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Going Mobile

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 1/11/02 issue of R&R So pressplay is up and running. And MusicNet is up and running. The record labels' answers to Napster and Grokster and Aimster and Kazaa and Limewire and Fasttrack are now showing us what they are made of.

Previously: 2001: Waiting for The Dough >>
Next: It's Selection that Matters >>

Some people are yawning. Others are excited. But most are trying to figure out what to make of the services.

Selection is a big issue, and I'll be talking with the pressplay people in next week's column about that. But the bigger issue is one of portability, and there just might be a solution at hand sooner rather than later - if anyone cares.

Portability is what listeners want: they want to take that music that they've paid for, download it to their hard drives legitimately, and then transfer it to "non-serial recording devices" - the Rios and the Nike players and the Nomads that they've spent their hard earned dollars on over the last year or two.

The problem is, none of the music they'll download from pressplay or MusicNet will ever find its way onto current portable players, because they all are special souped up versions of audio files that contain special encoding to prevent transfer from whatever hard drive they were downloaded to.

So much for portability. Listeners hate that. They want to be able to jog and work out and walk through the park and sit in their cubes with their headphones on, listening to music. With all the hoops these services are making listeners jump through, it's no wonder the piracy sites become attractive, even to people who would never think of breaking any other law - it's just too frustrating to do the right thing.

This week in Las Vegas, the Consumer Electronics show was in full swing, and Sonicblue, the people who bring you the Rio and ReplayTV (the air personality's best friend) are trying to change all that for the better. They can't do much for the units that you already own, but if you're willing to shell out a few more bucks for a new player, they're saying they can make all things right with the world of downloadable digital music.

Designed to work specifically with digital-rights-managed Windows Media Audio files, RioPort has created technology that will look at the files on your hard drive, and transfer not only the audio, but the restrictions on that audio as well to the player. Those restrictions could be a certain number of plays (say, 100) or a certain number of days (say, 30) before the portable player stops playing that particular song. You pay your fee for another set of plays, or another month, and the player starts working again. At CES, Samsung, Sanyo and SonicBlue demonstrated the new players, featuring RioPort's technology.

Still to be determined: whether listeners will ever embrace the renting of music. After all, that's what those fees boil down to: the rental of the digital file. And pressplay, whose technology is not based on WindowsMedia (their partner is Real Networks) is still looking for a portable solution.

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