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Sharp plans to launch e-book reader this year

Device will play new audio and video file format

Japan's Sharp plans to enter the increasingly competitive e-book reader market later this year with a device that can read a new e-publishing file format of its own, it said Tuesday.

The company will launch an e-book reader in Japan before the end of the year and is also working towards a launch outside of Japan. The device, which has not yet been detailed by the company, is likely to hit the US after Japan and Sharp said it is already in launch talks with Verizon Wireless.

Electronic books are beginning to gain traction in several markets thanks to the success of devices like Amazon.com's Kindle, Sony's Reader and Apple's iPad. A recent price cut for the Kindle tripled sales of the device and Amazon.com said on Monday that it now sells more Kindle e-books than hardcover books.

But despite the growing popularity, the market remains split between several electronic publishing file formats. Amazon.com's Kindle uses a proprietary format and isn't compatible with the ePub format used in many other devices.

Sharp's e-book readers will read files in a new version of XMDF (ever-eXtending Mobile Document Format), a format developed by Sharp and used in some of its previous devices.

The new version adds support for multimedia data and will allow audio and video to be embedded into e-book pages.

The original version of XMDF was accepted into the international standard for e-publishing (IEC62448), although its use remains largely confined to Japan.

Readers for the XMDF format are available for Windows PCs, Sharp electronic dictionaries, handheld PCs, cell phones and Sharp's Aquos televisions. Sharp runs an online store for XMDF-format electronic books that has over 29,000 titles from several major Japanese publishers.

Sharp said it has yet to decide if its reader will support other formats in addition to XMDF.


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