Archive for the ‘Digital Music’ Category

Vye S37 Review – WMP, Origami Experience, Media Center

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

In previous posts, I’ve promised that I would continue my review of the Vye S37 with a discussion of music players.  Although I started working on the post quite a while back, I’ve held off on completing and publishing as I realized that I really needed to spend more time using the various players.

In this post, I am going to talk about Microsoft’s Windows Media variants: Windows Media Player 11, Origami Experience, and Windows Media Center.  For many UMPC owners, I’m sure these are essentially the default choices for music playback.  On my eo v7110, I pretty much exclusively used a combination of WMP and Origami Experience and they were the first players that I tried on my Vye as well.  In time, I found them to fall short of many of my needs, though.  I eventually tried a few other products and ended up selecting Media Monkey as my preferred music player.  In the near future, I will write up a separate post entirely about that product.

Finding the right music player for use on my Vye was essential as it is one of my key uses.  I have a big CD collection that I have accumulated over many years and have put a lot of time and effort into ripping them all to digital copies.  My wish to have my whole library on my UMPC was a major motivator in buying the Vye and upgrading it to a 250GB hard drive.

Part of the reason for the large size of my collection is that only a fairly small percentage of it consists of typical 10 track or so pop albums.  Instead, I have a very extensive collection of film scores and compilations as well as quite a bit of classical, Broadway and film musicals, and other similarly specialized music.  In those genres, many of the CDs approach the 75 minute maximum and frequently have large numbers of fairly short tracks.  My collection includes over 1,400 albums with over 26,000 separate tracks.

When I first started the process of copying my CDs to digital files, hard disk space was a lot more expensive than it is now.  In order to limit the space needed a bit, I stuck with MP3 files at 128 kbps.  The sound quality on that isn’t bad, but certainly could be better.  Now that you can get a terabyte of storage for not too much more than $200, I’ve been re-ripping the entire collection in the lossless, open-source FLAC format.  Obviously, those files are still too big to be practical for the Vye.  For the portable use, I have converted each of the FLAC files to 128kbps WMA files, which are roughly the same size as the old MP3 versions, but with a better sound quality.

A music library this large does tend to be a bit of a challenge for most digital jukebox software.  That is a lot of meta data to keep track of and I also need a user interface that doesn’t make it too overwhelmingly difficult to locate whatever particular music I am looking for at any given time.

After the jump, I go into a more in-depth discussion of the 3 Windows Media based music players.


Inevitable iPhone Post

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

It is tempting to leave this site as possibly the only technology-oriented site on the web not to post anything about the Apple iPhone, but I just can’t quite resist the temptation to throw in my 2-cents worth. As tomorrow’s official release approaches and the press coverage grows more breathlessly excited, I can’t help but feel that this is one of the strangest and most puzzling major product releases I’ve ever seen.

Apple fans understandably bristle at the suggestion that their devotion seems to be directed to the brand more than the irproducts’ capabilities and value. As I see reports of people lining up for hours or even days on end to be the first to get their hands on an iPhone, though, it is hard to escape this perception of an almost cult-like devotion. If Nokia, Motorola, Palm, or pretty much any other company released a phone with this feature set and pricing, I truly doubt much attention would be paid to it, other than to note the clear disparity between the price and feature set. Since the iPhone is Apple, though, we have the mainstream press essentially going nuts over the product and members of the general public lining up for it as if they were buying tickets to a major one-night-only concert. It really makes very little sense.

From the early reviews, the iPhone looks like a pretty decent first-generation product. The user-interface looks inventive and the feature set sounds decent, although not spectacular. I strongly suspect that the iPhone would easily be one of the very best $100 phones on the market and would at least be competitive in the $200-$250 range. That overall range would put it in the company of other consumer-focused, media-centric phones, particularly those designed for slower, pre-3G data networks. The iPhone isn’t coming out in that price range, though. It is going to cost $500 for the lower-end model and $600 for the version with more storage. In addition, the phone is going to be locked to only work on AT&T’s cellular network and customers are going to be required to commit to a 2-year contract, starting at a minimum of $60/months. Requirements like this are pretty standard for heavily-discounted phones with their cost partly subsidized by the carrier, but that seems highly unlikely to be the case at the prices being charged.

Apple’s attempts to justify the high price have been laughable, and it is disheartening to see some fans echoing them. One frequently repeated official explanation has been that the price makes sense because it is roughly the same amount you would pay to purchase both an iPod and a smartphone. The big problem is that pretty much every Palm, Windows Mobile, and Symbian smartphone released over the last few years already has media playback capabilities that rival any iPod and even many low-end cell phones (in the less than $100 price range) today have music-playback.. For audio, my Palm OS Treo can play MP3, WMA (including “Plays-for-sure” DRM tracks), AAC (unprotected), OGG-Vorbis, WAV, and Audible. The only thing the iPhone will really add (besides Apple’s user-interface design) is DRM-encoded files from iTunes, but that’s at the cost of losing support for WMA and OGG-Vorbis (and possibly Audible as well). Video capability is also widely available in many current devices, although I do give the iPhone a slight potential advantage for having a screen that is above average in size and resolution. Other phones on faster 3G networks will certainly be better suited for streaming audio and video than the iPhone is likely to be.

Another excuse given for the price has been to point out that iPods were also much higher priced when they came out than they are today. The iPhone launch really isn’t comparable to the iPod launch. While neither is the first device of its kind, the iPod was entering a very immature market and was not priced substantially higher than similar devices available at the time. It certainly wasn’t priced $200 or more higher than many devices with substantially more features, as is the case with the iPhone.

Much of the coverage for the iPhone is depicting it as being completely revolutionary. Even my initial impressions from the same day coverage of Steve Jobs’ presentation introducing the phone were that most features really should only seem revolutionary to those that do not have much familiarity with current smartphones and, especially, UMPCs. This may actually be the real story here. The iPhone appears so revolutionary to many people simply because Apple is much better at getting the word out about their product than the current players in the mobile technology space. Apple has long been very successful at cultivating attention from the mainstream press and at using their loyal fanbase to spread the word.

In the long run, skillful marketing and promotion may be the one true revolution that the iPhone is going to bring to the industry. Eventually, the major shortcomings of the iPhone are going to fade into the past as prices come down and later generations add missing features and refine those that fall short. The whole industry is going to have to become better at telling the world about what their products are capable of if they truly hope to compete. Hopefully that will happen and Apple will eventually be pushed to bring the pricing and feature set of their product into a more realistic territory.

Organizing Music for Origami Experience

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Along with the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced Origami Experience, a new media player and program launcher specifically designed for touch-screen UMPCs. Since upgrading my eo v7110 to Vista Ultimate, I have been using Origami Experience as my primary music player.

As I have mentioned in some of my previous posts, the large hard drive capacity on the v7110 was a big motivator for me when I choose that model. With a 160GB hard drive, I actually carry around my entire, rather extensive music collection on my eo. My music collection (mostly MP3s at 128 or 192 mbps) takes up nearly 85GB on my hard drive and represents around 1,500 different albums.

In this article, I’m going to share tips in a couple key areas for effectively managing a music library to make it work well with Origami Experience.

Music on the eo

Friday, May 12th, 2006

Over the last few days, one ways that I have been using my eo has been as an audio player while at work. The large storage capacity, network connectivity, and ubiquitious compatibility with file formats makes it a pretty much ideal portable digital audio player for use on an office desktop or other location where you don’t really need a pocket-sized device.

One of the biggest problems plaguing most portable digital music players is the fact that the industry has yet to standardize the file formats or, particularly, digital rights management schemes being used. Music purchased from online stores generally will only work on certain brands of portable players. For example, without additional conversion (usually involving loss of quality) an iPod can only play music purchased from iTunes, which itself won’t generally play on other brands of players.

Out of pure business necessity, every format and DRM scheme is compatible with Windows XP. That makes a UMPC into a universal portable music player. All you have to do is download and install the software that is required for playing whatever music you want to play. It is a bit of an irritant having to install a bunch of different music players on the device in order to get the widest compatibility, but it is certainly preferable to not being able to play some types of music at all.

The first music player that I installed on my eo (other than Windows Media Player, which comes with it) was Apple’s iTunes. Its online store has the best selection and it also has an exceptionally good podcast manager. Most importantly, since I have a Creative Labs portable player instead of an iPod, music purchased from iTunes wasn’t previously available to me on the go. (more…)