By Richard Menta- 9/23/99
With Diamond selling over a million Rio systems, did you think the originator of portable stereo's was going to sit through the MP3 revolution? Well the wait is over as Sony unveiled its entry in the wide open digital music market.
The Memory Stick Walkman, due to be released in mid-December, uses a unique strategy by combining their high end cassette players with a removable "memory stick" that stores 64 MB of information. The stick plugs directly into the USB port of your computer, allowing quick transfer of music files.
First, there is one piece of important information. This unit is not an MP3 player! Contrary to what Sony puts on the box, it plays only Sony's propritary ATRAC3 digital format, a format that doesn't exactly have a lot of music floating around on the Net. The unit will list for a pricey $400, quite high considering most MP3 players sell for less than half with prices dropping.
Sony may be off the mark with it's ATRAC3/cassette hybrid even though the hybrid idea may be a good one while users wait for more and cheaper memory for these machines. Original Sony liturature said this was an MP3/cassette hybrid and mentions nothing of the ATRAC3 format, a dubious press release to be sure.
Today's top of the line digital music players contain 64MB of memory expandable to 96MB. 64MB hold about 90 minutes worth of digital music at its best quality setting, the equivalent of one cassette tape. Changing music requires a trip back to the computer, which for some hard core users is frequent. Sony's cassette option offers more flexibility for the user, plus the removable stick, about the size of a pack of gum, frees up the rest of the unit during the time-consuming process of transfering digital music files. Sony's hybrid could do well despite the different digital format.
There is another reason why Sony should do well in this market. Distribution power.
With deeper pockets and wide distribution networks, A manufacturer like Sony can quickly flood their products into the department stores and electronic chains smaller companies like Diamond and Eiger Labs are yet to establish relationships with. Furthermore, digital music players are seen by many as the heir to the portable cassette players - they will probably antiquate them in a few years - threatening a profitable sales segment Sony holds a dominant position in.
Sony is also one of the big five record companies that provide most of the music played on these units. A strong position in the digital music arena allows them to further develop copyright-protection technology (already in the ATRAC3 format) which will work in tandem with the music they release. This will allow Sony greater control in limiting the threat of music piracy.
As we said, did you think the originator of portable stereo's was going to sit through the digital music revolution? Of course, using a different digital format coulds render ATRAC3 units like Betamax machines in a short time.
Copyright 1999 MP3 Newswire. All rights reserved.