By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Here's a model-by-model outline of what dealers found in solid-state and MP3-CD portables and in traditional portable audio products:
Aiwa: The company's first 3-inch MP3-CD portable is the XP-Z3C, due in January at an everyday $199, which includes five blank CD-Rs and a car kit.
In other portable introductions, Aiwa added a TV band and weather band for the first time to AM/FM-equipped CD portables. Two models will be shown. Also new: a combination digital voice recorder/0.3-megapixel digital still camera with 16MB built-in flash memory.
Audiovox: The company reentered the solid-state market after a lapse of about six months with three models, one of which is its first multicodec model. It's the $189-suggested MP2164, which ships tentatively in early May with MP3 and WMA and is firmware-upgradeable. It comes with 64MB embedded memory, Smart Media slot, USB, and voice recorder. It might ship with AAC support, too.
Two new MP3-only portables feature USB, embedded 64MB and Smart Media slot. The $149-suggested MP1164 was to ship last month with one-line display; the $165-list MP2000, tentatively due early May, adds three-line display.
Bantam Interactive: The St. Louis startup will launch the Explor BA350 and BA800, near-credit-card-size Internet audio portable with 128MB of embedded memory and slot for an MMC memory card.
The company claims it is the industry's smallest, lightest and slimmest 128MB Internet audio portable.
The 3x2x0.66-inch BA350 includes built-in lithium-ion battery to deliver more than 12 hours of play-back time.
The introductory price is a suggested $199, and it has been available online at www.bantamusa.com. The company is also looking for retail distribution.
The BA350 ships with MP3/WMA codec playback but can be upgraded to add additional formats. The product comes equipped with pre-installed 128MB memory.
The BA800 adds 1.8-inch color LCD screen to view stored digital images. Price was unavailable.
GPX: To go with its current MP3-CD portable, the company launched its first MP3-CD boombox, due in the second quarter with a likely $99 everyday retail.
Panasonic: Besides launching traditional headphone CD players, the company introduced a palm-size combination product, the youth-oriented SV-AV10, which combines solid-state music player, voice recorder, digital still camera, and digital video camera at a suggested minimum $399. It ships under the E Wear wearable-electronics series in March with 64MB of removable SD memory.
"We'll market it to 16- to 24-year-olds to carry with them every day to capture everyday life," said marketing manager Jim Kiczek. "We're not trying to compete against traditional still cameras and digital video cameras in picture quality," he added.
The supplied 64MB memory card will be able to store an hour of MPEG-4 full-motion video or a "couple hundred" MPEG-4 still photos, he said. The video can be viewed through a 2-inch LCD screen or dumped onto a PC via supplied software, which also enables e-mailing of still pictures. On the audio side, it plays back MP3 and AAC.
To go with the device, Panasonic plans March shipments of an SD microprinter at a suggested minimum $199. Pop an SD card in, and the printer prints out pictures on sheets smaller than a business card.
The company plans no hard-drive portables or 3-inch MP3-CD players in 2002 but will launch two new MP3-CD portables, which won't be displayed at CES. The company's first MP3-CD portable shipped in October at a suggested minimum $129.
In traditional portables, the company redesigned its Shockwave portables with a more youth-oriented design and packaging. Three models include a CD portable due April at a suggested minimum $89 with 48-second memory buffer (up from 40), CD-R/RW compatibility, and 40-hour playback time on two AA alkalines. The other two products are a headphone AM/FM/cassette at $49 and $49 AM/FM radio with belt slip and lanyard. All models come in three colors.
The Ultra Thin line of headphone CD will also be upgraded to add 48-second buffer across the line and increased play-back time to a minimum 40 hours on two AA alkaline batteries, up from 35 hours. Two models, however, will offer 65 and 100 hours, up from 50 and 85 hours, respectively, through two flat NiMH batteries combined with two-AA battery pack. The 100-hour model, the SL-CT760, will retail for a suggested minimum of $149.
Philips: The company's first dual-media solid-state portable, the SA-220, ships in June at a tentative suggested $199 with 64MB embedded memory and slot that accepts MMC cards and, for the first time from Philips, smaller SD cards. The MP3-only player features programmable processor to support additional codecs. It features FM tuner and six-hour voice recorder.
The second new model, the SA-205 due in March at a tentative suggested $179, is an MP3-only player with programmable processor, six-hour voice recorder, 64MB embedded memory, and no expansion slot.
An mp3PRO upgrade will be available on the company's Web site in the third quarter of 2002.
In MP3-CD, the company will change the look and price of its current 3-inch model, renaming it the EXP-411 and reducing the price to an everyday $119 from a current $149 (itself down from $179 when shipped in November).
Like the 411, the company's second 3-inch model, the slimmer EXP-431, will also play back MP3 and AAC and feature UDF compatibility for drag-and-drop use with market-share-leading Roxio music-burner software. It's targeted to ship in July at a targeted everyday $169. The 431, however, might not be displayed at CES.
The 431 is upgradable, so users will be able to take advantage of Philips's planned mp3PRO upgrade. Users will download the upgrade, burn it to a CD, and upgrade the portable's firmware by playing the CD inside the portable.
A 5-inch MP3-CD portable, the Photo eXpanium, will likely ship in May at an everyday $199. It plays MP3-CDs, Kodak Picture CDs, and jpeg CDs. Through an IR remote and on-screen menu, users can view and edit their Picture CD pictures. "If you burn a JPEG and MP3 files with the same title, you can listen to the song while viewing the picture on TV," said portable marketing director Daan Renssen.
Samsung: Two new solid-state portables due in the first quarter are the company's first to support multiple codecs (MP3, WMA, AAC), one of which is also the company's first firmware-upgradeable model. The company is also expanding its MP3-CD selection to three models from one in the first quarter.
The $229-suggested non-upgradeable YP-700H at a suggested $229 features 128MB of embedded memory, no expansion slot, FM tuner, voice recorder and a proprietary technology that doubles the compression of the supported codecs without a loss of fidelity, claimed marketing manager Russell Bleeker. "We're working in conjunction with Microsoft," he said.
The upgradable $179-suggested YP-90S comes with 64MB embedded memory, FM tuner, and no expansion slot. Both models are PC- and Mac-compatible and support the WMA and Intertrust DRMs and Samsung's proprietary copy-protection features.
Two of three new MP3-CDs are Samsung's first to support WMA and MP3. They are the $129-suggested MCD-MP75, due in February, and the 3/4-inch-thick MP95, due March at a suggested $169. The MP3-only MP60 due in January at a suggested $99 will replace a current model.
Spectra: Marketing under the Jensen name, the company will expand CD-R/RW compatibility to all new headphone CDs and expand its headphone MP3-CD selection to three from one.
TDK: The company is expanding its Mojo lineup of MP3-CD portables with three models, including its first 3-inch MP3-CD portable. Unlike their single predecessor, they play WMA files as well as MP3.
The first of the trio, the Mojo 620, is due January at an expected everyday $149. The high-value 740 is due in Q2, and the 3-inch Mojo 88 is due Q3. Prices on the two haven't been announced.
All play for 10 hours on two AA batteries, thanks to power-management circuitry that fills an antishock memory buffer with eight minutes of music, then pauses the CD mechanism to conserve energy. All display artist name, song titles, album titles, and musical genre for easy navigation. They also offer on-the-go playlist creation.
Zenith: The company's first solid-state portable supporting multiple codecs is the MPH244, which is also its first programmable model. The MPH244 is due late in the first quarter with embedded 64MB memory, MMC expansion slot and voice recorder. It's smaller then its predecessor and delivers eight play-back hours on two AA alkaline batteries. Additional details and price were unavailable.
No MP3-CD portables are planned in 2002.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.