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Sony to launch new version of high-end CD system
TOKYO, May 17 (Reuters) - Sony Corp plans to launch a new version of its high-end audio system known as SACD next month at about one-fourth the current product price, the Japanese electronics giant said on Wednesday.

Sony said the third version of its SACD (Super Audio CD) system will be priced at 80,000 yen ($730), against 350,000 yen ($3,200) currently, aiming to reach mainstream CD consumers rather than an initial high-end target of audiophiles.

SACD, jointly developed by Sony and Philips Electronics N.V. of the Netherlands, has a stronger sound quality than conventional compact-disks, Sony said. It includes multiple channels, a wider bandwith and a greater dynamic range.

The new system will first be released in Japan on June 10 with plans for monthly production of 2,000 units. Launches are planned for Asia and Europe later this year and a U.S. release date has not been decided.

Sony's first SACD hit shelves last May, followed by the second version released in November.

The combined sales so far number around 2,000 units, a Sony spokeswoman said.

Sony's launch coincides with the planned launch of a rival DVD audio player format by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd , the world's largest consumer electronics group.

The format by Matsushita -- whose brands include Panasonic, National and Technics -- is similar in size, capacity and quality to Sony's but the two are incompatible with each other.

Osaka-based Matsushita originally planned to release its new DVD audio player last year but postponed it to June due to a copyright protection issue.

It plans to release two product lines -- one at 100,000 yen and another at 120,000 yen.

Both disks, which are not recordable, look just like conventional CDs but pack in seven times more information and produce superior sound quality.

Both systems will be compatible with an estimated 12 billion CDs using the existing format sold worldwide since 1982.

Next month may be represent the start of another format battle for a new generation of audio gadgetry between Sony and Matsushita, arch rivals in the 1980s Betamax-VHS prize fight over technology for videocassette recorders.

($1 equals 109.51 Yen)

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