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Home, Portable Audio Continue To Strengthen PC Ties

The saga of PC-centric home-audio and portable-audio industries continued to unfold in recent days as more companies entered the flash-memory and HDD music-portable markets.

Also in recent days, more companies introduced HDD portables that store video as well as audio, and other companies unveiled their first Microsoft Media Center Extenders. These “digital receivers” stream music, images and video wirelessly from XP-compatible PCs to TVs and home stereos.

Other companies announced the first digital-music receivers that support Windows Media Connect and WMP 10’s Janus DRM, enabling them to stream purchased WMA-format songs and subscription-based WMA downloads, respectively, to home stereo systems.

(See stories below and at right for details of company launches.)

The latest chapters in the PC-centric entertainment saga include the launches of:

  • the first music portables from Olympus and Roc Digital and an expanded selection from SanDisk, which entered the market in January. They join compressed-music portables available from at least 70 companies in the United States, according to one supplier.
  • Virgin’s first HDD music portable.
  • a 1GB flash-memory music portable from SanDisk, joining a 1GB flash model from iRiver.
  • an Archos portable said to be the industry’s smallest 20GB HDD model.
  • more 20GB HDD portables at a suggested $249 or less. They’re from Archos and Dell.
  • more music portables that support Microsoft Media Player 10, whose Janus DRM “un-tethers” subscription-based music downloads from a PC for playback on compatible portables and home digital receivers. Dell, Gateway, Roc Digital, Virgin and San Disk introduced their first such models, joining iRiver. Olympus’s first portables will either include the WMP 10 Janus DRM at launch or get a firmware upgrade shortly thereafter.
  • the launch of some of the first portable media players based on Microsoft’s Portable Media Center (PMC) platform, a PC-centric platform that plays music and video transferred from XP-based PCs and XP Media Center Edition PCs. PMCs play video natively only in Windows Media Video (WMV) and photo story (ASF) formats. In audio, they natively play MP3, WMA and protected-WMA formats. PMCs also support the WMP 10 Janus DRM.

To play other types of audio and video files on their PMCs, consumers use their PMC computer software to transcode files while they are transferring them to a PMC, Microsoft said. Transcoding slows down the transfer process, suppliers said.

More than 1 million protected-WMA songs are available for downloading from about 60 sites, and protected-WMV files are available for download from online movie site CinemaNow at, and Major League Baseball’s Microsoft said. PMCs also play TV shows recorded by compatible PCs.