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Upbeat News For Portable Downloads

Consumers interested in renting rather than owning music have more options as a result of initiatives announced by Yahoo, Archos and iRiver.

Yahoo launched the industry’s third major portable music-subscription service. To play back the downloads through headphone portables, Archos launched its first two portables with out-of-the-box support for portable subscription downloads. And iRiver expanded its selection of compatible portables to five from two.

In its announcement, Santa Monica, Calif.-based Yahoo said it has begun offering a portable music subscription service in beta form at $4.99/month with the purchase of an annual subscription or $6.99/month with monthly payments.

The Yahoo!Music Unlimited service is the third major portable subscription service following launches earlier this year by Napster and RealNetworks, but Yahoo’s services is the least expensive. The others cost $14.95/month. All three offer more than 1 million songs.

For its part, Irvine, Calif.-based Archos unveiled its first two new portable entertainment devices with out-of-the-box support for portable subscription downloads. One device is the Gmini XS 100 music portable, the company’s first 3GB HDD portable. It’s available at retail in June at a suggested $179. The other portable is the AV 700 portable media player (PMP), which also supports subscription audio and video downloads and will be available in May in two versions: the $599-suggested 20GB model and the $799 100GB version. Each version features Archos’ largest color LCD screen, a 7-inch 16:9 screen that is rare in the field of HDD-equipped A/V portables.

Both Archos devices use Microsoft’s Janus subscription-download technology, which allows video and audio to be played on battery-powered portables for as along as a subscription fee is paid. A Janus firmware upgrade for the AV 420 PMP became available in early May.

The AV 700, dubbed a “mobile digital video recorder, is Archos’ third-generation PMP with ability to time-shift video from a connected TV. It also records from the analog outputs of a connected DVD player and VCR. For copyright protection, the device incorporates a new Macrovision technology that locks the content of most prerecorded DVD-Video discs to the unit’s HDD. The technology prevents copying and prevents the unit’s analog outputs from displaying the video on a connected TV screen.

Feldman sees multiple markets for PMPs, including mass-transit commuters, a replacement for drop-down DVD players in vehicles, and a replacement for portable DVD players. PMPs make it unnecessary to carry around a lot of CDs or DVDs and makes DVRs portable for the first time, he said.

Another hardware supplier, iRiver, already offered two Janus-compliant portables — the PMC-120 portable media player and the $249-everyday 5GB H10 music portable before it recently launched 1GB, 6 GB and 20GB versions of the H10 at everyday retails of $229, $279 and $299, respectively. All are shipping but the 1GB H10, which is due in June.

The Archos H10 series features FM tuner, FM and voice recorder, JPEG viewer and display of TXT files. The H10 is the only flash-memory model in the lot.