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Thomson plans portable digital music player

Thomson Consumer Electronics will introduce a new portable digital music player that plays and records MP3 audio transferred from a personal computer.

The maker of RCA home electronic products today jumped into the MP3 digital audio player market with the release of RCA Lyra.

Thomson Multimedia, the France-based parent company of the U.S. unit of Thomson Consumer Electronics introduced the new portable digital music player today which plays and records MP3 audio transferred from a personal computer, the company said.

RCA Lyra should start shipping in the third quarter. It will be integrated with RealNetworks RealJukebox, which also debuted today and will support the playback of RealAudio G2 programming. Lyra is Latin for "lyre," a small stringed instrument of the harp family.

Delivering digital-quality music from a palm-sized electronic device, which is smaller than a cell phone and that reads data from a solid-state CompactFlash card, the new Lyra plays compressed music files organized by your home computer. Lyra features a digital signal processor that allows upgradable software that can support future compression formats. This means that consumers can choose the music-management software and compression format that best meets their needs.

Thomson Multimedia co-developed the MP3 compression format with the Fraunhofer Institute and acts as the licensing administrator for Thomson and Fraunhofer MP3 intellectual property, said Dave Arland, marketing director for the Americas for Thomson. Lyra "is our first device. We don't see this as a mainstream product yet. But we make mainstream products. We think that just as the CD transformed the industry, we think digital audio players will do the same."

The Lyra is 4.5 inches long by 2.5 inches wide, and only seven-eighths of an inch thick--about the same size as a deck of playing cards.

Two models will be available initially sometime in the Fall, each with different CompactFlash memory cards. It will play the popular MP3 music format and the new RealAudio G2 music format, utilizing RealJukebox, the company said. Pricing will be released closer to the shipping date.