Japanese electronics giant Sony started taking orders in Hong Kong yesterday for its latest computer-connected mini-disc (MD) recorder, hoping to capitalise on the popularity of digital music downloads and gain a foothold in the online entertainment market. Sony used the launch ceremony to put in plugs for its Sonet broadband service in Hong Kong and the Singapore-based Planet MG music download site that it backs. As the owner of content through its film and music divisions - and as a maker of hardware that can record and play digital media - Sony's strategy for the past year has been to launch services that complement and boost the sales of its content and hardware divisions. The latest device, NetMD Walkman, connects to personal computers through a universal serial bus cable and allows high-speed ripping and music library management through Sony's OpenMG Jukebox software. The players, the most expensive of which retails for HK$2,578, are expected to come on the Hong Kong market next month, about a month before availability in most places. Hong Kong is the first place outside Japan where the device has been launched, in part because the city has been one of Sony's best markets for its MD players. The company has sold 800,000 portable MD players in the SAR, and Susumu 'Steve' Kitadai, division managing director for Sony Hong Kong, said that was attributable to the city's commuting culture. 'People have to commute to work or to school and when they do, they want to listen, which means they would be inclined to make recordings themselves,' he said. The NetMD is just another step in Sony's overall plan to bring networking to all its devices. The company has already introduced Bluetooth wireless networking in its Handycam line and a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone was the first phone to come from Sony's joint venture with Ericsson. The company planned to bring Bluetooth wireless networking to its NetMD line eventually, Mr Kitadai said. Wireless local area network (WLan) technologies 802.11 might also be used in Sony devices. Bluetooth and wireless both had merits and drawbacks. Bluetooth used less power and WLan was much faster. In connecting its MD player to personal computers and the Web, Sony is moving into an area that other hardware manufacturers have also been eyeing. At the end of last year, Apple launched the iPod, a digital music player that stores up to five gigabytes of data and which works with iTunes, Apple's software for managing music libraries. Several other iPod-style devices are available, as well as stand-alone devices that play music stored in the MP3 format. Sony's NetMD supports compact disc, MP3, WAV (waveform) and WMA (Windows Media Audio) files, all of which are converted into Atrac-R (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding) format. Also notable about the new devices, previewed at the Comdex show in Las Vegas in November, is that they support digital copyright management schemes, which the recording industry hopes will reduce online music piracy. Mr Kitadai said Sony was picking up about 10 per cent of Hong Kong's new broadband subscribers with its Internet service launched last summer.