I generally don’t dedicate much space to product announcements here on mediageek, largely because so many of them are bogus PR devices, and because the treadmill of constant product upgrade is unnecessarily wasteful.
But once in while a little news comes along that I think is good for independent media folks, and this is one of them.
After a day of rumors, yesterday Sony announced a new high-capacity minidisc that holds 1 GB of data — about six times as much as current mindiscs, first developed over ten years ago. In terms of audio, Sony says that the disc will hold up to 45 hours at the highest compression rate (which is a pretty measly 48 kbps), and about 300 minutes of standard-quality (SP) minidisc stereo audio.
This announcement is significant for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is that minidisc has become the de facto standard for audio and radio field recording, since it’s relatively inexpensive, robust and reliable. Nearly every IMC and community radio station, not to mention many public radio stations and the BBC, use an arsenal of minidisc recorders for doing radio reporting.
It’s also significant because it represents Sony’s continued support of the format. Minidisc took many years to really take hold in the US after being introduced in 1993 — part of this was because Sony stupidly marketed it as a replacement for CDs rather than a replacement for cassettes (recall that CD-Rs were but a dream in 1993). In fact, for several years in the late 90s, it seemed as though MD might disappear altogether.
But, unexpectedly, due to the music downloading phenomena, and Sony’s support of USB direct-to-MD download for MP3s, MD had a banner year in 2003, becoming the top-selling “digital music players,” according to Sony.
Still, the array of apparent new benefits from the new Hi-MD format go further, according to a spec sheet released by Sony.
The most interesting thing about Hi-MD is that minidisc now becomes a true general purpose mass storage device because it adopts FAT as its disc format, which allows any type of PC data to be stored on the disc. Minidisc recorders will be recognized as USB storage devices when plugged into PCs, meaning that drivers should be unnecessary on any PC running Windows 2000 or XP.
Sony also says that new Hi-MDs will allow you to record in uncompressed PCM digital audio, just like CDs, which would yield about 90 minutes or so of CD-quality audio.
What is still unclear is whether or not the new Hi-MD format will also allow uploading audio from MD to PC. You’d think that with the MD being seen as a regular USB storage device this would be possible, but there’s still the risk that Sony will disallow this, since it was kept out of the NetMD standard.
Since Sony has implemented digital rights management (DRM) for music files downloaded to MD, perhaps that is sufficient protection to make them feel safe in allowing live audio recorded to Hi-MD to be uploaded to PCs.
A few final features that merit attention are the fact that current regular blank minidiscs can be formatted for Hi-MD in order to increase their music capacity and allow them to be used for data storage, and the new players will be backwards compatible with existing MDs, though old players will not play the new Hi-MDs.
Sony says the new Hi-MD recorders will be available in April, with prices fairly equivalent to current MD recorders, and that Hi-MD discs will cost about $7, which is definitely more than regular blank MDs, but may be worth it for all the increased storage capacity and use.
I have to say that if Sony allows us to upload our live recorded audio to PCs, in addition to all the new cool features of Hi-MD, they may well beat out hard disk players and low-quality voice recorders to win a permanent place in every independent media makers bag of gear.