Sony's new MPD-AP20U looks a lot like a DiscMan, and quite a bit like some recent laptop-market CD recorders, but its powers transcend such one-trick ponies. Combining CD recording and DVD-Video playback as a portable computer drive and—after a quick costume change in any handy phone booth—battery-powered MP3/Audio CD playback as a standalone CD player, this dual-identity drive "blurs the line between computer peripherals and CE devices," according to Sony IT Products marketing manager Robert DeMoulin.
The drive also illustrates Sony's current CD-R strategy, in that it stays out of the speed race (eschewing showy 48X specs for a comparably modest 24X), and emphasizes other value-adding attributes like portability, a Memory Stick slot, DVD-ROM playback, and standalone use as CD-Audio player with trendy MP3 capability. The MPD-AP20U also boasts 10X CD-RW recording, 24X CD read speed, 8X DVD-ROM reading, and an 8MB buffer to support data transfer in the most perilous of recording conditions. (Sony's BurnProof-equivalent buffer underrun-protection technology, Power-Burn, helps in this respect as well.) The Memory Stick slot (now a staple of Sony CD and DVD recorders) enables users to transfer content to CD-R from digital cameras or other devices that support the portable storage format, and also allows them to play back MP3 files stored on Memory Stick when the drive is in standalone mode.
The MP-AP20U also uses a PDA-like "Drop-in" cradle for charging and computer attachment, and connects to a desktop or laptop PC via USB 2 (it's also USB 1.1-compatible, but that comes with an attendant loss of speed). The drive comes with separate USB and power connections for out-of-cradle battery-charging. According to Sony, battery life will sustain the recording of 9 CD-R discs or 8 CD-RW discs written at full speed; up to 4 hours of CD playback, up to 1.5 hours of DVD-ROM playback, and up to 10 hours of MP3-file playback.
The drive also ships with a fairly substantial software bundle, including BHA's B's Recorder Gold 5 for Windows and Mac and the Windows-only packet-writing tool B's Clip. The package also features ArcSoft's Photobase and PhotoStudio cross-platform digital photo management, editing, and slideshow creation tools; Retrospect Express for backup; MusicMatch Jukebox for Windows; and CyberLink PowerDVD for PC-based DVD-Video playback. Sony says use of the drive as a set-top DVD-Video player (attached to a monitor or TV, but not a computer) is not available in this drive, but could be implemented in future models.
The drive also features a wired remote control with a backlit LCD display for quick access to audio playback controls and displays a playback list of MP3 or WAV music titles in ID3 tag format, or CD-Text information if a CD is written with the supplementary text feature. The remote LCD also features an icon indicating battery strength. "Aimed at the business traveler and high-end consumer who wants one drive for CD recording and DVD and MP3 playback," according to DeMoulin, the MPD-AP20U ships in December with an MSRP of $299.
—Stephen F. Nathans