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Toshiba Gigabeat U: Beaming tunes to your car radio

With FM transmission abilities and a brand-new way of making compressed audio sound like a CD, Toshiba's new MP3 player might do enough to stand out from the flash crowd

We were originally a little disappointed to see Toshiba sending another flash contender -- the Gigabeat U -- into the ring. It comes in 1GB or 2GB sizes, plays MP3 and WMA format music, has an FM radio and takes on the commonplace aesthetics of the iPod nano. So far, so commonplace. But there are a few features which separate the Gigabeat U a little way from the rest of the bunch, most notably its ability to transmit music over FM like the iTrip -- but without an adaptor.

This basically means you can send music to your car's stereo without plugging in some recently legalised third-party peripheral. Or, in a move only slightly reminiscent of the Microsoft Zune's pointless and unused Wi-Fi sharing capacity, you could broadcast music to any MP3 player with an FM recording function.

We're also told there's a pretty snazzy new form of DAC built in to the player's software. DAC is the process a digital music player goes through to convert the data held on a hard disk or in flash memory into the audible melodies you hear through your headphones. This technology is taken for granted and is rarely talked about, but Toshiba claims its DCTSC (Direct Charge Transfer Switched Capacitor) will make compressed music sound loads better. We've heard claims like this before and found the results fairly uninspiring, but we will be interested to see how Toshiba goes about making little MP3 files sound more like whacking great uncompressed CD audio files.

The Gigabeat U is only out in Japan at the moment. The US tends to get Toshiba stuff shortly after the Japanese, and us Brits may well see it some time after that. We'll keep you posted. However, with only 2GB of storage we're not placing any significant bets that this new player is going to make even the most meagre of dents in the flash-based MP3 player market. -NL