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First Look: Sony Hi-MD MZNH700

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Sony Hi-MD MZNH700
We take a peek at one of Sony's upcoming Hi-MD portable music players, supporting a gigabyte of removable storage thanks to the company's new higher-capacity MiniDisc.

Sony's upcoming range of digital music players revamps previous MiniDisc players by introducing Hi-MD media. Essentially, the new players will support up to 1 gigabyte (GB) of Hi-MD media -- that's up to up to 45 hours of compressed music - compared to 177MB/80 minutes available on Sony's original MiniDisc.

Upside: Hi-MD discs use the File Allocation Table (FAT) system to store files. This enables Hi-MD players to act as removable storage devices that can hold documents, photos, and other data files as well as music. Connecting the player via USB to a PC, Windows promptly recognises the player as an external storage device, allowing drag-and-drop file management.

Hi-MD players are backwards compatible so they will play older MiniDiscs. Furthermore, formatting existing MiniDiscs in the Hi-MD format increases the available storage space from 177MB to 305MB.

The MZNH700 has a microphone input and line input for recordings, which can then be uploaded to PCs through SonicStage. There is a range of ATRAC3plus bitrates available to encode music in -- from 48kbps to 256kbps. Uncompressed Linear PCM recording is also possible to achieve the high quality sounds at 1.4Mbps.

Downside: For MP3 hoarders, the MZNH700 only allows you to play songs stored on the Hi-MD disc in Sony's proprietary ATRAC3 format, so MP3 files will need to be converted to the format using SonicStage before they will play. Getting 45 hours out of a single Hi-MD disc involves converting files to ATRAC3plus at a very low 48kbps rate. As has always been the case with Sony's USB-connected players, copyright protection limits when and how you can shuffle files around.

Outlook: If you have a large amount of original Sony MiniDiscs lying around, at face value it may be worth your while to invest in a new Sony player supporting Hi-MD, for the increase in storage capacity.

Sony's mid-level player, the MZNH700 will be released in Australia in July at a recommended retail price of AU$499. Hi-MD 1GB discs should be available in June and will have an RRP of AU$9.95. When the Hi-MD discs are released in June the recommended retail price will be AU$9.95 per 1 gigabyte disc.