demand for handheld digital audio devices is almost as hot as the
latest all-boy pop band. But before you spend your hard-earned cash on
the newest music-playing toy, be sure you know
what you're getting.
Portable digital audio players come by several names: handheld
MP3 player, music clip player, handheld digital music player,
and portable MP3 player. The name may change but the tune remains
the same: all handheld digital music players (DMPs) let you
download compressed digital music from the Internet, and then listen
to it through a device smaller and lighter than a Walkman or
portable CD player. And, unlike CD players, handheld DMPs are
Having the right stuff
So what kind of handheld device should you
get? They come in a variety of colors, shapes, and price ranges, with
additional features galore, but what's really important is to make sure your
player can handle both of the most common file formats for audio compression:
MP3 and the Microsoft Windows Media Audio format. These two audio technologies compress files
down to a sound quality similar to that of a compact
disc by squeezing down unnecessary file space and eliminating bits of data not
perceived by the human ear.
Support your local
By making sure your player
can handle Windows Media Audio files, you do your favorite artists a
favor by protecting them from piracy. MP3 technology in its existing
form can’t effectively protect artists from having their material
stolen. You can log on to a secure music site, purchase an album and
then download it in the MP3 format without knowing whether the
material is stolen or licensed. Windows Media Audio can be encoded
to prevent illicit downloads. Plus, it produces better quality
sound than standard MP3. At least 70 digital media software
distributors (including RealNetworks) recognize Windows Media Audio
as an emerging standard for digital audio technology.
Next, determine how much storage
space a prospective player offers. Most handheld devices come with
either SmartMedia cards, which are more compact but offer less
storage, or the larger, higher-capacity CompactFlash cards. A
32-megabyte card of either type supplies one hour of music. High-end
players offer up to three hours of storage.
If your computer has a Universal Serial Bus (USB)
port (most made in the last two years
do) look for a unit that will connect through it.
Parallel port connections will work too, however USB links make downloads much faster.
Check the device’s LCD readouts for brightness and readability, especially in sunlight, and
find out how long the batteries will last.
Many electronics manufacturers
in a variety of colors, shapes and prices. One company
promises a product by fall of 2000 designed exclusively for
standard cassette players including car stereos. It gets
better--most manufacturers supply software that let’s you transfer music from a
CD into your device or “burn” audio from your computer onto a recordable
CD (CDR). You can also compile and play entire libraries through desktop "jukeboxes"
with software usually supplied by the device maker.
current street price for most DMPs is US$150 to US$250, but as demand
for these devices grow, that figure should drop.
Whatever you choose, a portable digital player will save
you trips to the record store at the mall and give you hours of
thinks the perfect handheld device is one that not only plays
Windows Media Audio but lets you download compressed
pizza. He’s still looking.
No handheld? Listen
magazine reported that Windows
Media Player was the most widely used
audio player for streaming audio over the Web.
It can play several audio formats, including
.wav, MP3 and of course, Windows Media Audio.
Check out the Windows
Media Web site where over
150,000 different downloadable broadband shows, music, videos, and
jukeboxes are offered.
For more information on MP3, Windows Media
Player, and digital audio
music see the following Using Windows articles:
bringing music to a computer near you
Media Player: a stream runs through it
Windows Media Player is a sound