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Mature devices shape Rolly's dancing feet

Posted: 30 May 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Sony Rolly? dancing MP3 player? Bluetooth?

A quick scan of the Rolly components reveals some interesting choices, not because of the vendors selected but because of the devices' maturity. (Click to view teardown.)

The Consumer Electronics Show in January was rocked by the "dancing" MP3 playerSony Rolly. When songs are loaded or streamed via Bluetooth, the Rolly can roll around and flap its speaker coverings in time with the music. The speaker flaps can also muffle the sound and give it a bit more flare when noise is channeled through one side or the other.

The Rolly has been available in Japan since September 2007, and there are rumors, but no confirmation, that it will make its way to North America. The player sells for approximately $380, which seems steep for a 1Gbyte MP3 player.

Controlling the Rolly is quite simple and relatively innovative. There is a toggle for on, off and Bluetooth modes. One press of the single control button opens the flaps and starts the music; a double tap starts the dance mode. Rotating the Rolly clockwise turns a rubber tread to increase the volume; a counterclockwise turn lowers the volume. Likewise, pushing the unit forward advances the playlist to the next song; pulling it Rolly backward selects the previous song.

Music is loaded via USB 2.0 or can be streamed through Bluetooth Advanced Audio Distribution Profile. Songs can be in MP3, ATrac and AAC formats, with more than 300Kbit/s quality. There is 1Gbyte of internal memory but no expansion slot to increase the capacity.

The software to upload content onto the player is the Japanese version of Sony's SonicStage and Rolly Motion Park, so additional tracks and motion were not available to determine how well the interface operates and what types of movements are accessible.

Compared with other 1Gbyte MP3 players, the Rolly is quite largebut it is designed less for portability than for novelty's sake. It measures 104mm x 65mm x 65mm and weighs about 300g. Sound is produced through two 1.2W speakers with a 20Hz to 20kHz range.

'Mature' parts
The Rolly is essentially divided into two sections, one on either side of the main housing. The components are located on two identically sized boards. A quick scan of the components reveals some interesting choices, not because of the vendors selected but because of the devices' maturity. Sony likely focused its development effort on the unit's motion aspects and relied on familiar semiconductors to handle the music.

A daughtercard on one board contains the Toshiba TC58NVG3D4CTG00 flash, which Semiconductor Insights (TechOnline) analyzed in 2006. Samsung was the first to introduce 70nm process lithography for NAND flash, in 2005; but Samsung uses a single-level cell design, while Toshiba's 70nm device uses a multilevel cell, allowing for twice the storage density in a very similar die size. It is interesting that Sony chose to use Toshiba's 70nm device, since the latter has had 56nm devices available for nearly a year now, with 43nm parts expected in the very near future.

Underneath the daughtercard is the only Sony-branded device: the CXD5090, believed to be an audio decoder chip with analog circuits such as an audio D/A converter and SAR ADC.

The Rolly also uses the Spansion (S)71PL032J40B, a stacked multichip product that packs 32Mbit of flash and 4Mbit of SRAM using a 110nm process lithography.

There are two Freescale MB31A MCUs on one board and two on the other. These are 32bit MCUs and are likely motor drivers for the rotation and speaker flaps on each side.

The Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) BlueCore 3 provides Bluetooth v2.0 capabilities. Since CSR is now shipping BlueCore 5 components, the Rolly is two generations behind.

A second Spansion device, the 29SL800, provides 8Mbit of CMOS flash, likely intended for startup storage of default settings.

The next component is the Wolfson Microelectronics WM8711, a low-power stereo DAC with an integrated headphone driveran interesting choice, considering there is no headphone output on the Rolly.

The final component does not have any clear identifying markings on it, other than a part number, F2378VL. It is a bit difficult to discern the manufacturer or functionality of this device, but an educated guess would be TI's ultralow-power microcontroller family. This device would enable a quick wakeup from low-power mode to active mode when the Rolly is turned on, and would feed signals to the Freescale MCUs.

When the Rolly was shown to colleagues and a live audience at ESC Silicon Valley recently, most people concurred that the novelty wore off after a few minutes. Given its price point, however, the Rolly is too expensive for an impulse buy.

Perhaps, over time, Sony will price the Rolly to appeal to the apparently limited market for dancing MP3 players.

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