Hard-Drive Audio Recorders Proliferate

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A handful of companies went to CES to demonstrate hard-drive audio recorders intended to link up with a home A/V system.

The companies included Creative Labs, Lydstrom, Oritron, ReQuest Multimedia and SIMA Products.

SIMA, the Pittsburgh-based accessory and video-editing supplier, unveiled a pair of hard-drive recorders that store music as MP3 files. The audio-component-style device rips songs from a CD playing in an internal CD drive, and its analog inputs and internal A/D converter enable recording from outboard analog sources such as records and tapes.

Songs can be sorted by album and song title, and by artist name. The text is displayed on a front-panel LCD screen or on a connected TV set.

SIMA's two I Mix models will ship in March. The $699-suggested-retail IM-421 features an 8GB hard drive for recording and storing up 139 hours of music encoded at a 128-Kbps data rate.

The 17GB IM-422 adds a one-way laptop-size keyboard, which helps simplify text input, at a suggested $899. It stores 295 hours of music encoded at 128 Kbps. Both models are able to store files in one of six bit rates between 64 Kbps and 1,400 Kbps. The amount of data stored depends on the bit rate.

A USB port enables music-file transfers to select portable Internet audio players supported by I Mix. The port also allows for storing files downloaded from a connected PC.

Start-up ReQuest Multimedia of Troy, N.Y., showed a similar device due on its web site in February at $799. It features a 17.3GB hard drive, built-in CD player, MP3 and Windows Media Audio encoder/decoder, analog inputs and outputs, parallel port, planned USB support to come through a software upgrade, built-in display, and video output to display text on a TV screen.

It will ship with the protocols (or drivers) needed to transfer files to Diamond Multimedia's Rio 300 portable, said ReQuest Multimedia's CEO Steve Vasquez. Support for additional portables and codecs are planned.

Availability on the company's web site was delayed from late last year because of component shortages. Retail distribution is targeted for midyear.

At a hotel suite, Chinese supplier Oritron demonstrated the Digital JukeBox, developed for it by Hong Kong-based Perception Digital. The device features a hard drive, CD player, and MP3 encoder/decoder to enable users to archive their discs on a hard drive and sort through them for playback by album or song name, artist name or music category.

The JukeBox would come with two-way RF remote incorporating QWERTY keypad to simplify title input. Names and titles appear on the remote's display and on the device's front-panel display. Ripping speed is 7x.

The company plans to incorporate the ability to download music from the Web, perhaps through a PC connection or through an internal modem. It will also feature connections to transfer music from the hard drive to select solid-state portables.

For its part, Rioport.com went to CES looking for a manufacturing partner to build a product shown in mockup form: the RioRack 2000 Home Network Music Center.

The A/V-component-style device, which would incorporate the company's Rio Audio Manager software, would download music from the Web for storage on an internal hard drive. It would also rip songs from CDs spinning in its internal CD player. Compact Flash and Smart Media slots would allow the transfer of music to portable solid-state players.

In a related development, Rioport said it plans first-quarter shipments of the 3.0 version of its Rio Audio Manager software, which adds streaming audio capability. It incorporates Intertrust's Metatrust digital-rights-management technology, which provides for secure downloads and transactions. The software, for example, enables users to e-mail a downloaded music file to a friend, but the e-mailed file can't be played back until the recipient pays for it over the web.

Other hard-drive exhibitors included Lydstrom and Creative Labs.

In a related development, TDK unveiled its first hardware product, the VeloCD CD-ROM drive, which rips CDs at 20x speed and burns CD-R discs at 8x speed (4x speed for CD-RW discs). It ships with PC software that converts Redbook audio tracks into MP3, Windows Media Audio, Liquid Audio, or Wav files. It ships this month at a suggested $349.

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