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Philips, Matsushita outline MP3 plans

Both to launch players, but only Philips will support MP3

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The digital music market feeding frenzy began in earnest, as two of the world's largest consumer electronics companies announced solid state audio players. Philips today said it will introduce a player by Q1 2000. The device is based on last month's final Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) portable player spec. The device's memory is held on removable media -- it will ship with enough RAM for an hour's music. Philips didn't say what its player will be called, or provide other specifications. However, the company said the player will play MP3 files, in accordance with Phase 1 of the SDMI portable spec. That's in marked contrast to Matushita, whose player, announced late last week, will categorically not play MP3s, according to the company. Matsushita's entry into the digital player market, also as yet unnamed, also follows the SDMI guidelines, but will only play files in Matsushita's own format. One of the sub-text's of the company's announcement was that it intends to launch its own online music distribution system, so it looks like Matsushita wants to tie the two very closely together. The company said the device would be released in the US next April. Interestingly, Matsushita said it will be offering a terminal device to allow the player to be loaded with music from the Net without having to connect it to a PC. That's a major step forward for a market that has so far been aimed pretty much exclusively at computer users. Getting the broader spectrum of consumers into the market will be essential for its long-term growth. The dedicated online music channel is clearly part of that strategy -- after all, users without a PC won't be able to look elsewhere for tracks. Matsushita is already working with Universal and BMG in their joint digital music programme, so you can see where the bulk of the tracks it will offer will come from. The SDMI Phase 1 Portable specification was released last month to allow consumer electronics companies to prepare products for the Christmas period, and it's highly likely Philips and Matsushita's announcements will be followed by similar ones from Sony, JVC, Technics, et al. That means tough times ahead for Diamond Multimedia, whose Rio PMP-300 player got the digital music market going in the first place by finally allowing music buffs to listen to music on a decent sound system, not a PC. However, Diamond simply does not have the wider High Street branding or even presence to compete with the big guns of the consumer electronics world, and it will be interesting to see how its strategy adapts in the months before its rivals really start competing with it. ®

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