Finally from Sony, a video Walkman

Sony set to launch its first digital video Walkman

Eighteen months after rival Apple raised the bar in the music player market with its video iPod, Sony will launch its first digital video Walkman.

The NW-A800 series Walkman will initially go on sale in Europe in April. They'll appear later in other markets but timing hasn't yet been decided, Sony in Tokyo said Friday.

For Europe there are three models: the NW-A805, A806 and A808. The only major difference is in the amount of flash memory, which is 2G bytes, 4G bytes and 8G bytes, respectively.

The screen is a 2-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) panel with QVGA resolution (240 pixels by 320 pixels). It's orientated in portrait form rather than the landscape form used on the iPod, but videos can be viewed with the device either held vertically or horizontally, said Sony.

Audio playback in a number of flavors of Sony's ATRAC compression is possible, and Sony supplies software for converting Windows Media Audio, MP3 and WAV files to ATRAC. It's also possible to directly load MP3 files onto the Walkman, but battery life will be shorter. For video the Walkman plays back MPEG4 H.264/AVC encoded files. `` Playback time on a fully-charged battery differs depending on the type of files. For audio its roughly 30 hours for ATRAC files encoded at 132k bps (bits per second) while for video its seven hours for MPEG4 files encoded at 768k bps. Video files at lower bit rates will take up less space in the memory but also make the Walkman work a little harder on the decoding, so the time drops to about six hours and 30 minutes for a 384k-bps file, according to Sony's figures.

The Walkman measures 44 millimeters wide by 88mm high and is 9mm thick. It weighs 53 grams.

The NW-A805 is listed on Sony's online store for Euro 180 (US$237), the NW-A806 for Euro 230 and the NW-A808 for Euro 300. In comparison Apple's 30G-byte iPod costs Euro 289 in Germany. The two products are difficult to compare on price alone however because the iPod has a larger screen and is also bulkier and heavier than the new Sony Walkman.

Sony historians will note that the new product is not actually Sony's first Walkman to support video. That recognition goes to the GV-8 "Video Walkman" that was put on sale in August 1998 and played back Video 8 cassettes from camcorders.

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Martyn Williams

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