Diamond?s Walkman-style portable player, designed to download and play music files from the Internet, has got the record industry seeing red, even before it hits the shelves.
The Rio PMP300 palm sized upgradeable player uses Flash memory technology for skip-free playback of up to 60 minutes of digital quality music, all for under $200.
The Rio uses so-called MP3 files - an abbreviation for MPEG Layer 3 - which can play near-CD quality music from a relatively small file. This format is already being used by pirates passing music across the Internet.
Additionally, the Rio includes Jukebox MP3 software licensed from Musicmatch and Xing Technology, allowing users to convert CD tracks from their personal collection into MP3 format using their PC. MP3 is the most popular audio format on the Internet, due largely to its standard, non proprietary compression algorithms and exceptional sound quality.
"The biggest obstacle to mainstream adoption of digital music and audio has been the lack of portability and Rio solves that issue,? said David Watkins, vice president and general manager of Diamond's multimedia division.
The music industry, however, sees MP3 and Diamond style portable players as a major threat to its profits.
?Potentially it is enormously damaging as it encourages home taping and it is easy to make perfect digital copies,? said Mark Isherwood, new technology director of the Performing Rights Society/Mechanical Copyright Protection Society Alliance. ?But we have to understand that it is an express train and standing in front of it isn?t going to do any good."
?What is needed at the moment is a pincer movement. We need to prevent people from making recordings until we find legitimate ways around it,? he added.
Isherwood stressed that nothing will happen until the music industry gets its head around the conundrum. ?It is the same thing that happened with tape-to-tape and CD/tape systems, but this time the technology is moving so fast the rights owners have got to run to catch up and correct the situation," he said.
According to research company Jupiter Communications' 'Music Industry and the Internet' report, published in July 1998, online sales in the US for pre-recorded music will climb to more than $1.4 billion by 2002, compared to only $88 million in 1998.
"This significant jump presents an enormous opportunity for portable music players like Diamond's Rio," said Ken Comstock, general manager of the audio business unit at Diamond Multimedia.
The Rio runs off a single 1.5V AA alkaline battery for 12 hours of continuous playback. The device includes 32Mbytes of onboard flash memory for up to 60 minutes of digital quality music playback and up to 16 hours of voice quality audio playback. Removable, add-on Rio flash memory storage cards in both half-hour and one-hour configurations give users the flexibility to easily add storage capacity and create unique music mixes, the vendor claims.
The unit has no moving parts, which means no skipping, even when subjected to heavy vibration and movement such as during extreme sports activities.
Diamond is currently taking advance orders for the Rio, which will arrive in stores from next month.
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