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Thomson Preparing For Mainstream MP3 Market

New York — It will take more than lower prices, higher storage capacities, and an expanded selection of easy-to-use authorized download services to move compressed-music portables into the consumer mainstream, said Rich Phipps, Thomson’s advanced audio/video business development director.

The “next battleground” for marketers is ease of use, he claimed. “Household penetration rates are still in the single digits.” Even among college students, “it’s not mass market yet,” he said.

As the market matures, the potential customer base will be “less tolerant” of product complexity than early adopters, who were willing to “tolerate a lot,” he warned.

With a broader market segment in mind, Thomson has developed new features to simplify the use of new and existing HDD-equipped Lyra music and A/V jukeboxes. The most significant feature, Phipps said, is automatic playlist generation, a feature in a new PC-based software program called Lyra DJ. Consumers use it to automatically generate playlists without manually selecting songs from among the hundreds or thousands that might reside on their PC’s HDD.

Each playlist consists of similar types of songs determined by the software program to be similar in tempo, rhythm, orchestration, and other characteristics. The playlist is automatically identified by the name of the artist whose songs appear most often in it. Each playlist, consisting of about 20 songs, is transferable from the PC to Thomson’s RCA-brand Lyra HDD portables.

Lyra DJ software will ship with the new 20GB $349-suggested RD2850 in May and the 40GB $449-suggested RD2854 in the summer. The application is also available as a free download for use with the company’s current and previous generations of HDD portables, including the RCA Audio/Video Jukebox, available since late 2003.

The $449-suggested A/V Jukebox, which stores 20GB of audio and video, is also the recipient of new ease-of-use features, including a video bookmarking feature that lets users access favorite movie or home-video scenes at the touch of a button. Another addition is video indexing, enabling users to skip forward and backward in 30-second or 15-minute intervals. Other additions: an onscreen keyboard, which lets users name files without using their PC, and a tile mode to display thumbnails of digital images.

In other developments:

  • Thomson reiterated plans to support the Windows Media Audio DRM (digital rights management) technology. The DRM will be available in the two new HDD portables and two new flash-memory portables and as a downloadable upgrade for three current-generation flash-memory portables. The upgrade enables the portables to play authorized WMA downloads from sites such as and Napster.
  • Thomson has no current plans to support Microsoft’s Portable Media Center (PMC) platform for HDD-equipped A/V portables. The Microsoft platform, Phipps said, is compatible only with Windows XP PCs, while RCA’s A/V Jukebox is compatible with any USB-equipped Windows PC, he said. On top of that, PMC portables don’t incorporate built-in video encoder, requiring users to transfer encoded video from a PC. The A/V Jukebox, on the other hand, can record programs directly from a TV, or home movies directly from a VCR or DVD player.