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Sony Expands Internet Audio Plans

Sony went to CES with expanded plans for Internet audio portables in 2000.

The company announced plans for a third SDMI-compliant solid-state portable, this one sporting only embedded memory and no slots for removable memory cards.

In addition, Sony consumer products president Fujio Nishida said sister company Sony Music will authorize Internet downloads of its songs in the first quarter, but neither he nor other Sony executives revealed details.

Instead, Sony provided details of its third portable, the $329-suggested-retail Network Walkman, due in March with 64MB of embedded memory. It offers most of the same features as the $399-suggested Memory Stick Walkman but uses a single AAA battery rather than embedded rechargeable lithium-ion battery to extend battery life to five hours from the lithium’s two. In addition, the Network Walkman features only embedded memory to reduce the cost for users who don’t need removable memory, said Ron Boire, senior VP of personal audio.

As previously announced, another Sony solid-state portable, the Music Clip, is due this month at a suggested $299.

Sony also revised downward the planned prices on Music Sticks incorporating MagicGate copy-protection technology. The 64MB version will retail for a suggested $159, down from a previously announced $199. The 32MB card will be $99, down from $129. Both ship in January and are priced higher than non-MagicGate Memory Sticks, which can’t be played in Sony’s solid-state portables. A 64MB non-MagicGate card, for example, retails for a suggested $139.

Sony also announced a timetable for expanding its devices’ support for additional compression formats besides MP3 and Sony’s own ATRAC3. The company will phase in Microsoft Windows Media Audio, Liquid Audio, Read Audio, and IBM’s EMMS codecs and Intertrust’s digital rights management technology as a running change, and free software downloads from the Web will be available, said Boire. Sony’s target is to support these codecs in 2000 but not offer them until the company makes sure its implementations of the codecs sound good, he said.

Sony doesn’t plan in 2000 to incorporate flash memory or Internet audio codecs in shelf systems or component CD players because it wants to wait until SDMI develops a specification for these devices, Boire said.