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Sony unveils the mini disc

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


Sony unveils the mini disc
 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1991, The Syracuse Newspapers

A long-awaited disc record-and-play system that could eventually replace cassette tapes is on the way from Sony.

The new digital audio system won't reach store shelves for about a year and a half, but Sony gave a preview of what it calls the "mini-disc" system to try to get other manufacturers to support it.

Sony also wants recording companies to agree to issue their releases in the new format, which apparently will be marketed as "MD." Sony Software, a division of Sony Corp., has already announced that it will issue new albums on the mini-discs.

Unlike standard CDs, the discs that Sony will introduce can be used to make recordings. Maximum recording time is the same as the maximum playback time of CDs, 74 minutes.

The discs are much smaller than CDs. Regular compact discs are about 5 inches in diameter, but the mini-discs are 2.5 inches in diameter. This makes them truly pocketsize.

The player that Sony used to demonstrate its new system is ultra small, too. It was hardly bigger than a bar of hand soap and could fit easily into your palm.

The player uses special circuits that "look ahead" of the sound being played to fill in any gaps caused by vibration or jarring. Sony officials dropped the demonstration unit while it was playing "Love Takes Time," sung by Mariah Carey. The music played on as if nothing had happened.

The song continued playing for three seconds even when the Sony executives took the disc out of the player.

Sony has not given many details on the mini-disc system. Two types are likely—the first, similar to a cassette Walkman, would have playback ability only, and the second would record and play. Home decks are also likely, much the same as home cassette decks.

Sony's president, Norio Ohga, said the "MD" system fits into the concept of personal cassette and CD players, which Sony pioneered with the Walkman and the Discman.

It's "a personal audio system based on the concept of anytime, anywhere and for anyone," Ohga said.

The new system, if adopted by Sony's major competitors, could kill off the moribund digital audio tape (DAT) system for home use. DAT recorders, which were first sold in Japan about three years ago, are complicated and expensive, while "MD" recorders and players are likely to be fairly cheap once they are in normal production.

Although Sony has not yet given an estimate of how much its new system will cost, blank discs are likely to sell for $5 or less—even as little as $1 if the "MD" system becomes popular. Players should cost between $300 and $600, depending on features.

The new record-and-play disc system poses a bigger threat to standard audio cassettes, which have survived basically unchanged since Philips introduced them in the 1960s.

Standard cassettes have a lot of advantages—they are cheap and there are billions of them around, just to name two—but they cannot provide the audio quality that digital sound has. "MD" discs should prove easier to store and carry, and "MD" players can be even smaller than an audio cassette box.

A likely competitor to Sony's "MD" system is a new audio cassette system from Philips that can record and play both standard and digital tapes. Tandy, owner of Radio Shack, is backing the Philips format.

Still further competition could come from a new type of compact disc. A home-type record-and-erase CD has already been created at the research level, and could be ready for sale in a few years.


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