Consumer electronics giant Sony and flash memory supplier SanDisk have released in Hong Kong products supporting a new media format called Memory Stick Pro where DVD-quality video can be recorded onto a medium smaller than a stick of chewing gum. Memory Stick cards fit into slots that are built into devices such as digital cameras and personal digital assistants (PDAs). The cards let people store data or expand the capabilities of a device such as adding Wi-Fi, digital camera or Bluetooth functions. Demonstrating the quality of recorded video on the new one gigabyte (GB) Memory Stick Pro, Sony officials played a five-minute trailer of the movie Charlie Angels: Full Throttle on a 42-inch Sony WEGA television that accepts Memory Stick Pro cards at the launch last week. Besides recording video, it can also read data from PCs, PDAs, digital cameras, smartphones and MP3 players. Sony claims the new Memory Stick Pro format could eventually take the place of video cassette, CD and DVD recorders. Takanobu Tsuboi, assistant manager at Sony Memory Stick Business Centre, said: 'Memory Stick Pro realises what current flash cards cannot.' Memory Stick Pro competes against a handful of flash cards including Compact Flash, Secure Digital (SD), xD, MMC and Smart Media. Compact Flash has the lowest cost per megabyte and the highest capacities of up to 3GB. Panasonic last month said a 1GB SD card would be available in the fourth quarter. 'Current memory cards used in digital cameras are not recording images in real time due to the lag in recording speed,' Mr Tsuboi said. 'However, Memory Stick Pro records MPEG 2 video at a transfer speed of 9Mbps, making very high-quality continuous image recording possible.' He said a new device such as a Memory Stick Pro recorder that allows people to record their television programmes, favourite songs as well as images is possible in the future. At present, there are three Sony televisions available in Hong Kong that takes the Memory Stick Pro cards. But the format has a long way to go before it finds its way into a consumer's living room. One 1GB Memory Stick Pro card costs about HK$6,800 and can record 24 minutes of video. The new card format, Memory Stick Pro, will eventually top out at 32GB, but it will start with 256MB, 512MB and 1GB storage capacities. Mr Tsuboi said that in theory, the technology roadmap could increase to a 32GB Memory Stick Pro. Whether or not such a product would ever become available were questions Sony did not have answers for at the moment, he said. Even if the 32GB was achievable now, it would not be affordable for the average consumer. Based on the present costs for 1GB, a 32GB Memory Stick Pro card would be priced at a staggering HK$217,600. Sony Hong Kong's new division managing director Kunihiko Kawakita said the Memory Stick Pro, which allowed devices to record content faster than the original Memory Stick cards, was not a replacement for the original products. 'We see different purposes for each of these four Memory Stick cards. The Memory Stick Pro allows for much higher capacities and at much higher performance, but if you are using it primarily to record still images, then you don't need the Memory Stick Pro. The Memory Stick Pro is best for video,' said Mr Kawakita. Sony is also working on giving Memory Stick Pro users the ability to lock the cards and prevent unauthorised access to the data they carry using an Access Control peripheral which will be available this year. 'With higher capacities, consumers are more likely to store important data on Memory Stick Pro cards, so it is important to make sure that it can be secured,' said Mr Kawakita. Sony will develop new devices specifically for Memory Stick Pro, and all original Memory Sticks would be compatible with those devices, said Mr Tsuboi. Certain devices such as the new Sony Cyber-shot digital cameras DSC-F717 and F77 will be compatible with Memory Stick Pro cards natively and others such as the Clie PEG-NX70V/H through an upgrade, but some older devices will not. The company will maintain a list of compatible devices on the memorystick.com Web site. Developer support would be essential to the success of the Memory Stick Pro format as competing flash technologies Compact Flash and SD have many third party compatible peripherals that would in turn encourage user adoption. Memory Stick Pro will likely receive more developer support than the Memory Stick format because of its high-speed, high-quality video recording capabilities. Besides SanDisk, Apacer, Fujitsu, IO Data and Lexar Media have announced support of the Memory Stick Pro format.