January 10, 2003 6:13 PM PST

Sony wields high-capacity Sticks

LAS VEGAS--When you're one of the most recognizable brands in the world, it's hard to walk softly--but Sony Electronics is doing fine when it comes to the big stick side of the equation.

As expected, the consumer-electronics giant announced at the Consumer Electronics Show here this week a new high-speed removable memory card format and a new feature for its already existing card format, the Memory Stick. Both announcements will mean higher storage capacities for device owners who use Memory Stick cards for storing data such as digital images or music.

Memory Stick cards fit into slots that are built into devices such as digital cameras and handheld computers. The cards let people store data, and in some cases, expand the capabilities of a device. For example, a Memory Stick card with a built-in digital camera can be added to a handheld device via a Memory Stick slot.

With the growing popularity of devices that use digital media--such as digital audio players, and cell phones with built-in digital cameras--higher capacity cards and, in the case of cell phones, smaller card sizes are becoming increasingly important to drive product sales for device and card manufacturers.

The new card format, Memory Stick Pro, will eventually top out at 32GB, but it will start out with 256MB, 512MB and 1GB storage capacities. Memory Stick Pro will also allow devices to record content faster than devices that use the original Memory Stick cards.

"Pro elevates the flash card debate beyond higher and higher capacities," said Sony spokesman David Yang. "It adds record times to the debate, which is important because with higher capacities, consumers can store more large files, and a bottleneck can be created on devices."

Semico Research analyst Jim Handy agreed. "With the increasing popularity of digital video, offering faster speed transfer rates will become more important," he said.


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Sony is also working on giving Memory Stick Pro users the ability to lock the cards and prevent unauthorized access to the data they carry. The company has not determined when it will make this new Access Control available but said devices such as handhelds and PCs will be able to be upgraded so they can lock and unlock the cards.

"With higher capacities, consumers are more likely to store important data on Memory Stick Pro cards, so it's important to make sure that it can be secured," Yang said.

The cards will be available starting in April and are tentatively priced at $190 for the 256MB card, $440 for the 512MB card and $880 for the 1GB card. Sony will develop new devices specifically for Memory Stick Pro, and all original Memory Stick cards will be compatible with those devices, Yang said. Certain devices using Memory Stick cards will be compatible with Memory Stick Pro cards natively and others through an upgrade, but some older devices will not. The company will maintain a list on the Memory Stick site that says which devices will be compatible.

A new feature for the original Memory Stick will also appear soon. Memory Select Function adds more chips to the Memory Stick format, offering higher storage capacities. Devices will be able to access 256MB of data on a card. Sony plans to make the feature available in April for $160. Sony is working on a 512MB card with the Select Function feature.

The first of Sony's mini Memory Stick Duo cards with 64MB and 128MB sizes will be available in the spring, according to the company.

In related news about removable flash memory cards, Panasonic announced at CES that it will be making a 1GB Secure Digital card available this fall, but said pricing has not been set.

 

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