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Samsung MP3 Player

New 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 Radio.

You’ve probably heard of MP3’s, 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 I’d defy the average person to hear – or care about – the difference.

MP3’s are also becoming hot because their minimal file sizes allows for easy download from the Internet. Napster notwithstanding, there’s 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 January’s 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 car’s name suggests, handles the music format.

Despite all the recent hype over MP3’s, a study from last year claimed that there are some 70 million American kids in the 15-21 age range (the group that’s mostly driving the MP3 tsunami) yet some 66 per cent of them hadn’t 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 people’s 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 channel.

Each service will cost $9.95 per month, for which you’ll have the signals delivered digitally to your cars or homes using small car phone-sized antennas and compatible radios.

Naturally, you’ll 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 other’s 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; XM’s will include commercial-free music and limited-advertising channels broadcasting music, information, talk, sports, ethnic, children’s, and specialty formats. All of Sirius’ 50 music channels and 50 “other” channels are supposed to be commercial-free.

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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Updated May 13, 2006