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Gizmothon: Convergence Trinkets'r'Us

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Comdex Is there no beginning to this convergence innovation? LG Electronics again showed its small, dinky MP3 player with a built-in camera, called the Digital Music Eye, that looked tiny and stylish. However with 32Mb of storage it's more of a camera than an audio player.

The MP3 player market seems to be polarising pretty rapidly. On the one hand are the ultra light solid state devices, which don't hold much music, but are getting lighter by the week. At the other end, hard-disk based players give you the possibility of carrying a large chunk of your music collection around with you at once.

The heavy just got heavier. While Creative Labs used Comdex to promote its 6Gb-capacity MP3 player, Korean manufacturer CMC is showing a 20Gb player that also plays CD-RW media. As you'd expect, it looks like a CD Walkman with a pituitary gland disorder: it ain't small. CMC says it includes an MP3 encoder, allowing audio input to be converted and stored on the device, and a remote control. It's slated to ship next May for around $499. Take your chances here for more information.

If low weight and discreet were all that mattered, then Sony would have the market tied up. It showed a memory stick version of its pen sized "Network" NW-S4 player at its booth. The NW-MS9 has a 64MB stick bundled, and since a 128MB version of the stick should be ready next spring, that should give it the edge over rivals. Both are ridiculously discreet.

The player itself should ship in January or February, and plays the open MP3 and proprietary Microsoft and Liquid Audio formats. The 64Mb NW-S4 weighs 2.5oz and is water resistant. We'll stick with quoting storage capacity here rather than estimated playing time, as manufacturers' figures work on the assumption that it's encoded at 96, although we can't imagine anyone ripping at less than 160. Alas Sony is standing by the SDMI format, through which all transfers must be made.

So the choice is clear. Do you want a player slightly heavier than your Discman, which holds dozens of your CDs, or a do you want a slightly cheaper player that holds about an hour's worth of music, but that could elude detection at a cavity search at customs. Hmm... tough one, that. ®

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