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Sony Readies Flash Memory, MD Portable Intros

LAS VEGAS -Sony is slimming down its selection of flash-memory portables to three from four, all under the Network Walkman name, but it’s expanding its selection of MiniDisc portables bundled with PCLink interfaces.

In expanding its selection of MD portables with PC cable connections to four from three, the company said it will build on the success of previous models so equipped.

MD portables with PCLinks were first shipped by Sony in 2000, and the first digital link appeared last September.

Among seven new portable MD player/recorders at CES, a $179-suggested model will come with analog PCLink, and two will ship with a digital link starting at a suggested $249 for the MZR- 700, the company’s first portable with MD Long Play technology.

The digital PCLinks come with PC software that converts AAC, MP3, WMA and Liquid Audio to CD audio, which is sent in digital form via USB to a small outboard box that converts the data stream into Toslink-SP/DIF language. From there, it enters the player/recorded Toslink digital input, and the recorder itself converts the data to MD’s ATRAC format.

In the case of the MD LP model, the recorder could also convert the music into MD LP’s ATRAC3 code, which is also used by Sony’s flash-memory portables.

Once a portable begins recording the data stream, MD’s traditional SCMS (serial-copy management system) copy protection takes over, per the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act.

The analog PC link sends the data in analog form to an MD portable’s analog input.

All seven new MD portables are due in May through June.

In flash memory portables, two new models shown at Comdex will be displayed. One is the NW-MS9, which comes with PC software that supports Wav files, MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Sony’s ATRAC3 codec. As with current models, however, non-ATRAC3 files are transcoded to ATRAC3 for transfer to the device itself.

The PC software, which also supports WMA’s DRM, is upgradable to add support for additional codecs and DRMs.

The MS9, due February at a suggested $349, is smaller than the MS7 model that it replaces but keeps its predecessor’s removable rechargeable gum-stick NiMH battery. It measures 3.2 x 1.5 x 0.62 inches and weighs 2.32 ounces. The battery delivers 10 hours of operation. The device ships with removable 64MB MagicGate Memory Stick card.

The second new model, the sports-style pen-shaped NW-S4, plays back MP3, Sony ATRAC3 and WMA codecs in native form, and supplied PC software transcodes Wav and Liquid Audio files to ATRAC3 for playback on the device. The software, which also supports WMA’s DRM, is upgradable to add support for additional codecs and DRMs, but the device itself isn’t upgradable to play back additional codecs in native form.

The S4 is equipped with 64MB embedded memory (no removable memory), single AA-battery operation and an arm strap. It weighs 2.1 ounces and measures 5.2 x 1.1 x 1 inches. It’s due in March or April at an expected suggested $299.

Sony will carry over the MW-E3 with 64MB of embedded memory and no memory card slots. Its suggested retail dropped last month to $269 from $299.