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MP3 Portables To Time-Shift XM Programs

Ridgefield Park, N.J. — Samsung became the first supplier to announce plans for headphone MP3 players that time-shift satellite-radio programming when docked with included satellite-radio tuners for the home or car.

Two Samsung MP3 portables, due in the fall, will incorporate flash memory that also stores MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WMA) music files. Both models will let users create custom playlists that mix user-selected XM songs with MP3 and WMA files. Pricing and memory capacity in megabytes weren’t disclosed, but one model will store 25 hours of XM programming, or about 350 songs, and the other will store 50 hours, or about 750 songs, XM said.

The Samsung models will ship with a home or car-docking station and an integrated Connect-and-Play tuner/antenna. The Samsung portables’ user interface will control the tuner to select real-time broadcasts and to time-shift like a VCR. The home docking station will connect to any home stereo, and the car-docking station will transmit programming wirelessly to a car stereo system.

Dealers selling the Samsung models will get an activation commission from XM.

The Samsung models differ significantly from XM To Go headphone portables available from Delphi, Pioneer and Tao and from Sirius headphone portables announced by Xact. Those headphone portables incorporate satellite-radio tuners that receive the satellite companies’ broadcasts in real time. They also incorporate flash memory to time-shift programming for playback in no-signal locations.

XM is targeting two potential customer types. The first includes satellite-radio fans who want to listen to satellite programming wherever they are, even if they’re in a subway or other blocked-signal location, said Dan Murphy, XM’s product marketing and distribution senior VP. The other is potential MP3 users who want to avoid a PC’s complexity or don’t have the time to rip their own songs or download them from the Internet. “The market potential is therefore bigger,” Murphy said.

Because XM’s compression technology is “an open format,” Murphy noted, other companies could join Samsung in offering similar MP3 portables. Nonetheless, he said, “There’s a strong potential that Samsung will be the only ones out there this year [with an XM MP3 portable].”

For awhile, then, Samsung could be alone in offering satellite-radio margins on an MP3 product. Margins on MP3 portables range from 15 to 25 points, whereas margins on XM Plug and Play tuners and docking stations and XM To Go headphone portables offer 25 to 30 points, before activation commission.