Music and the digital media revolution

It’s really quite amazing how digital media, (or specifically, the lowered cost of flash memory and ultra-portable HDDs) has revolutionized the portable music player market. In just under eight years, we’ve gone from the most basic MP3 players to portables small enough to fit in your pocket, yet hold more music than most people have in their entire collection. Furthermore, MP3 players are starting to become the norm in other personal devices, such as cellphones and some PDAs.

I remember the first portable music player I got – it was a CD player. Back in 1999, I convinced my parents to get me one – I scoped things out, and selected a particular Panasonic unit, because it advertised support for not only CD-Rs, but CD-RW media as well. The idea of being able to re-write music onto a single disc appealed to me, as I could mix and match from my collection without having to waste so many CD-Rs. Looking back, burning CD-RWs at 2X (which for a full disc, took something like half an hour), wasn’t too great, but back then it was good.

The next player I got was a RioVolt SP250 – this was CD MP3 player, so I could fit around 700 MB of MP3s per disc. Again, things weren’t the greatest, as navigating from one track to another one could take some time, and sometimes it did skip. But once again, 700 MB of MP3s sure seemed good back then, even if it did take some time to burn.

Then, in early 2005, I decided to jump into the flash memory market for MP3 players, since the price was coming down. I spent around $150 CDN for a 512 MB Creative MuVo TX FM, which I am still using. Though the capacity was lower, compared to my previous player, it’s proved to be far more useful, as not only is it smaller and easier to use, but the battery life is also better. I’ve been using the same set of rechargeable AAA batteries since I got it, so they probably need to be replaced soon.

I’ve been thinking about getting a new MP3 player, but I’m not sure which one to get. While the iPods look attractive, I don’t want to get one, for reasons that I won’t get into. The rest of the playing field looks somewhat dull. My personal preference would be for something that has lots of storage space (> 40 GB), and has a good battery that’s user-replaceable.

However, one thing has struck me about all of these MP3 players – though they’ve been getting better, they’re pretty much still the same in how you get music on to them. They all require you to have a computer to transfer the music from. Of course, this will change in the future. Microsoft’s entry, the Zune, is due out in around 2 weeks, and will be able to receive music using its WiFi connection. Zune-to-Zune transfers will be possible, to enable users to share music, though it will be laden with DRM stuff. Expect Apple to follow suit with the next generation of iPods.

Overall, it’ll be nice to see the next revolution in portable music.

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