Monday, May 24, 2004

Going Through the Motions

Amen to that. One of the reasons I bought an iPod - the most significant after the delightfully well-integrated combination of iTunes and the iPod - was that I was just plain fed up with my MiniDisc player. MiniDisc could have been a neat and viable format at one point. It really could have. With the ability to store five hours of music on a single $4 rewritable disc, at roughly 96kbps MP3 quality, in theory it seems like a comparably good or better deal as hard drive-based players. But of course the catch is that 'roughly 96kbps MP3 quality' means 'proprietary Sony ATRAC3 compression at Long Play-4 quality.' My hearing isn't fantastic by any means. I can barely tell the difference between a 192kbps MP3 and the original CD. But the hassle of a proprietary codec is worsened by terribly buggy conversion/connection software, and the top speed of uploading to the device. The NetMD protocol, Sony's far-too-late amendment of the format to allow both compression and recording at greater than real-time speed, was still hampered by the speed of USB 1.1. It still took 45 minutes or so to burn a disc in LP4 mode - and that's assuming OpenMG Desktop, the conversion program, didn't choke and crash either itself or Windows. Sure, my MZ-N707 has fantastic battery life - 56 hours on a single regular AA, or around 20 on a rechargeable - but what's the point, when it's such a pain to convert your library? The iPod's 8-hour battery life, in comparison, is a minor annoyance, but for how beautiful its operation is otherwise I can forgive that. The Sony faux-MP3 player thing bothers me, mainly because a few years back I worked at Future Shop over the Christmas season. Commission sales are brutal at the best of times, but one aspect I really had an ambiguous relationship with were the "spiffed" items. Some products would feature an extra commission bonus, paid for by the manufacturer; this meant that given the choice between the MD player that sold for $329 with a $25 commission, or the generic flash drive MP3 player that sold for $349 with a $20 commission, I would of course push the MD every time. I even managed to believe my own hype for a little while, as the purchase of my own player shows. In retrospect, I regret pushing the MiniDisc players, knowing what a terrible choice they are in comparison to just about anything else. iPodLounge's review of the Vaio Pocket shows that Sony hasn't learned anything - it's like having the most annoying features of MD, in a hard drive-based player. Whoop-dee-doo, Tarantulatown. No doubt they'll pay spiffs in the commission-paid stores, just like with MiniDisc, and aggressively push it in more mundane ways everywhere else. Meh; Sony's long since been dethroned in the portable music game - but their latest work continues to imply that they don't seem to have noticed yet.

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