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MP3 Unseats Headphone CD Via Innovative Products

Here is a company-by-company rundown of many top suppliers’ portable media player introductions that will take place during International CES.

Archos: The company’s next-generation portable media player has morphed into a Linux-based touch screen PDA. The 30GB Pocket Media Assistant PMA340, due in January at a suggested $799, incorporates a Web browser, 802.11b, Ethernet port, “light” personal information manager applications that synchronize with Microsoft Outlook, and USB host for direct connection to other portable USB devices.

Like another Archos portable media player, this one records video directly from a TV, VCR, cable box or satellite receiver; time shifts recording; includes a photo viewer; and plays music.

Current portables with time-shifting video recording are the AV420, featuring 20GB HDD at a suggested $549.95, and the 80GB AV820 at $799.95.

Auvi: The St. Charles, Mo., company will expand its flash-memory selection with its first two to support protected-WMA subscription downloads at launch. Another model is firmware-upgradable to support the subscription DRM.

The 128MB SA125, due last month, uses one AAA battery delivering more than 15 hours of playback time. Pricing was unavailable. The $129-suggested SA350 features 256MB capacity, although Auvi said it could offer it in with higher and lower capacities. Unlike the SA125, it features OLED display, FM radio, voice recording and 10-hour lithium-ion battery. It’s due late February or early March.

The company’s first HDD portable will be available in 20GB and 40GB versions and support protected WMA subscription files. It will likely ship in April. Details were unavailable.

Auvi is an ODM that markets to suppliers such as Emerson and sells direct to consumers on its Web site. It is considering sales of select Auvi-brand products to retailers.

iRiver: The company plans its first 5GB HDD model, which is its third HDD model to display pictures. The new H10 at a suggested $279 features a 1.6-inch color screen, 12-hour replaceable and rechargeable battery, FM tuner and USB 2.0. Other features include touch strip for scrolling and navigation, simpler GUI, and playback of subscription WMA downloads. It’s 3.8 inches by 2.1 inches by 0.6 inches, and it weighs 3.4 ounces.

The current 20GB H320 and 40GB H340 also display pictures.

Lexar:After only about a year in the music portables business, the memory-card manufacturer is expanding its selection of flash-memory portables for a second time.

Two new models, due in the first quarter, include the top-end LDP-800, designed for high-quality audio performance. It will come in two embedded-memory versions: 256MB and 512MB at a suggested $159 and $199, respectively. It features FM transmitter to play music through any radio, a line out for wired connection to an audio system, and SRS WOW 3D technology to widen the sound stage.

The entry-level LDP-200 lacks embedded memory and ships without memory at a suggested $39 or with one of three SD cards: 256MB, 512MB and 1GB at suggested retails of $89, $109 and $149, respectively.

Olympus: One of the imaging company’s first two music portables, due in January, is also a 1.22-megapixel digital camera. Both models in the m:robe series are the first music portables with touchscreen control. Both play MP3 and purchased WMA files.

In March, Olympus will offer an upgrade to support WMA subscription-based downloads.

The 20GB MR-500i, due at an expected everyday $499, features a 3.7-inch color 640 by 480 VGA touch screen that doubles as a viewfinder, and wired remote with two-line LCD display. Menu navigation is via touch screen. Users also tap on the screen rather than press a shutter button to take a picture. A recharging/synchronization cradle recharges the lithium ion battery in three hours to deliver eight hours of music playback. It can also be charged in eight hours via a USB 2.0 cable. It weighs 7.4-ounces and is 2.89 inches by 4.3 inches by 0.83 inches.

The 5GB MR-100, at an estimated everyday $249, is more compact at 3.5 inches by 2 inches by 0.6 inches. It weighs 3.5 ounces and features 1.7-inch monochrome touch screen display, USB 2.0 and 12-hour battery with the same recharging time as the 20GB model.

Panasonic: In expanding its E Wear selection of flash portables to six SKUs from four, the company will support DRM-protected WMA a la carte downloads for the first time, excluding protected subscription-based WMA downloads. The company is also doubling battery life to 18 hours on one AAA alkaline. Another new feature is MP3 Remaster, which restores lost frequencies at the high and low ends. All feature embedded 256MB or 512MB memory. The company is dropping 128MB and offering 512MB for the first time.

They six are due in February and March and will be followed in the summer with a new model marking the company’s return to removable memory and the AAC codec.

Among E Wear models, the MP series with armband consists of the 256MB SV-MP110V at a suggested $119 and the 256MB SV-MP120V at $169. They feature FM tuner/record, voice recorder, USB 2.0, and non-music file storage. The Shockwave sports series consists of two water-resistant models, the $139-suggested 256MB SV-SW110V and $189 512MB SV-SW120V. They feature FM tuner without recording, lap counter, armband, and belt clip. They will be available in silver or blue.

An unnamed (at press time) matchbox-size block-style series features the company’s first two flash models with rechargeable battery, which is user-replaceable and lasts 12 hours. They will come with lanyard, FM tuner/record, voice recorder, and ability to recharge through the USB 2.0 or AC adapter. They are the 256MB SV-MP710V at a suggested $149 and the 512MB SV-MP720V at $199.

The planned model with removable SD memory is the SC-SD110V, which lacks embedded memory but is “infinitely upgradable,” said product manager Yong Lee referring to emerging high-capacity memory cards. The capacity of the included card hadn’t been decided at press time, but it might be 1GB, Lee said. However, Panasonic will make a 2GB SD card available in 2005, she noted. The portable will play MP3, AAC, and protected WMA downloads, excluding subscription-based WMA downloads. It will also be Panasonic’s first flash model with color OEL display.

In 2005, the company will continue to offer its current D Snap line of flash-based audio/video portables, the SVAV25 and SVAV50 at a suggested $299 and $399, respectively. HDD music portables aren’t planned for 2005.

Rave:The Go Video brand plans to announce higher capacity flash-memory and HDD models at CES following its reentry into the market last August.

The brand’s two flash-memory SKUs offer 128MB and 256MB capacities. Two HDD SKUs are 2.5GB and 5GB models.

All flash-memory and HDD models feature FM tuner, FM recorder, voice recorder, five-band EQ, USB 2.0, MP3, and protected WMA subscription files. The HDD models are priced at an everyday $199 for the 2.5GB model and an everyday $249 for the 5GB version.

Rio: The company will expand its line of HDD portables with two additions, including a 2.5GB model.

The 2.5GB CE2100 features the design of the 5GB Carbon but lacks voice recording, comes in black, and retails for a suggested $199.

The $249-suggested 5GB Carbon, launched last year in silver, will also be available in pearl. All features are the same, including 0.8-inch Seagate HDD and an embedded lithium battery conservatively rated to deliver 20 hours of use.

A downloadable firmware upgrade, enabling all the Carbon and CE21000 to play protected WMA-subscription files, will be available in the first quarter.

Current HDD models remain in the line, including the 1.5GB Nitrus at $169 and the 20GB Karma at $299. The latter adds playback of open-source Ogg Vorbis files and lossless Flac files.

Samsung: Nine new SKUs include the company’s first two 1GB flash-memory models, its first 5GB HDD model, and a second-generation HDD A/V player based on Microsoft’s Portable Media Center platform. All models play MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and WMA files protected by Microsoft’s DRM for paid-for and subscription downloads. All models, including flash-memory models, feature MP3 encoder.

One of the industry’s first flash-memory music portables to store and display digital images is the YP-T7, available in 512MB and 1GB versions. It features a color LCD to display stored JPEG images, including album art.

Other features include FM tuner and recorder, voice recorder, 12-hour rechargeable battery, clock function to program FM recording, and 65K color display. It ships in January at MAPs of $149 and $199.

Another flash model, the YP-MT6, is available in 256MB, 512MB, and 1GB versions at MAPs of $99, $129, and $179. It features FM tuner/recorder, voice recorder, and 45 hours of operating time on one AA battery. It’s due in January.

The company’s first 5GB HDD model, the $229-MAP YH-820 with 1-inch HDD, is due in January. It features 1.6-inch 65K-color LCD screen, jpeg viewer, voice recorder, USB 2.0 and USB OTG, and rechargeable lithium-ion battery

Another HDD model, the YH-925, comes in 20GB and 30GB versions at MAPs of $299 and $349, respectively. They come with jpeg viewer, 260K color LCD screen, 1.8-inch HDD, USB 2.0, and USB OTG. A ship date was unavailable.

Samsung also offers an A/V HDD based on the Microsoft Portable Media Center (PMC) platform. It’s the $499-MAP YH-999.

Sherwood: In expanding its young selection of MP3 portables, the company will launch a 256MB flash model and the PHF-200 portable media player with 20GB HDD, MPEG-4 playback, audio playback, and 2.2-inch LCD screen. It’s the company’s first AV HDD portable, and it records off a TV or stores video transferred from a PC. Additional details were unavailable.

Toshiba: Inspired by what it called unexpected demand for high-capacity HDD music portables, Toshiba is reentering the MP3 portable market with a family of HDD models that also store and display jpeg images. The company said it wants to become a major player in the segment and will promote its products with major advertising and promotional programs. .

The Gigabeat series comprises four models with 2.2-inch color LCD screens with 240×320 pixel resolution. The 10GB MEGF10 and 20GB MEGF20 ship in March at MAPs of $299 and $349, respectively. Second-quarter shipments are planned for the $449 40GB MEGF40 and $549 60GB EGF60. Additional models are due later in the year.

The models play MP3 and protected WMA files, including subscription-based WMA downloads.

With an included docking cradle called Rip Rack, users can rip a CD directly from the PC’s CD drive without using a separate software program.

X2:The Irvine, Calif., startup is entering the U.S. market with a variety of CE products, including MP3 portables, portable media players, LCD TVs, notebook computers, and PCs. It sources from Taiwan’s Micro-Star International (MSI) and will offer retailers and etailers the option of stocking no inventory on select items and delivering a customized product within days.

In flash-memory audio portables, the company plans to show three flash-memory series: the Mega Player 521 Sports, Mega Stick 520 , and Mega Player 522. Models will be available in capacities of 256MB, 512MB, and 1GB. All play MP3 and protected-WMA files, including rented downloads. They store data files and feature voice recorder, FM tuner, and USB 2.0.

The water-resistant 521 Sports series features OLED screen stopwatch, pedometer, SRS WOW 3D surround, and 20-hour lithium-ion battery. It will retail for $149 with 512MB and $199 with 1GB embedded memory. The Mega Stick 520 is a USB-drive model with USB 2.0, LED flashlight, voice recorder, and FM tuner/record, SRS WOW 3S, and three capacities: 256MB at $89, 512MB at $119, and 1GB at $169. The Mega Series 522 will offer dual headphone support.

The 8.4-ounce Mega View HDD portable media player features 20GB HDD that plays MP3 and protected WMA files, stores images in four formats for viewing on its 5-inch TFT LCD screen, and stores and plays MPEG-4 and DivX video. It also features FM tuner, voice recorder, and expected price of less than $400.

All portables were due in December or January.