D'music, and Rioport's Rio PMP300 SE, the more expensive Memory Stick Walkman uses ATRAC3 (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding) digital music compression format rather than MP3.

ATRAC3 is Sony's proprietary format, says Rich Armstrong, marketing manager of personal audio division at Sony.

"It has a smaller digital signal processor [than MP3], so it allows us to create smaller products," Armstrong says.

Still, Sony recognizes MP3's popularity. The Walkman will include software that automatically converts MP3 files to ATRAC3.

Players from Real Networks and Liquid Audio also support their own formats and MP3, Hause says. "You want to make [the conversion] as invisible to a consumer as possible."

Musical memory wars

Sony says its MagicGate Memory Stick beats Compact Flash because it can record secure audio and transfer data, images, or audio among any of the 12 Memory Stick devices, including digital cameras and the Sony VAIO. Sony plans to license its Memory Stick media.

Sony also unveiled four new products for its MiniDisc technology, including the MZ E90, dubbed the smallest MD player. It sports a 56-hour battery and is expected to ship in February for $449.95.

For high-speed dubbing, the MXD-D3 dual MD/CD deck dubs an hour-long CD to an MD in 15 minutes. The $479 unit is to ship in September. The PMC-MD55WOOD micro component system with megabass sound dubs a CD to an MD in half the playback time, and also ships in September priced at $499.

Sony's PC-to-MD interface is a cable and software bundle that records music from PC to an MD recorder in real time. It will ship early next year priced at $49 for a USB or parallel port version.

Compressed audio aside, Sony claims its MiniDisc has a million users.

"The MiniDisc will continue to be a big initiative," Armstrong says. "It's a format choice, not a format war."


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