MP3: Flash memory is best - industry

Creative's 6GB device may be cool, but it's no trend setter according to experts

Despite Creative Technology's announcement that its latest portable MP3 player uses a 'notebook-type' hard drive to offer a massive 6GB storage space, analysts and industry insiders reckon it is not a trend that will catch on.

The Nomad Jukebox MP3 player is only the second portable player to store MP3 files on such a hard drive, most others use solid state memory like SmartMedia or Flash. Analysts and industry observers believe that despite the relatively small amount of memory offered by solid state formats, it has several advantages over traditional hard drives for personal audio.

Kevin Hause, manager of consumer device research at IDC, believes that flash-based portable players offer unique and interesting benefits for consumers. "Solid state doesn't skip and no moving parts means long battery life," he says. "Also, you can take the flash card in and out to exchange music, there are connectivity issues with other types of devices."

Franco De Bonis, European audio brand manager at Creative, describes the Nomad Jukebox as a "semi-portable" device.

As MP3 technology moves into the home entertainment mainstream, out of the PC and into the living room, experts believe music will be stored in digital form on non-portable devices. "At last week's CES I did see a number of portable players but also a number of other MP3 devices, such as rack systems," says Hause, "It's clear that MP3 is having an impact not only on the computer companies but also the traditional stereo manufacturers."

Other manufacturers agree that the future for mass storage MP3 hardware is in integrated home entertainment systems, rather than in portable players. Although Diamond is on the verge of releasing a version of its Rio MP3 player incorporating IBM's 350MB MicroDrive, according to a spokesman "this is as far down that route as we are at the moment."

"We are not looking at the portable market at the moment," he said, "We're moving more towards integrated devices such as rack systems."

Samsung, which launched its debut foray into the digital audio market with the Yepp player last year agrees. A spokesman points out that while "solid state is great for convenience and portability," higher storage would come with integrated home systems. Samsung's latest range of audio products, re-named Personal Multimedia and expected during the first half of 2000, will include a home hi-fi system with integrated CD-RW drive and MP3 player.

Kenwood is another traditional audio company making strides into the digital future. It announced what it claimed was the world's first Internet enabled hi-fi at Tokyo's Audio Expo last November. This device boasted a modem and 13GB hard drive with a 6.5 inch colour display.

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