Sony to switch to WMA?

Sony has stuck tenaciously by its ATRAC music format for over a decade – the technology was originally developed for MiniDisc, then honed and improved

Sony has stuck tenaciously by its ATRAC music format for over a decade – the technology was originally developed for MiniDisc, then honed and improved for its line of digital music players, including its latest iPod rival, the NW-A1000 (pictured above).

It was only this year that Sony relented and allowed its players to natively support the de facto internet standard, MP3. It’s not surprising they were reluctant – ATRAC sounds much better than MP3. Problem is, no other manufacturers support it. Nor do Sony’s two coolest products of the year – the PSP and the W800i Walkman phone – which means they’re not compatible with Sony’s ATRAC-based Connect music download service.

Insiders have been hinting that Connect is heading for a big shake-up before Christmas. One change could - and we stress the could - be the shift to an industry standard music format. It wouldn’t be MP3, because that offers no copy protection and the major labels (of which Sony is one) wouldn’t use it.

Which leaves Apple’s favourite format, AAC, or Windows Media Audio (WMA). The latter is used by Napster, Virgin, HMV and pretty much every other major music download service apart from iTunes.

Previously we thought AAC looked most likely because both the W800i and the PSP support the format.

But Sony’s Japanese site suggests otherwise: as newlaunches.com points out, this page says (in Japanese, but you can translate it at world.altavista.com) that the Walkman range will receive a firmware update in December allowing the playback of WMA files, as well as ATRAC and MP3. No mention of AAC.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Connect will change – but switching to WMA would open the service up to users of non-Sony music players such as Creative’s Zen range.

So, it’s seems that Walkmans will be eating Windows Media this Christmas. Time will tell whether Connect will be feeding it to them.

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