By Richard Menta 5/30/04
Recently Creative announced that it was releasing a jukebox video unit this fall that will play MPEG-4 video files (ala Microsoft's Windows Media) as well as digital music. Now Sony has announced a similar offering, a portable video/audio jukebox player that hopes to both answer the success of Archos who invented this type of portable and the Apple iPod, which to date still only offers an audio portable.
Archos proved there was a market for this type of portable and has owned it for nearly two years. It took that long for other manufacturers to confirm if Archos' gamble would pay off and, when it did, to then start the process of designing, testing and bringing a competing unit to market.
Over the last two years the trading of movies and television shows online has increased dramatically. Meanwhile the Apple iPod has become the dominant player in the portable music arena, a segment Sony once owned before the fall of the cassette and the rise of MP3. Such an offering allows Sony to re-establish itself to the MP3 audience it entered back in 2000, failed in, and then left until this year.
The Sony HMP-A1 will enter the Japanese market in June and will follow into the US market shortly thereafter. A sign of how serious Sony is with this portable, it will be their first to play MP3 files.
The biggest reason that Sony's previous digital music portables failed is that they did not play MP3 at all. Instead, Sony's first offerings only played music in their proprietary ATRAC3 format, an MP3 competitor. Unfortunately, Sony sold the units with a big MP3 plastered on each player's box, suggesting they were MP3 portables. The units played your MP3's according to Sony. You just had to first transcode (convert) each individual music file into the ATRAC3 codec first.
Consumers who bought those first players were furious about this and returned them in droves. Word got out and these players, which were otherwise pretty good, disappeared from store shelves..
Now Sony is back to challenge this market again. The new HMP-A1 supports MP3 for the simple reason in that it is what the consumer wants and is necessary for any player's success.
Like Creative's new portable, the Zen Portable Media Player, the Sony HMP-A1 has a 20 GB hard drive and utilizes Windows Media Video to play MPEG-4 files. The Sony HMP-A1 supports only JPEG for digital photographs as opposed to the Zen Portable Media Player, which also displays TIFF files. The player's software will allow you to convert the BMP, GIF, TIFF, PNG and PGPF formats into JPEG for viewing.
The Sony HMP-A1 has a 3.5" display, slightly smaller than the 3.8" display found in the Archos AV320 Video Jukebox and the Zen Portable Media Player.
One advantage of the HMP-A1 over the Zen is that it supoports both Windows 2K and XP. The Zen Portable Media Player only supports Windows XP PCs.
The Sony HMP-A1 will enter Japanese market at the US dollar equivalent of $570. That falls in line with the US pricing of the Archos portables so look for roughly the same price point when the HMP-A1 hits North American shores.
The 256MB Rio Cali is available on Amazon
Other MP3 stories:
StationRipper: Ripping from the Radio
Apple and Real - A Few Thoughts