Audio Hoping to Catch Consumers Ears
By Jim Bray
The onward march of technology is changing how we listen to music and
get information, and chief among these are the MP3 revolution and Satellite
Youve probably heard of MP3s, which are compressed digital
audio files that let you store a horrendous amount of data onto a comparatively
small device. For example, while a conventional audio compact disc holds
less than 100 minutes, that same CD-R your kids are burning on their PC
can hold up to about 750 minutes of the crunched MP3 files.
As with the Minidisc format, some experts will complain that the audio
quality of these compressed files is inferior to those used on conventional
compact disc. In practical terms, however, the difference is meaningless
if the original source material is up to snuff; and Id defy the
average person to hear or care about the difference.
MP3s are also becoming hot because their minimal file sizes allows
for easy download from the Internet. Napster notwithstanding, theres
a huge MP3 community online and they want their tunes.
There are many portable MP3 players on the market already, from brands
such as Diamond, RCA, Samsung and others, and this past Januarys
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showed there are puh-lenty more
on the way. These units are pocket sized and many (if not most) have slots
into which extra memory cards can be inserted.
Even better, higher ticket items like compact disc and DVD players are
coming before too long that will also play back the MP3 format. This could
give a shot in the arm to the CD player and CD burner market,
as well as offering yet another bit of encouragement to people thinking
about taking the inevitable plunge into the wonderful world of DVD.
I even heard that the upcoming Mazda Protégé MP3 will offer
a built in car stereo that, as the cars name suggests, handles the
Despite all the recent hype over MP3s, a study from last year claimed
that there are some 70 million American kids in the 15-21 age range (the
group thats mostly driving the MP3 tsunami) yet some 66 per cent
of them hadnt even heard of the term MP3 at that time.
These kids are catching on quickly, however, and the manufacturers have
shown they have every intention of being there as that wave builds.
Speaking of waves, the proliferation of satellite dishes is also tuning
peoples thoughts toward those birds in the sky. Services like DirecTV
have growing customer bases and, besides their TV offerings, they also
spew a selection of satellite-delivered music and radio.
It was inevitable that some smart entrepreneurs would come up with the
idea of offering a crystal clear, audio-only service that would be delivered
continent-wide by satellite.
Not surprisingly, at least two of them have.
XMRadio and Sirius Satellite radio are both promising a new world of
broadcasting riches raining down on customers head from orbiting
birds. Both will soon be offering listeners the potential to drive from
coast to coast without ever changing or losing a favorite
Each service will cost $9.95 per month, for which youll have the
signals delivered digitally to your cars or homes using small car phone-sized
antennas and compatible radios.
Naturally, youll need new hardware, and many of the major consumer
and automotive electronics manufacturers have already announced plans
to make it available at audio/video retailers or as an option when you
buy a new car.
Also slated for introduction later this year is a plug and play
radio you can take from home to car and back again and a selection of
home-based stereo receivers and adapters for existing audio equipment.
XM or SAT-compatible equipment will carry a label proclaiming its adherence
to the standard.
Unfortunately, neither satellite service will play on the others
hardware at least initially. Sirius told me they figure dual systems
will be available in a couple of years, though.
The key to their success, of course, will be the programming. Each service
will offer up to 100 channels; XMs will include commercial-free
music and limited-advertising channels broadcasting music, information,
talk, sports, ethnic, childrens, and specialty formats. All of Sirius
50 music channels and 50 other channels are supposed to be
Sounds like the future of radio might be up in the air?
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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