Panasonic calls war with SD card

Panasonic says it's bringing a standards war bigger than the Beta-VHS video cassette battle to New Zealand with the launch of its tiny music consortium-backed SD memory cards.

Panasonic says it's bringing a standards war bigger than the Beta-VHS video cassette battle to New Zealand with the launch of its tiny music consortium-backed SD memory cards.

On show for the first time inside wristwatch-walkmans, microwave ovens and broadcast-quality video cameras at the Big Boys Toys show in Auckland, the 64MB postage stamp-sized cards will go head to head with Sony’s memory "stick". The stick's capacity is up to 64MB. Like Panasonic, Sony expects to ship a 128MB version of the card next year and a 1GB version a year or two later.

“But this format is supported by 105 companies like EMI, Universal Music Group, IBM, Microsoft, Intel and Motorola. Sony has gone out on its own,” says Panasonic product co-ordinator Matt Rummel.

“This is war; it’s big boys' games,” he says of the copy-protected product backed by members of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI).

Rummel says the next few months will be the same as the Beta-VHS scenario when Panasonic, with VHS, came out on top. Panasonic, the brand name for Japanese giant Matsushita Electrical Industrial, launched the SD card - at half the size of its competitors, 32mm x 24mm x 2.1mm - in September in Japan after working on it for five years with partners Toshiba and SanDisk.

Last week at Comdex, Sony, which had stood alone with its memory stick standard, revealed early prototypes of products from 116 companies which plan to use its format. It and fellow memory card makers Iomega, with its 40MB PocketZip, and Compaq, with its Flash Cards, also belong to the SDMI but Panasonic is the only one to gain the support of many other members and form a subgroup, the Secure Digital (SD) organisation.

SD technology converts CD or MP3-based files into MP2 Advanced Audio Codec format and only allows a user to copy the same file on to a maximum of three cards. Music, video or data can only be saved on to the SD card using PC-installed software and a USB cable.SDMI recently opened its watermark technology up to hackers in a US-based competition and some university-backed groups claimed to have hacked it. SD has not yet been hacked.

Used together the technologies are winning favour with the music companies because they control music distribution.

Tomorrow's launch here sees the cards used in digital broadcast-strength movie cameras, earlier models of which are already used by TV3. In March next year, a wristwatch-based walkman and slimline headsets will be available, as will SD card car audio systems and vehicle-based global positioning system (GPS) navigation systems. In the concept phase is a microwave for which users download recipes off the net straight to the machine.

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