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Sony Plans HDD Music Portables In U.S.

Sony plans to offer hard-disk-drive (HDD) music portables in the United States, “probably this fall,” under the Vaio and Walkman brands, Sony Electronics’ U.S. president Dick Komiyama told TWICE.

The launch would follow June shipments in Japan of Sony’s first-ever HDD music portable, a 20GB model selling at less than $500 with a new type of touch-sensitive user interface called G-Sense. It consists of a panel of bumps arrayed in a grid pattern. Sliding a finger over the bumps moves a cursor on the device’s LCD screen.

Komiyama did not specify the features of the U.S.-targeted products, but the 6.8-ounce Japan product features 2.2-inch QVGA color LCD, the ability to display picture files, and an embedded rechargeable battery delivering 20 hours of operation. It stores music in Sony’s ATRAC3 and ATRAC3Plus codecs, which are used by Sony’s authorized download service and are currently playable only on select Sony portables in the U.S. Komiyama stressed, however, that Sony’s codecs are available to other manufacturers to adopt. PC software supplied with the Japan model converts WAV, MP3 and WMA files to the ATRAC codecs.

Sometime after the music-portable launch, Sony plans U.S. availability of an HDD-based portable A/V player that will store and play music and video, including PC-recorded TV programs transferred from a PC. During a press event here, Sony showed a prototype of such a player, which features G-Sense user controls, color LCD, wireless connection to a PC to transfer files, and a wireless TV attachment that permits wireless playback of stored content on a TV. The device also connected to a broadband Internet connection for mobile Web browsing in a home or in a public Wi-Fi Hot Spot.

In the U.S. Hi-MD portables are available under the Walkman brand, but Hi-MD isn’t planned under the Vaio name in the U.S., said Seishi Hirao, a product planner based in Japan.

With the HDD launch, Sony will offer compressed-music portables in disc-based Hi-MD, disc-based NetMD, CD, flash-memory and HDD formats. Some consumers will prefer the mass storage of a HDD, but others will prefer the lower power consumption of disc-based portables and the flexibility of sharing discs with friends, they have said. Hi-MD portables deliver up to 30 hours of operation on a single AA battery.