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Video in, mini drives out on Samsung music players

Company enlists industrial designers, flash memory factories in push to become No. 1 in market for MP3 players by end of 2007.

Samsung is enlisting its industrial designers and flash memory factories in its push to become No. 1 in the market for MP3 players by the end of 2007.

One of the first salvos in this advance comes in August with the YP-T8, a flash memory-based MP3 player with a 1.8-inch color screen that can play quick MPEG 4 videos. The company is also working with an unnamed game publisher to bring 1970s and '80s arcade games to the device, said Mark Farish, senior marketing manager of digital audio for Samsung Electronics America.

Though the first versions will come with 512MB ($200), 1GB ($250) and 2GB ($300) worth of memory, Samsung will likely come out with flash-based players with 4GB by the beginning of 2006 and 10GB in 2007.

Meanwhile, Samsung will begin to de-emphasize players with mini hard drives. The company came out with a mini drive player last year, but no more are slated.

"Once you hit the sweet spot of 4GB with flash, you have parity," with mini drive players, Farish said. Samsung, however, will continue to produce portable players with 1.8-inch drives.

Though Apple Computer currently holds a fairly substantial lead over other manufacturers in digital music players, Samsung hopes to leverage the formula it used to become a powerhouse in cell phones and televisions.

The company is the world's biggest manufacturer of flash memory and LCD screens. During the past few years, Samsung has also built up an extensive worldwide design group. Having the two divisions work together has allowed Samsung, at times, to generate a fairly extensive product array, and then capitalize on the designs that sell the best.

To invigorate its music division, in fact, Samsung last year transferred responsibility for the design of its music players--which reviewers have criticized for their un-user-friendly controls--to the cell phone group, Farish said.

The company will also come out with a flash-based MP3 player that can double as a USB drive. The 512MB version will cost $99 and arrive in September.

In addition, Samsung will begin to emphasize home DVD recorders more than in the past. It began to market these devices in North America only late last year, a company representative said.