Sony are the only consumer goods manufacturer to have stuck with their own proprietary removable memory card. Their Memory Stick brand, introduced in 1998, actually covers a variety of different formats that have evolved as devices have changed, getting physically smaller but demanding more storage capacity. As with other memory card formats, the cards are made with solid state memory that retains the data once it’s removed from a device, so is used to backup data or transfer it to a PC. The term Memory Stick (MS) is a Sony trade mark for their memory cards and should not be confused with USB memory keys, or thumb sticks. They are often referred to as memory sticks but this is a generic term.
Sony introduced their own format as a way of tying customers into their products, and are able to do this because they are strong in a breadth of consumer product markets where a method of transferring information such as pictures, videos, music and general computer files is required. MS cards are used directly in digital cameras, camcorders, mp3 players, Playstation game consoles and Sony Ericsson mobile phones. To enable the contents to be read by PCs, USB card readers can be used, or adapters that allow a Memory Stick to mimic another memory card format. These adapters for Memory Stick to PC Card or (CF) conversion are more expensive than those required for some other card formats as they need a controller chip to facilitate the translation.
The table below gives a quick reference to the essentials of the different formats that have evolved. The original format was used until the 128GB limit became much of a limiting factor, despite the introduction of a double sided card (known as Memory Stick Select) so Memory Stick PRO was introduced to resolve this problem. The MS PRO format took the theoretical maximum capacity to 32GB and was also faster than the original. It was quickly followed by the Memory Stick PRO Duo, which introduced a shorter and thinner physical form factor, more compatible with the smaller devices emerging at the time. This physical size issue became more imperative with the emergence of even smaller, thinner mobile phones and led to the introduction of the Memory Stick Micro, also known as the M2, jointly developed with mass market memory manufacturer SanDisk, specifically for that purpose. The final version, again jointly developed with SanDisk, is the PRO-HG Duo, physically the same as a PRO Duo but with faster read and write times to cope with the high-speed data transfer requirements of high definition digital cameras and video recorders.
|Table of Sony Memory Stick Formats|
|Model||Release date||Theoretical maximum capacity||Write Protect Swtich||Major features|
|(Original)||Jan 1998||128GB||Yes||Memory up to 128MB, optional DRM|
|PRO||Jan 2003||32GB||No||Faster, Memory up to 4GB (maximum capacity is 32GB), optional DRM|
|PRO Duo||June 2002||Compact size, optional DRM|
|PRO-HG Duo||Aug 2007||60MB/sec maximum performance in Duo package, optional DRM|
|Micro (M2)||Feb 2006||Very compact size, optional DRM|
Compatibility issues exist, unsurprisingly, but the different card sub-formats are largely backward compatible. HG versions, for example, will work with non-HG enabled devices but at Pro speeds, and many older card readers will not work with the HG format, although a firmware update, if available, may resolve this. The same is true when using PRO format cards in devices or readers that are older and only know about the original MS format.
Sony paid a lot of attention to Digital Rights Management (DRM) and implemented MagicGate, their copy-protection mechanism that conformed to the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), on Memory Sticks. Some Sony devices use it, such as the Network Walkman and the Playstation 2, and it is embedded within SonicStage, Sony’s PC software for managing media sales, particularly when purchasing from Sony CONNECT, their online media sales service. Although many card reader manufacturers claim their devices are Magic Gate compatible, this usually means they can read and write to Magic Gate enabled cards while ignoring MagicGate at the application level. However with the SDMI moribund since 2001 and Sony’s CONNECT service phased out in 2008, MagicGate is effectively ineffective.
Publicly Sony are still fully behind the Memory Stick format although there have been signs over recent years that the stance toward competitor devices such as CompactFlash and Secure Digital is mellowing. Sony’s own PDA, the Clie, is now defunct, considered a business failure, and some commentators speculate that this was partly because of the adoption of a proprietary memory card format. However, it could be just as likely that Sony killed the product in order to focus on the smartphone/PDA product line coming out in conjunction with Ericsson.
Similarly Sony’s larger DSLR camera line takes CompactFlash cards as well as Memory Stick cards with an adapter, but this product line came about as a result of Sony’s acquisition of Minolta’s digital SLR camera business. It could therefore be simply a recognition that excluding the CF format would alienate semi-pro photographers, particularly previous Minolta customers. Unfortunately for Sony, reviews of cameras such as the A100 DSLR show that write speeds on Lexar CF cards are faster than MS PRO for writing images, meaning that under intense conditions, the camera is ready for reuse in a much faster time (although the cards used were not PRO-HG). Sony’s other camera accessories, such as photo printers, now accept Secure Digital (SD) and CF cards as well as Memory Stick, and they now produce multi-format USB card readers, whereas originally their product line was Memory Stick only.
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