Sony’s MP3 Walkman

With its new Walkman music player, Sony has broken with its tradition of promoting its own proprietary formats. The NW-HD3 will let users import and export tracks in the MP3 format, a concession to the format’s near-universal popularity and an admission of the failed appeal of Atrac, Sony’s own music-playing software. MP3 compatibility should give the player appeal to a wider audience than a Sony-only machine.

News source: The NW-HD3 features a 20GB hard drive and should be available in the UK by the end of the year at US$462 (£249) and throughout Europe in early 2005 at around €369, according to Reuters news service. The player is an attempt to challenge the dominance of Apple’s iPod in the hot market for personal music players. Although it is more expensive by approximately 15%, Sony claims the NW-HD3 plays more than twice as long as an iPod on a single battery charge.

Apple’s iPod is the most popular music player in the world, but Sony was the company that pioneered the niche with its first Walkman portable cassette players 25 years ago. In the ensuing period, Sony has sold more than 340 million Walkman players of various types, including CD players and MiniDisk models. Sony is determined to reclaim the market in personal music players, Reuters mentioned.

In the wake of Sony’s Amsterdam debut of its new MP3 player, Paris-based Thomson SA announced on December 2 a new variation on the MP3 format that accommodates multichannel playback. “MP3 Surround” was developed by Thomson partners Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS and Agere Systems, Inc. using “binaural cue coding.”

“MP3 Surround” supports 5.1-channel sound for “applications with web-based music distribution, broadcasting systems, PC-related audiovisual or gaming applications, consumer electronics, and automotive systems,” according to a company press release. The surround version is backward compatible with “any existing MP3 software and hardware devices,” Thomson noted. Free evaluation software is available at the Fraunhofer IIS site.

MP3 may be the bane of audiophiles, but the rest of the world is embracing the format’s ever-expanding applications. Among the hottest children’s toys this holiday season will be stuffed animals with built-in MP3 players. “Music Buddies” come pre-loaded with approximately 25 songs. The toy critters have function buttons built into their legs, and headphone jacks on their backs.

Gifts for upscale adults include a gold-plated MP3-playing necklace by Jens of Sweden. The $1100 Excentrique MP-400 has a 200-song capacity, and may be the perfect item for anyone with a jewel-encrusted cell phone. Swimmers on your gift list may enjoy underwater players from companies such as Finis, Inc. and Swimman, Inc. MP3 players are also finding their way into pendants, wristwatches, and sunglasses—all made possible by advancements in miniaturization and by falling prices for solid-state memory chips, according to Vauhini Vara in the December 1 issue of The Wall Street Journal.


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