Toshiba – the company that makes the iPod's hard drive – is to launch a 60GB version of its Gigabeat hard-disk drive-based portable music player in Japan later this year.

When Toshiba announced that it had begun producing a 60GB, 1.8-inch hard-disk drive in August there was speculation that Apple would incorporate the drive in to its iPod. At the time Cindy Lee, deputy manager of Toshiba Digital Media Network Taiwan's hard disk drive division technical department, said Apple had already placed an order for the drives. However, Apple's iPod is still only offering iPods at 40GB capacity.

Three Gigabeat models will be available: a 10GB and 20GB as well as the 60GB version. All three players use Toshiba's 1.8-inch drives. Toshiba spokeswoman Midori Suzuki said: "This will be the first digital music player from any company to make use of the 60GB drive.

The exterior design of the Gigabeat player has been revised to sport a 2.2-inch QVGA (240 pixels by 320 pixels) colour LCD (liquid crystal display) and a navigation button that looks like a large plus sign in the center of the player's front panel.

Also new is the shape, measuring 106mm long by 63mm wide, which is longer and thinner than previous models. The two lower capacity models are 16mm thick and the 60GB model is 19mm thick, the latter because the hard-disk drive uses two disk platters and so is physically thicker. The capacity of the drive also affects the weight, which is 160 grams for the lower-capacity models and 170 grams for the higher capacity model.

The players support either MP3, Windows Media Audio or WAV files, although the files have to be passed through Toshiba's Gigabeat Room software to be loaded onto the device and recognized by the player. Suzuki explained: "This process results in the files being encrypted and is an anti-piracy measure." If music files can be dragged and dropped onto the Gigabeat's hard-disk drive without using the software the device won't recognize them.

In addition to encrypting the files, the software can also grab music information from Gracenote's CDDB database of Compact Discs, and stores all of the transferred music into a database for searching. JPEG image files can also be attached to albums or songs, Toshiba said.

A by-product of the need for this software is that it restricts use of the Gigabeat players to people with computers running Windows XP or Windows 2000, from Microsoft.

Other specifications include a USB2.0/1.1 interface and battery that supports about 11 hours of continuous playback.

Like previous Gigabeat models, the new players have an on-screen menu that supports Japanese, English, French, Spanish and German. However, Toshiba doesn't yet have any plans to sell them overseas, said Suzuki.

The portable music players will go on sale in Japan from late November. The MEGF10 10G-byte model will cost ¥39,800 (US$360) and the MEGF20 20G-byte model will cost ¥44,800. The MEGF60 60G-byte model will be on sale from early December and will cost ¥64,800, she said.

They will be unveiled to the public at the Ceatec Japan 2004 exhibition, which takes place from October 5 to 9 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan.