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Sony today launched the US version of its Connect online music store with the promise of "a better selection than any other legal download service".

Better does not necessarily mean more, of course. Sony touted Connect's database of 500,000-odd tracks from major and independent labels, which is rather less than the 700,000 on offer from Apple's iTunes Music Store.

Like iTMS, Connect supports a limited array of portable music players, in this case Sony's MiniDisc machines. Connect encodes songs in Sony's own 132kbps ATRAC 3 format, offering them on a one-off basis for 99c a track, or in album batches at $10 a pop. Downloaded songs have no playback limitation and can be shared with up to three Windows PCs, which have to be registered with Connect.

Support for other platforms? We hope to do so in the future, was Sony Connect's response.

The service supports CD burning. Playlists can be transferred to disc up to ten times, five as ATRAC data discs, five in CD Audio format. There are no limitations on how many times you can copy a song to a compatible portable player.

Tracks are copy-protected using Sony's own Open Magic Gate (OpenMG) DRM system, and users will need to download songs through the company's SonicStage jukebox and CD burning app. A new version, 2.0, will be required to use Connect.

Alongside the Connect launch, Sony's hardware wing rolled out its first digital music players to support Hi-MD high-capacity MiniDiscs. Connect also said it was partnering with United Airlines to allow the carrier's customers to pay for downloads using frequent flyer miles.

With the US launch today, the countdown commences for Sony Connect's European launch, which is scheduled to take place in June. ®

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