Sony MZ-RH10 Hi-MD Walkman

Today, Sony introduced its 2005 lineup of MiniDisc (MD) digital audio players, ranging from the playback-only MZ-DN430 ($99.99) to the MZ-DH10P, the first MD player with a built-in digital camera. Among this musical quintet, the most intriguing is the $300 MZ-RH10, a Hi-MD player/recorder that features a five-line OLED display.

Upside: In the past, tiny screens and buttons have plagued the otherwise meticulously designed Sony MD players, but we're pleased to report that not only do you get more screen real estate with the RH10, you also get data that pops off the screen, thanks to a bright, monochrome OLED display. The player also functions as a recording device with line and mic inputs. The device uses affordable removable Hi-MD media that lets you store 45 hours of music on a single 1GB disc ($7 each). Its excellent battery life, its small size, and its native MP3 support make the MZ-RH10 a legitimate alternative to hard-drive based players.

Downside: The media is cheap, but you're going to have to carry a bunch of MDs when you go on long trips; in contrast, the Apple iPod and others are self-contained devices. MP3 support is wonderful, but you won't get any familiar AAC or WMA support; however, this doesn't matter if you're a big fan of ATRAC3 and the Sony Connect service. Despite the new display, the Sony MZ-RH10 Hi-MD Walkman is still pricey. If you want the bigger screen but can do without the eye-pleasing OLED, check out the MZ-RH910. It's roughly the same player without OLED, and it costs $100 less.

Outlook: Sony's MD isn't going away--at least for the time being. Removable media still makes sense for a lot of people, especially those who record performances. With progressive new designs and MP3 support, not to mention economically priced media, the revamped MD family should get a lot of looks in the coming year.