Print 14 comment(s) - last by johnsonx.. on Sep 5 at 5:13 PM

Sony has made an announcement that it is ending support for its proprietary ATRAC format.

Sony issued a press release, which, on the surface, seemed to herald an excitement-filled event--the release of two new multi-featured Walkman players, which would include video support for the first time.

While this was an announcement of some significance and anticipation, the carefully worded fine print of the release sounded a far different tune for Sony.

Near the end of the release, Sony stated that:
All of the new players are compatible with security-enhanced Windows Media Audio and support most subscription music services
It goes on to casually mention:
As a result, Sony will be phasing out the CONNECTMusic Services based on Sony's ATRAC audio format in North America and Europe. Specific timing will vary by region depending on market demand, but will not be before March 2008.  The CONNECT e-book service for the Reader will not be affected.
While Sony's CONNECT store has by no means been a commercial hit, it is surprising to hear that Sony will not be providing ATRAC support as its Walkman players have featured support for the various ATRAC codecs, since the format's release in the 90s.

Matt Moore of the Associated Press further elaborated on ATRAC's fate in an article followin
g this press release:

Sony spokeswoman Linda Barger said the new Walkman players will no longer directly support ATRAC.

We are offering conversion software to convert ripped non-secure ATRAC files to MP3,' she said in an e-mail.'

From the now defunct Betamax, to today's Blu-Ray Disc format, Sony has always invested heavily in developing and commercially promoting its own proprietary formats.

ATRAC was no exception.  ATRAC, which stands for
Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding, is a set of audio compression algorithms, akin to the MP3 compression format.  It was first commercially released in 1992, with Sony's Walkman players, which used the format to compress audio for the now defunct Mini-Disc format.  As well as providing compression, ATRAC engineer's designed it with the intention of encoding audio at high speeds with minimal power consumption.  Since its inception, ATRAC has seen four iterations developed by Sony -- ATRAC1, ATRAC3, ATRAC3plus, and ATRAC Advanced Lossless.

Sharp and Panasonic have provided third party support in the past, for the format, creating their own implementations of the ATRAC codec, for use in their Mini-Disc players.

With Sony's announcement, it appears that this format is finally approaching extinction.

Curiously, Sony's webpage for the ATRAC format makes no reference to these developments.

Sony's Connect store's impending closure may be slightly less surprising, as the store is still relatively new, having just been created in 2005, and has been the victim of many problems.   The store was initially intended to provide a service similar to iTunes.

CNET's John Borland released an excellent story on the history of CONNECT's problems, titled "How Sony failed to Connect, again".  It chronicles how the service has been plagued by problems since its creation, stemming from internal disputes among the development team and bug-prone software releases, which yielded a large amount of negative customer-feedback.

Aside from the issues of attempting to deal with the difficulties of promoting a proprietary format and dealing with the Connect store's problems, Sony's biggest problem in the portable music industry, has simply been weak sales of its Walkman® player line.

Bloomberg, who compiled a list of the top electronics retailers in various sectors by market share, for the month of March 2007, indicated that Sony was not among the top five sellers in the MP3 player market.  The top five sellers, respectively, were Apple, Sansdisk, Creative Labs, Microsoft and Samsung.  Similarly, The NPD Group released sales figures for flash-memory MP3 player sales, which revealed that Sony had no players that were among the ten highest-selling models for the year through June.

With the demise of Connect and ATRAC impending, Sony, once the clear leader in portable audio, faces an uncertain future in this sector, as it attempts a tough uphill battle to regain significant market share, in one of electronics industry's most competitive markets.

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While you're at it...
By Mudvillager on 9/4/2007 3:42:33 PM , Rating: 5
Cut life-support on MemoryStick also, please?

RE: While you're at it...
By TomZ on 9/4/2007 8:07:48 PM , Rating: 2
...and Blu-ray.

(Just kidding!)

Go Blu-ray go!

RE: While you're at it...
By daftrok on 9/4/2007 9:22:14 PM , Rating: 2
Do you mean Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, or both? Memory Stick should definitely go but Duo has to stay for one of two reasons. 1) Its integrated into all of the Sony cameras, internal/external memory card readers and 2) Its needed so that competition can exist between SD cards and Memory Stick and bring the prices down (kind of like another format war). I'm not saying that SD will suddenly spike 50 bucks just because Memory Stick is dead, I'm just saying that its the competition that makes both sides work better and better to out do the other. Remember:
SD Card: Anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you!
Memory Stick: No you can't!
SD Card: Yes I can!

RE: While you're at it...
By Zelvek on 9/5/2007 3:03:31 AM , Rating: 2
I think xD is actually more of a competitor to SD than the many formats of memory stick so I see no reason why sony shouldn't move away from using it.

RE: While you're at it...
By zsouthboy on 9/5/2007 12:22:46 PM , Rating: 2
Psst. All a Memory Stick is is an SD card. Different shape.


my Minidisc deck
By johnsonx on 9/4/2007 11:54:09 PM , Rating: 3
Does this mean my MiniDisc deck that I paid about $600 for 15 years ago is finally obsolete? If only I knew which box in the garage it was in, I could point and laugh at it.

RE: my Minidisc deck
By Vanilla Thunder on 9/5/2007 11:02:02 AM , Rating: 2
Not really obsolete. You'd be surprised at the amount of people who use MiniDisc for live recording situations. A couple of nice AKG's or a stereo patch from the board, and you've got yourself a high quality digital recording that you can dump into most audio editiing programs and clean up. As far as the massses are concerned MD has been gone for a while. But personally, I'd still snatch one for the right price.


RE: my Minidisc deck
By johnsonx on 9/5/2007 5:13:04 PM , Rating: 2
My roommate at the time did precisely that, and that's partly why we bought one originally (later bought a second one, that's the one I have somewhere now). It's also amazing some of the editing tricks you can do with MD: with careful manipulation, you can take out verses, loop choruses, rearrange parts, etc., nearly seamlessly (to the point where you'd have to be listening on headphones, and know exactly where the cut was, to hear anything odd). I also have a car minidisc player. It works as far as I know, though it hasn't been installed in a car since at least 1997.

Some people were critical of ATRAC for being a lossy compression algorithm, but we did a test once trying to expose any audible problem. We recorded some music to an MD, then dubbed it digitally to a DAT deck. Went back and forth MD-DAT-MD at least six times, which should have introduced some artifacts. Listening closely through quality headphones, neither of us could hear any difference between the 6th generation MD playback vs. the original source material.

Love the Walkman Name...
By JTKTR on 9/4/2007 6:36:00 PM , Rating: 2
I still have my Cassette Walkman from 1984. It could even record!

RE: Love the Walkman Name...
By TomZ on 9/4/2007 8:07:15 PM , Rating: 2
My grandpa had one of those. Amazing sound quality - best I ever heard up until that point.

Blu-Ray is Sony proprietary?
By Schadenfroh on 9/5/2007 8:49:12 AM , Rating: 2
I always thought that the several companies belonging to the Blu-ray Disc Association controlled Blu-Ray and not just Sony (who is a member).

I have seen many more nonSony blu-ray players than nonToshiba HD-DVD players. (standalone players not counting PS3s and HD-DVD 360 addons)

So, is blu-ray a proprietary Sony format?

RE: Blu-Ray is Sony proprietary?
By TomZ on 9/5/2007 9:06:54 AM , Rating: 2
Developed by Sony, yes. But supported by a number of companies.

MD was great for its time
By sprockkets on 9/5/2007 12:18:21 PM , Rating: 3
No other format in 1992 allowed non linear recording, i.e., deleting tracks at will, no matter the order, which allowed for reclaiming space, moving track order, naming tracks, and splitting tracks, even on portable devices. I will miss the format, but only with today's new flash recorders plus the editing capabilities of today's could replace that and other traditional media. Also, Sony developed the memory buffer for MD and it trickled to CD players too.

I will always keep my Sharp MD recorder, since it was smaller than the Sony and slot loading.

Rest in piece???
By oTAL on 9/5/2007 4:46:48 AM , Rating: 1
No way!! I hope it burns in hell!! Slowly! With napalm slowly dripping on the people who forced that shit onto the poor consumers, and provided them with an experience way bellow what was advertised.

(At that time I was dumb enough to be one of the poor sobs that bought a netMD)

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