Philips NV, the Dutch electronics company that created the cassette tape, announced yesterday that it is developing a digital tape recorder that also will be able to play conventional analog cassette tapes.
The new system, called the digital compact cassette, could pose a strong challenge to the digital audio tape recorders that have gone on sale recently. Those machines cannot play the cassettes that have been used by consumers in millions of home and car audio systems and in portable stereos with headsets.
Consumers might welcome not having to abandon their existing tapes, but the development of yet another recording format also could mean more confusion.
Already, consumers are faced with deciding among four formats: records, cassettes, compact discs and digital audio tape.
Philips said it expects the first of its new tape players to go on sale early in 1992 and that they initially will sell for $500 or $600. It did not indicate the price of the tapes.
Philips, which introduced the analog cassette in 1963, has been working quietly on the digital system for more than a year. But yesterday's announcement is the company's first formal acknowledgment of the product.
Tandy Corp., a leading vendor of electronic products and owner of the Radio Shack chain, said it will help Philips develop the technology and will make and sell tapes and players.
Digital recordings, both compact discs and digital audio tapes, store musical information the way computers store data, as a series of 1s and 0s. Such music is often crisper and freer of distortions and hisses than the music on analog cassettes and records, which store music as a wavelike form.
Digital audio tape players have gone on sale only recently, having been delayed for years by opposition from record companies and music publishers, which fear the digital players will lead to an increase in home taping and cut sales of compact discs.