If Apple hasn't been feeling the pressure yet in the digital music market then it surely must be starting to feel it now. New players from companies like flash-memory player leader Reigncom, better known by its IRiver brand name, have just been announced and Sony is starting to get its digital music act together as well.
Something that has to-date differentiated Sony from the rest of the market is its preference for ATRAC3, a compression system developed and used in its MiniDisc players. Sony responded to customer criticism and added MP3 to its digital music players a few months ago, however, the company continues to peg its hopes on ATRAC3 and is doing everything it can to help the format make the transition from the MiniDisc world to the flash and hard-disk storage world.
The Tokyo company is also keeping its MiniDisc system alive with the new Hi-MD format that both boosts the storage capacity of a MiniDisc and supports other forms of media, such as photos, in addition to music. MiniDisc's future in most markets around the world doesn't look very bright, though it's still a popular format in Japan, and Sony's latest Hi-MD player shows some clever integration of technology. The company has added a digital still camera to the player, which is something that doesn't immediately appear to be very useful on a music player but consider its 1.5-inch color display and CD jacket art and you should be able to get the idea.
Taking a shot of the CD jacket and having it appear with the tracks is a great idea and much easier than messing around with a scanner. Considering the low cost of a digital camera module, I wouldn't be surprised if this doesn't start appearing on other digital music players soon.
Sony Hi-MD Walkman
The MiniDisc format may be losing ground to MP3 and other formats but that doesn't mean Sony Corp. has thrown in the towel. The company is doing quite the opposite and has launched a new format, called Hi-MD, that raises the data storage capacity of the MiniDisc and allows for the addition of new features available on some of its latest MiniDisc players. Perhaps the most unique feature of the MZ-DH10P is an embedded digital camera that enables users to take a snap shot of the CD cover that can then be used on the main display alongside the track information when the song is played. The 1.5-inch colour display can also be used to show JPEG images. It will go on sale in Japan on March 10 and will cost around $484. There are no plans to sell it overseas.
IRiver H10 Portable Music Player
While Virgin licks its wounds, two fresh players have moved to compete with Apple's iPod. South Korea's Reigncom (iRiver) is launching 1GB and 20GB versions of its H10 player. The first model went on sale earlier this year and had a 5GB capacity. The H10 series scores over the iPod in several areas: there's a colour display on each of the three models, while all support images and have a built-in FM radio. On the music side of things the player supports MP3 and Windows Media Audio files including those purchased from music stores that work with Microsoft's Windows Media Player 10. These extra features come at a price, of course. Reigncom has released only UK pricing for the two new models: £229 for the 20GB model and £139 for the 1GB model. The equivalent capacity iPod players cost £209 and £99 in the UK. Both new H10 models will be launched in the UK in April. Launch details and prices for other markets have yet to be announced.
Sony Network Walkman
Sony will release flash-memory versions of its Network Walkman players in March and April. There are seven models differentiated by form factor, capacity and function. The first three, due in March, are circular and measure just under 6 centimetres in diameter. In April, an additional four players will go on sale. These four players are all based on a stick-type form factor. They will be available with either 512MB or 1GB of memory and offer the option of a built-in FM radio. These players use a three-line OLED (organic light emitting diode) instead of an LCD as the main display. The circular players - the 256MB NW-E103, the 512MB NW-E105 and the 1GB NW-E107 - will be available worldwide by the end of March, Sony said. In Japan, the players will cost ¥10,000, ¥14,000 and ¥20,000, respectively. Prices for the other four players, which will be launched worldwide in April, will range from ¥17,000 for the 512MB NW-E405 without a built-in FM radio, to ¥25,000 for the 1GB NW-E507 with an FM radio.
Samsung SCH-V770 Cell Phone
When it comes to megapixel count, camera phone makers seem to be getting locked into the same battle that digital camera makers fought several years ago. The "mine is higher resolution than yours" type of thing is fine on cameras, up to a point, but much less important on cell phones unless the jumps are accompanied by a suitably better lens. So its nice to see Samsung has fitted a regular digital camera lens on its latest camera phone. The SCH-V770 offers a 7-megapixel resolution, which blows most competing products out of the water, and a bunch of features not usually found on phones. These include manual focus, user-controllable focal length, shutter speed and shutter priority, aperture priority and fully manual shooting modes. That's the good news. The bad news is that it only works on CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) at present, rather than popular mobile standards, such as GSM. There is no release schedule or price.
Panasonic Diga HDD Video Recorder
People who have little free time, who demand immediate response and who are just too impatient to wait ten seconds while their digital video recorder wakes up, Panasonic has the answer. The company, more properly known as Matsushita Electric Industrial, has a new line of hard-disk drive and DVD-RAM-based video recorders that are ready to record just one second after the power is turned on. The electronic program guide is also ready in a similar amount of time. The top of the range DMR-E60 has a 300GB hard-disk drive and a DVD multi drive that supports DVD-RAM, -R, -RW, +RW and +R discs. Maximum recording time is 266 hours, according to Panasonic. It will go on sale in Japan on May 1 and cost ¥100,000 (US$952). There are no current plans to sell it overseas.
Sony NAS-A10 Digital Audio Jukebox
Sony is about to launch an audio jukebox that is intended to integrate with a home stereo system and replicate many of the digital music functions offered by personal computers, such as a music library, CD ripping and the ability to purchase music from online services. The NAS-A10 has a 40GB hard-disk drive, a CD drive, AM and FM radio and a MemoryStick slot. Songs can be added to the library by ripping CDs or using online music stores and then transferred to devices such as Sony's Network Walkman, any NetMD Mini Disc player or a MemoryStick Duo memory card. The latter for listening on products such as the PlayStation Portable (PSP). It also supports version 1.0 of the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) specification so you can stream protected songs across your home network. Sounds great? Well before you get too excited, there's a familiar Sony catch: the library only supports PCM or ATRAC3 formats so you'll have to convert all those MP3s you have. It will go on sale on March 15 in Japan and will cost around ¥63,000 (US$598). There are no plans for overseas sales.
Canon EOS Digital Kiss N
Lower prices in the last couple of years have meant single lens reflex-type digital still cameras are no longer something that only professional photographers can afford. There's increasing competition in this part of the market and one of the sector's strongest players, Canon, is launching a new camera worldwide in March. The EOS Digital Kiss N packs an 8-megapixel image sensor and can manage continuous shooting of three frames per second for up to 14 frames (when shooting large size, fine quality JPEG images). Miniaturization of several major components means the new model is not just smaller and lighter than its predecessor but, according to Canon, it's the lightest digital SLR camera around at present. It will be available in major markets worldwide from March. In the US it will cost $899 for the body alone and $999 for a kit that includes a zoom lens.
Sanyo DMX-C5 Video Camera
Sanyo's newest Xacti digital movie camera is capable of recording VGA quality video at 30 frames per second placing it close to conventional camcorders despite its funky look. Movie recording is in MPEG-4 and the unit is also capable of taking still images with up to 5-megapixel resolution. Images and video are recorded onto SD memory cards and a 1GB card can accommodate around 42 minutes of the highest quality video and five hours in the lowest mode. It will be available in Japan from March 25 and will cost ¥75,600 ($720). Sanyo plans to put it on sale in other markets in the near future.