Sony's Walkman Ready to Rival the IPod
Sony has unveiled its first hard drive-based digital music player to bear the Walkman name. The device was launched this week as the Walkman brand marked its 25th anniversary.
The NW-HD1 features a 20GB hard drive and is, according to the company, the smallest music player at this capacity. It measures 3.5 inches by 2.5 inches by .5 inches and weighs 3.9 ounces.
The capacity is half that of Apple Computer's highest capacity IPod, but Sony says its player trumps Apple's in terms of the number of songs it can store: 13,000 on the Walkman versus 10,000 on the IPod.
However, Sony's measurement is based on songs encoded using its ATRAC3 (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding for MiniDisc 3) compression system at the relatively low rate of 48 kilobits per second while Apple's measurement is based on the AAC compression system at 128 kbps. At the same bit rate, the Walkman can store around half as many songs as the IPod, which is consistent with it having half the storage capacity.
Sony says that in practice, it's the music quality that counts and that as ATRAC3 is more efficient at compression, it can get away with using a lower bit rate to deliver an equivalent quality.
The Walkman supports only Sony's ATRAC3 compression format, versions of which are used with Sony's MiniDisc players and its recently-launched Connect online music store. Music files encoded in other formats, such as MP3, first have to be converted to ATRAC3 before they can be played, and software to accomplish this is included. Transcoding typically results in some reduction in quality.
The sleek aluminum case features a 1.5-inch backlit display and the on-screen display language can be switched between Japanese, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
The player runs on an internal rechargeable battery that will last for up to 30 hours when playing files encoded at the minimum supported bit rate of 48 kbps, according to Sony. This falls to 27 hours when listening to files encoded at 64 kbps or 128 kbps.
Battery life has been one of the biggest complaints that users have had about the IPod and so it's no surprise that the Walkman beats Apple's quoted "up to 8 hours" on battery life.
Sony plans to put the NW-HD1 on sale in Japan on July 10 for $490, in the middle of August in the U.S. for less than $400, and later this year in Europe (no pricing information was available).
While the device is the first hard drive-based model to carry the Walkman name, it is not Sony's first hard drive-based media player. The company has already launched four such devices--three under its own name and one under its Aiwa brand--in the last nine months as it attempts to make a name for itself in the digital music player market.
One of the most recently launched players was the Vaio Pocket. It went on sale in Japan in June and features a specification close to that of the new Walkman: the same size hard drive, the same support for ATRAC3 only, and the same price.
What makes the two different is a better tolerance on the part of the Walkman model for use on the move, says David Yang, a spokesperson for Sony in Tokyo. The Vaio Pocket can also be used as a portable picture album, which is a feature not present on the Walkman.
Sony isn't considering a version of the player with a smaller capacity hard drive, Yang says.
The Tokyo company is pushing a new version of its MiniDisc technology called Hi-MD at users who want to store less music. Each Hi-MD disc provides 1GB of storage space and costs around $7, making it a cost-effective way to store small amounts of music, he says.
Sony may consider a model with a higher capacity drive. However, it needs to ensure there is a consumer need for such a product if it is to launch one, Yang says.