Sony is planning to make its MagicGate digital rights management (DRM) a standard feature of Memory Stick flash memory cards and will shortly launch a new card intended to replace some of its current cards.
The new card will be available in both the standard and shorter Duo form factor and doesn't have a special brand name but will be distinguishable from the cards it is intended to replace by its color, which will be "cobalt blue," according to Sony. It will replace the familiar violet/blue-colored cards that Sony has sold since it first launched the Memory Stick in 1998 and the MagicGate cards which include DRM but which are priced at a premium over the basic cards, said Aki Shimazu, a Sony spokeswoman.
Unlike the existing DRM-enabled cards, the new Memory Stick is not likely to cost anymore than the current basic cards, said the company. It will be available in four capacities: 32M bytes, 64M bytes, 128M bytes and 256M bytes, the latter of which contains two hardware switchable banks of 128M bytes of memory.
Prices will range from US$30 to $100, which is similar to those for basic cards on sale via the company's SonyStyle.com Web site.
Compatibility won't be a problem, said the company. It will work in all products that accept Memory Stick, MagicGate Memory Stick and Memory Stick Pro, said Shimazu.
Sony also promises the potential of higher data read speeds with the new card although that is only possible under certain conditions. Products that support basic Memory Stick cards use a serial interface to transfer data between the host device and card and that won't change with the new card.
A new parallel interface can transfer data at about four times the speed of the serial interface although the only hardware compatible with this parallel interface are products that also support the newer Memory Stick Pro media. The data transfer rate increase, which Sony declined to specify, will only be realized when the new cards are used in Memory Stick Pro supporting hardware and even then it will be slower than using the higher-priced Pro media cards.
The increase also only applies to data reading operations. Data writing will be at roughly the same speed irrespective of hardware used, said Sony.
The Memory Stick Pro range of cards that were launched last year already include MagicGate as a standard feature so the launch of the new cards and discontinuation of the existing violet/blue cards will mean that MagicGate is included in all Memory Stick cards sold by Sony.
That may help Memory Stick compete better against Secure Digital (SD), which includes DRM as a standard feature and is used in a wide variety or portable digital electronics products.
Most recent figures from Sony show Memory Stick is not shipping as well as the company had hoped.
In August last year, which was the last time the company issued Memory Stick forecasts, Sony said it expected cumulative shipments to reach 75 million by the end of March 2004. The latest data, issued last week, shows cumulative shipments reached 60 million level during December last year. That means the card shipments in the period from April to December 2003 totaled around 21 million cards and means around 15 million need to be shipped during the first three months of this year to achieve the target.
"It's possible we will be short again," said Shimazu of the current shipment figure against the forecast for shipments at the end of March.
Ironically, the company had forecast in 2002 that shipments would reach 60 million at around this time, although it revised those figures upwards last year. However, the 2002 estimates were themselves a downward revision from the company's 2001 goal of cumulative shipments of 125 million cards by around this time.