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LAS VEGAS -Continuing the tradition of car electronics following the home, car audio went computer happy at CES with about a half-dozen suppliers showing prototypes of head units with hard drives (for storing hundreds of songs), or with Memory Stick (for transferring songs between home and car).
Delphi, in conjunction with 3M, even showed a prototype head unit with a wireless network card, so when the car enters the garage it can synchronize songs or files with the home PC.
Suppliers at CES called the "computerization" of the head unit a natural development, because both Memory Stick and mass storage require no moving parts and consumers want to play music from their home PC in their cars.
Explained Clarion executive VP sales and marketing David Black, "It's what the customer wants. The 16- to 21-year-olds are downloading, and we have to provide them the hardware devices they want."
Sony showed a DIN-sized DJ Bank that rips (records) and stores more than 100 CDs on a 6GB hard drive. The unit can record a CD while the driver is listening to it. The DJ Bank was displayed at CES as a CD receiver with an outboard hard disk drive, but Sony will offer it in the future as an integrated unit with the ability to rip discs in four minutes, a spokesman said.
Sony also unveiled four prototype Memory Stick products. (Memory Stick is Sony's mini-IC digital storage media format for removable storage, which is being adopted by other companies, as well.)
The new Memory Stick products include a mock-up of a 10 Memory Stick changer; a working prototype of a double-DIN CD/ MD/Memory Stick unit that plays back images, as well as music, when connected to a monitor; and a mock-up of an in-dash single-CD player with a slot for Memory Stick.
Also on display was a mini Memory Stick player designed to attach to the car's visor. No pricing or shipping was available.
Pioneer unveiled a mock-up of a mass-storage CD head unit with a slot for Memory Stick. Called the HDD-DEH, it is a CD receiver with built-in 9GB to 16GB hard drive for storing up to 1,500 songs. The HDD-DEH is SDMI compliant and can record directly from radio, SDAR, CD or CD-R. It stores songs to the hard disk using ATRAC 3 technology and can play back MP3 files (although it cannot record from MP3-encoded discs). Plans for delivery have not been revealed.
Delphi showed a working prototype of a standard Delco head unit with a slot for Memory Stick to play back MP3 files, as well as a CD/CD-R-based MP3 unit.
In addition, in conjunction with 3Com, Delphi showed a head unit that can connect wirelessly to an IEEE 802.11 wireless home network. With the head unit, users can wirelessly download music or information from a home PC or laptop (equipped with an 802.11 network card) to the head unit up to 100 meters away from the computer, for example, when parked in the garage.
Clarion and Visteon showed "MP3 changers" using a new system from Los Angeles-based PhatNoise. A PhatNoise player resembles a CD changer, but it uses cartridges (not CDs) to store up to 4,000 MP3- or WMA-encoded songs.
The player plugs into a CD changer connection and can mount anywhere in the car. It comes with a PC docking cradle that connects to a PC by a USB connection, so users can download songs from their PC or laptop to a cartridge and then play the cartridges back in the car. The system is designed to offer numerous search and access modes.
Clarion's version, the MP5000z, will plug into any of the company's CeNet products. Although there are no immediate plans for shipping, Clarion is targeting a price tag of approximately $500.
Visteon's model is called the Mach MP3 Jukebox and will be available in the third quarter.
Alpine showed several computer-related devices for its navigation system, including a Memory Stick unit and a unit that can accept data from a Palm Pilot (see navigation story, p. 40).
According to Todd Van Zandt, manager of product promotion, Alpine is "looking at using Memory Stick for a lot of different uses in future products."
DataPlay is marketing a new form of 500MB optical write-once discs that are about the size of a postage stamp and showed a working prototype of a car audio/video system that plays back the miniature discs. The system can play MP3 music and send images from the disc to a rear-seat entertainment system.
ST Micro is producing chips for the device, which is expected to be available in a read/write format to record files in the future.
DataPlay's 500MB discs are expected to be available this fall and have been widely adopted by approximately 55 vendors that showed products or concept products at CES, some of which will be delivered later this year.
The first products using DataPlay discs are expected to be digital cameras and portable music players, but other products, including PDAs and car audio, may follow.
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