By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
LAS VEGAS -An expanded selection of CD-recorders from a variety of suppliers will overwhelm limited MiniDisc introductions at CES, but MD activists Sony and Sharp will counter with new functions and features that they expect to stimulate MiniDisc demand.
The growing CD-recorder selection will include:
Introductions from first-timers Spectra (under the Jensen name), Fisher and GPX, which plans a dual-deck model retailing at an everyday $299.
Expanded selection from JVC, Marantz and Teac.
And expanded selections of 4x recording-speed models. Fisher's first CD-recorders will be 4x models, and JVC will offer 4x for the first time. Aiwa will add 4x to a shelf system following last year's shipment of its first 4x component, a dual-well model.
To improve MD's functionality, Sony and Sharp will launch the first portable player/recorders equipped with MiniDisc Long Play (MDLP) technology, which extends recording time. To date, only one MD product, a Sony home recorder launched late last year, incorporates the technology.
Also to stimulate MD sales, Sony will expand its selection of portable player/recorders equipped with PC Link cable connection to capture the enthusiasm of Internet audio enthusiasts. The cable and bundled PC software lets users transfer music files in multiple formats from PCs to MiniDiscs for playback away from the PC.
MDLP recorders record in three different modes: Standard mode uses MD's near-CD-quality ATRAC perceptual coding to deliver up to 80 minutes of music; the other two modes use Sony's ATRAC3 codec, first used in the company's flash-memory portables.
In MDLP2 mode, record time extends to 2.5 hours at a 132-Kbps data rate. In MDLP4 mode at 66 Kbps, record time is five hours, Sony said.
Discs encoded in MDLP2 and 4 can be played back on any MD player, but the standard MD compression rate delivers the best sound quality.
Although few suppliers actively market MD, the MD format outsold CD-recorder counterparts through brick & mortar retailers during the first three quarters of 2000, although CD-recorders rang up more sales and profit dollars because of CD-recorders' price premium, an NPD Intelect survey of retailers found (see TWICE, Dec. 18, page 94).
Said JVC audio VP Karl Bearnarth, "CD-R sales are not meeting every supplier's expectations, but I believe expectations were too high."
For retailers, however, sales seem to be just fine. Said Kenwood product manager Petro Shimonishi, "CD-R is doing very well and not underperforming dealer expectations."
Whatever their expectations, most suppliers see most of their opportunity lying in CD-recorders, based on the number of CD-recorder introductions planned for CES. Sony itself has said CD-recorders could also be in its future.
Here's what major suppliers plan to unveil:
Aiwa: Having shipped a 4x dual-well CD-recorder and shelf system with 2x CD-recorder, Aiwa will launch its first shelf system with 4x CD-recorder.
Fisher: The brand's first CD-recorder is a dual-well with 4x recording speed for CD-R and -RW discs, 24-bit DACs and input sampling rate converter at a suggested $399. It's due in May.
CD-R discs will play in a new wall-hanging sound system featuring three CD drives at a suggested $299. Fisher's SLIM-2000 is due in the first half.
GPX: The company's first CD-recorder, the CDR-3500 dual-deck with 2x speed dubbing and brushed-aluminum front panel, could be retailed at an everyday $299 with what the company called a good margin.
Jensen: The CDR-2000, marketed by Spectra, is a 2x dual-well unit with an expected $499 retail. It ships in Q2.
JVC: The company will expand its CD-recorder selection to three from one. A new 3+1 CD-recorder will replace a current model retailing at an everyday $499 but will add 4x CD- recording speed and 4x finalization speed. CD-RW recording is 2x speed. It's due April at an undetermined price.
Another new model is the JVC's first dual-tray model, also with 4x CD-R and 2x CD-RW recording speed. It ships in June at an undetermined price.
The third model is a single-disc minisize model for use with minisystem. It's suggested price is $380, and it's due in June or July.
Marantz: The company's first 3+1 CD-recorder will ship in February. Pricing was unavailable.
Panasonic/Technics: No CD-recorders are planned at CES, but the company called a 2001 introduction "possible."
Philips: The company will stick with 2x dubbing speed in a new dual-well CDR-7000, due in March at an everyday $399, compared with the current model's $449.
Additional recorders were planned for a show introduction.
Sharp: The company's first MiniDisc Long Play (MDLP) product will be a headphone player/recorder, possibly due in the summer and possibly followed by two more units later in the year. Pricing wasn't available.
MDLP will also be demonstrated in two minisystems and a boombox, which will also incorporate Sharp's one-bit amplification technology, previously available only in two two-channel high-end component amps.
At press time, Sharp hadn't decided whether to bring the minisystems and boombox to the United States through SharpVision dealers, but if the company does, the minisystems would be priced at more than $1,000, and the boombox would be about $799.
Sharp will replace its current CD-recorder-equipped two-tower-style shelf system with a new model that will feature a blue fluorescent display rather than green. It will also offer 2x recording speed, and its pricing will be similar to the current model's everyday retail of $299.
Sony: MDLP will appear in a Sony MD portable for the first time after being introduced in a home recorder late last year. The company will also expand its selection of MD portables with PC cable connections, citing the success of previous models so equipped.
Analog PC connections were introduced in 2000 by Sony, and the first digital link appeared last September.
Among seven new portable MD player/recorders at CES, a $179-suggested model will come with analog PC Link, and two will ship with a digital link, starting at a suggested $249 for the MZR- 700, the company's first portable with MDLP technology.
The digital PC link comes with PC software that converts AAC, MP3, WMA and Liquid Audio files to CD audio, which is sent in digital form via USB to a small outboard box that converts the data stream into optical digital Toslink-SP/DIF language.
From there, the data enters the player/recorder's Toslink digital input, and the recorder itself converts the data to MD's ATRAC format.
In the case of the MDLP model, the recorder could also convert the music into ATRAC3, the format used by Sony's flash-memory portables.
Once the digital data stream enters the portables, MD's traditional SCMS (serial copy management system) takes over, per the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act, to prevent digital copying of digital copies.
The analog PC link sends the data in analog form to an MD portable's analog input.
All seven new MD portables are due in May through June.
Teac: A current dual-well CD-recorder will be complemented by the company's first two shelf systems (one mini, one micro) with CD-recording. Details were unavailable.
Yamaha: Its first dual-well, a 2x model, shipped in November at a suggested $599.
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