CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW: CNET editors cover the Next Big Thing
Micro players, integrated Wi-Fi, color screens, and next-gen DRM
By James Kim
(January 12, 2005)
Anchored by popular keywords such as MP3, PVP, Janus, color, portable, photo, and even wireless, portable audio and video was again a strong and sexy category at CES 2005. Virtually every consumer electronics bigwig, including Philips, Panasonic, and Sony, introduced a new MP3 player, and industry stalwarts such as Rio and iRiver refreshed their current lineups. Dozens of new portable video players (PVPs) were spotted on the show floor, and there were scores of flash-based players running rampant in Las Vegas. But we were able to filter out five products that clearly set the portable audio and video bar for 2005.
Micro hard drive-based players continued their assault on consumers' hearts at CES. Capacities ranging from 3GB to 6GB (with 8GB coming) and color screens were the focus. Rio took tiny, evolutionary steps with its 2.5GB CE2100 and 5GB Pearl, while iRiver entered the 5GB fray with its feature-filled and sophisticated H10. Philips added a 3GB HDD084 to its lineup and Roc Digital introduced the 4GB Mini Rocbox at the Hitachi booth. But Samsung took home the Next Big Thing goods with its remarkable YH-820, a 5GB player with a color screen for viewing photos, features such as line-in recording and an FM tuner, and a smile-inducing price tag of $230.
Sony made news by announcing the U.S availability of the 20GB HD3 ($350), which is nearly identical to the HD1 except that it comes in a variety of metallic colors and can play MP3 files natively. And connected MP3 players are getting closer to the mass market as evidenced by the SoniqCast Aireo 2, the much-improved Wi-Fi-enabled MP3 player that features a 20GB capacity, a smaller form factor, and a beautifully designed interface.
MP3 players with color screens are easier to read, allow (in most cases) photo viewing, and are just cool. We mentioned the iRiver H10 and the Samsung YH-820, but perhaps the most innovative color MP3 player introduced was Olympus's M:robe 100. One part 1.3-megapixel camera and one part MP3 player, the slick 20GB device has an interface that's entirely touch-screen-controlled, and its Remix feature can mash up your songs and photos to the beat. We must mention Samsung's outrageous YP-T7, a full-on flash-based player with a built-in photo viewer and all the other features you'd expect from a premium MP3 player. This player, to be available in 512MB or 1GB models, will certainly rock store shelves this year, especially at prices of $150 and $200, respectively. Speaking of flash-based players, look for a "flash renaissance" in '05 as the tiny gadgets become more able and more affordable and hit sizes as large as 2GB and beyond.
The Next Big Thing: subscription-based downloads
It's going to take a while for consumers to get used to the idea of renting songs, but we're betting this relatively new service, anchored by a Microsoft DRM technology code-named Janus, will catch on in 2005. Subscription services from the likes of Napster To Go and Musicmatch already exist, but it's only now that the corresponding MP3 hardware is ready to roll. New players from iRiver, Creative, Dell, all the PMC devices, and even Panasonic flash players will store and play next-gen subscription downloads. How cool will it be to pay $15 a month and get access to more than a million songs to stick on your MP3 player? Now that's one reason to get a 60GB player.
We saw a bunch of players that looked and felt nearly the same as a few players we had already seen, save for sporting a different logo. PVPs are becoming commoditized already. But beyond the larger screens, the higher capacities, and the introduction of new PMC-related offerings (such as MTV and Tivo To Go) and integrated digital cameras, the coolest PVP by far was Archos's PMA430, a 30GB version of the AV420 with a touch-screen interface and built-in Wi-Fi, making it the No. l most-wanted gadget for many of us at CNET. Of course, the PMA430 has an $800 price tag, too, thus cooling our ardor a bit.
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