It might be 2004 but it’s taken this long for Sony to finally bring the Walkman into the 21st Century.
Sony has named its intended iPod killer the NW-HD1. While this might fit its corporate naming system perfectly, it's not exactly going to stick in the mind the same way that the word iPod does. Rather it's relying on the famous Walkman brand to grab that consumer mindshare. The NW-ND1 uses a 1.8in hard disk with 20GB of capacity, which Sony claims will store up to 13,000 songs. This is a lot more than the 5,000 songs that Apple states can fit on the 20GB iPod. How Sony gets to this figure due to the estimate being based on tracks encoded with its own ATRAC3plus codec at a lowly bit-rate of 48Kbps.
ATRAC3 is derived from the ATRAC Type–R encoding used in the MiniDisc format and is one of the best sounding codec around - certainly better than MP3. However, Sony insists that all the MP3s and WMA tracks you might already have be converted to ATRAC3, which from past experience is a major pain.
On the plus side the NW-HD1 promises up to 30 hours of battery life from one charge. However, this again is for 48Kpbs ATRAC3 – dropping to 27 hours for tracks encoded at 64kbps. This implies that at even higher bit rates battery life would drop even further. However even so, it’s a huge improvement on the mere eight hours offered by the iPod.
Another bonus over the iPod is that the NW-HD1 is even smaller at 89mm x 62.1mm x 13.8mm, which as you can see from the image, means that it will fit very snugly in your hand. Other features included a 'G-Sensor', which Sony claims can detect when the machine is dropped and temporarily remove the read head from the disk. Additionally, a memory buffer stores 25 minutes of tunes to ensure skip-free playback. The player charges in the supplied cradle and connects via USB 2.0.
The player is designed to work seamlessly with Sony’s new Connect Store, with access integrated into the bundled SonicStage software, in the same way that the ITunes store is accessible from the ITunes software.
Sony provided no details on pricing but rumours suggest that it will undercut the iPod. The NW-HD1 will be available in August 2004, though it might take longer to come to Europe. When it does arrive, we're looking forward to getting hold of one and putting it though its paces.