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RCA Prepares For Mainstream MP3

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 director of advanced audio/video business development.

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.

The software automatically generates playlists, making it unnecessary for consumers to manually select 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 acoustic characteristics. Each playlist, automatically identified by the name of the artist whose songs appear in it most often, consists of about 20 songs and is transferable 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, RCA dropped plans this year for a 2GB HDD music player this year at a suggested $229, citing the January launch by Apple of the 4GB iPod Mini at an everyday $249.

The company has also firmed up the specifications and pricing of its RTD500 HDD-equipped Home Theater Music Jukebox, a DVD-equipped HTiB with 40GB HDD for music storage at a suggested $549.