MP3 Linux Players
Diamond Multimedia was early to market with the Rio portable MP3 player. Weighing in at only 2.4 ounces and selling for around $200, Rio can hold 40 minutes of music and play for 12 hours on a single AA battery. Because the Rio has no moving parts, the player won't skip like a CD player when subjected to movement. The music is stored in 32MB of flash memory, and you can purchase an additional 16 or 32MB of flash memory. MP3 files are transferred from your computer via the parallel port at a rate of ten seconds per megabyte. The software provided with Rio is for use on Windows 95/98, but a few different Linux applications are under development which can be used to manage Rio's files (see Resources).
Empeg is at the cutting edge of MP3 technology with their car audio player. The unit uses a 220MHz Digital/Intel StrongARM processor with 8MB of memory and runs Linux 2.2. The player can handle all types of MP3 files and includes an FM radio (but no AM due to interference problems). Additionally, you can connect any standard CD player, tape deck or radio to the player as long as it has line-level outputs.
Like Diamond's Rio player, you manage all the files on your Empeg player from your computer. The Empeg player slides out of the docking bay in your car so you can connect it to your computer (or to your home stereo via RCA jacks). The standard interface will be a Windows 98 application that helps manage your audio tracks via the USB port. For those without USB (or Windows 98), a version will be available for Windows 95 and NT that uses RS-232 rather than USB. Linux tools will also be included and available as source code. You can expect a group of enthusiasts to help further develop and improve the Linux tools. The user interface is written in Python and should allow developers to change the UI.
The Empeg player is not something you can build at home. “It's a 100% custom hardware and software effort: there aren't any off-the-shelf parts in there (there simply isn't room),” said Empeg's Hugo Fiennes. Asked why Linux was chosen, Hugo replied,
We needed a powerful, flexible OS to support our applications: the Empeg does much more than just play tunes—it has an integrated database, and uses glibc threads and IPC (interprocess communication) quite heavily. As the Empeg is hugely overpowered for its current task, we wanted an OS that would allow hackers to add their own code to the system.
Pricing starts at $999US with a 2.1GB disk capacity that can store approximately 37 hours of music. A 28GB version will also be available. The unit should be shipping any time now, and will initially be available only directly from Empeg (http://www.empeg.com/). Distribution sales will be considered after satisfying their backlog of 6000 interested parties.
Much of the interest in MP3 is not a result of the specific file format, but in what it allows one to do. Why else would people be excited about something that produces lower-quality sound than CDs 15 years after CDs were introduced? MP3 returns some of the power back to the music enthusiasts, who can now listen to a custom selection of their favorite singles. With the help of a computer, MP3 allows people to create their own personal commercial-free radio station.
It can also be said that MP3 is forcing the recording industry into the on-line music business. The industry giants seem content with their current business model. With full-length CDs accounting for 74.8% of music sales according to RIAA's 1998 Consumer Profile, they're making a lot of money. The future of on-line music sales is not in selling CDs from an on-line music store. It will involve selling digital audio and delivering it over the Internet. Users will be able to buy only the music they want, not forced to pay $10 or $15 to get the one or two songs they like. Even if something other than MP3 takes us there, it will still be a good thing.
Craig Knudsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Fairfax, VA and telecommutes full-time as a web engineer for ePresence, Inc. of Red Bank, NJ. Craig has been using Linux for both work and play for three years. When he's not working, he and his wife Kim relax with their two Yorkies, Buster and Baloo.
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