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Virgin takes on iPod

Company's new player offers 25 percent bigger hard drive and weighs less than the iPod Mini--for the same price.

Virgin Electronics unveiled on Tuesday a digital audio player with a 5GB hard disk, in a bid to penetrate the market dominated by Apple Computer's iPod.

The $249 Virgin Player, weighing 3.1 ounces, supports MP3 and WMA music formats and is capable of working with various digital music services, the company said.

The 5GB Virgin Player
includes an FM tuner.

The device has separate buttons for volume, skipping to the next song, and pausing the music, and features the ability to create playlists. The storage is sufficient for 1,200 MP3 songs, or around 80 compact discs, it said.

Apple's $249 iPod Mini has a 4GB hard drive, can store 1,000 songs and weighs 3.6 ounces.

The device comes bundled with the company's music software and service, Virgin Digital, which sells song downloads for 99 cents, or monthly subscriptions for $7.99. Virgin said people can also select songs from other music services that use WMA or MP3 formats.

The company also announced a new line of portable speakers that work with the player.

Both the player and the speakers are set for release later this month.

Software, hardware and consumer electronics companies currently dominate the online music market. But Virgin Electronics, the electronics arm within the Virgin Group, hopes to take advantage of being part of an offline music retailing giant.