After watching in chagrin as Apple's iPod music player and iTunes online music store knocked it off its perch as the dominant provider of portable music offerings, Sony said Thursday that it will drop its Connect online music store and instead use file formats used by Microsoft's Windows Media Player 11 and other music services.
Sony also introduced new Walkman players that will support video as it unveiled the new devices a few days before Apple is expected to introduce a high-end iPod with advanced video capability.
Sony said it will phase out its Connect music store in North America and Europe, but not before March 2008. The service, based on Sony's ATRAC audio format, received mixed reviews from users since its introduction in 2004. Sony's Connect e-book service won't be affected by the discontinuance of the ATRAC service.
The players announced Thursday -- Sony's first U.S. Walkman video players -- will support Windows Media Audio (WMA), non-secure AAC, and MP3 music formats, the firm said. Both new Walkmans, the NWZ-A810 and the NWZ-S610, support an open platform for downloading music and video. "We are providing our customers the choice to use multiple music sources," said Brennan Mullin, VP for audio products at Sony Electronics' Digital Imaging and Audio Division, in a statement. The firm added that the new Walkmans support most online subscription services.
The new devices also will support JPEG files for photos, MPEG-4 video codecs, and AVC Baseline Profile. Sony noted that its Sony Pictures Entertainment unit will provide video content for the new players at its Web site, Sony said.
The high-end NWZ-A810 Walkmans feature a 2-inch QVGA LCD screen in models with 2 Gbytes to 8 Gbytes of memory and are priced between $140 and $240. The NWZ-S610 has a 1.8-inch QVGA LCD screen and also contains an FM radio; prices range between $120 and $210.
Sony said the players can store up to 1,850 songs on the 8-Gbyte models and 440 songs on the 2-Gbyte models.
In a statement, Sony said: "All of the new players are compatible with security-enhanced Windows Media Audio and support most subscription music services. The new players are also among the first to be certified for Windows Vista, meaning they have passed a series of compatibility tests including PlaysForSure verification."