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PC World

Internet audio on autopilot

November 16, 1999
Web posted at: 12:37 p.m. EST (1737 GMT)

by Cameron Crouch graphic

LAS VEGAS (IDG) -- Sharp's MiniDisc player, announced Monday at Comdex here, is not just for MP3s. Its software lets you record and store any Internet audio format and even convert e-mail into voice recordings.

The MiniDisc Player/Recorder MD-MT15 is priced at $199; or you can pick up a package bundling Voquette's NetLink software for $249.

NetLink includes the Voquette Media Manager, a desktop audio player that not only streams multiple Internet audio compression files but also coverts text files to audio speech. Supported formats include Microsoft's Windows Media files (WMA), Real Networks' Real Audio files (RAM), and MP3 files.

"The Media Manager sits above all the standards such as WMA and RAM. You can drag and drop anything from the Web, including text to speech," says James R. Lynch, vice president of business development at Voquette. "You can then take the file and record it on your Sharp MiniDisc player."

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Voquette plans to support Secure Digital Music Initiative standards once they are final.

The Sharp MD player attaches to your PC via Voquette's NetLink serial port connector. Voquette and Sharp are considering Universal Serial Bus or other digital connections for later versions.

Tired of waiting for your music to download? Once you drag and drop links to the music files you want to download, you can set a time when the Media Manager will dial in to your Internet service provider, download the music, and record it on your MiniDisc player.

"The Media Manager offers a seamless download. You can schedule it to record at a specific time and then disconnect," Lynch says.

Why a MiniDisc?

For young people with tight budgets, one big advantage to MiniDiscs versus memory cards like Compact Flash is price: A 70-minute MiniDisc costs only $2 to $3.

"It's a lot cheaper than a 64MB memory card. Plus, the solid state devices -- portable MP3 players -- offer no archival storage," says Chris Cudina, associate director of audio sales and merchandizing, consumer electronics group at Sharp.

"The MiniDisc is really a portable recording medium," Cudina adds. "It's more sturdy than a CD that can skip, but it really replaces the cassette more than CD."

Beyond music recording, the Sharp/Voquette bundle lets you convert e-mail messages, memos, and Web pages to voice using Microsoft's text-to-speech technology. You can record the audio onto the Sharp player, which Sharp representatives hope might also appeal to the mobile business user.

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Comdex 99
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