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An MP3 player is an electronic device that can play digital audio files. The term 'MP3 player' is a misnomer, as most players play more than the MP3 file format. A more accurate, but less utilized term is DAP (Digital Audio Player).
Since the MP3 format is widely used, almost all players can play that format. In addition, there are many other digital audio formats. Some formats are proprietary, such as MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA), and Advanced Audio Codec (AAC). Some of these formats also may incorporate digital rights management (DRM), such as WMA DRM, which are often part of paid download sites. Other formats are patent-free or otherwise open, such as Vorbis, FLAC, and Speex (all part of the Ogg open multimedia project).
The world's first MP3 player was SaeHan Information Systems's MPMan F10, a 32MB portable, launched in South Korea in March 1998. As a local distributor, Eiger Labs introduced this first MP3 Player on the American market in the summer of 1998. It was a very basic unit and wasn't user expandable, though owners could upgrade the memory to 64MB by sending the player back to Eiger Labs with a check for $69.00 + $7.95 shipping.
Actually, it was not Saehan Information Systems, but a small Korean startup "Digitalcast" who developed the first MP3 player, MP3P F-10/20. Saehan Information Systems, the brother company of Samsung, decided to invest in Digitalcast taking on marketing and distribution under the conditions of joint ownership of the related patents. However, instead of distributing Digitalcast's MP3P F-10/20, Saehan released its own MP3 player MPMan based on Digitalcast's technologies and endangered the inventor's business. (Before long, Asian economic crisis of 1998 struck down South Korea's economy and SaeHan Group sold all the shares of SaeHan Information Systems. Taking over SaeHan's MP3 Player business, ReignCom launched iriver brand and eventually became the top flash-memory-type MP3 player seller and the second largest MP3 player seller in the early 2000s before the success of iPod in mid 2000s.)
At the very desperate moment, Diamond Multimedia, the American company, proposed acquisition to Digitalcast. Digitalcast accepted the offer and Diamond Multimedia introduced the second MP3 player on the American market, Rio PMP300, in September 1998. The Rio was a big success during the Christmas 1998 season as sales significantly exceeded expectations, spurring interest and investment in digital music. The RIAA soon filed a lawsuit alleging that the device abetted illegal copying of music, but Diamond won a legal victory on the shoulders of Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios and MP3 players were ruled legal devices. Eiger Labs and Diamond went on to establish a new segment in the portable audio player market and the following year saw several new manufacturers enter this market.
Other early MP3 portables include Sensory Science's Rave MP2100, the I-Jam IJ-100 and the Creative Labs Nomad. These portables were small and light, but only held enough memory to hold around 7 to 20 songs at normal 128kbit/s compression rates. They also used slower parallel port connections to transfer files from PC to player, necessary as most PCs then used the Windows 95 and NT operating systems, which did not support the then newer USB connections, at least well. As more users migrated to Win 98 by 2000, all players went USB.
At the end of 1999, a company called Remote Solutions significantly broke that barrier by utilizing a laptop drive for song storage rather than low capacity flash memory. The Personal Jukebox (PJB-100) had 4.8GB, which held about 1200 songs, and invented what would be called the jukebox segment of digital music portables. This segment eventually became the dominant type of digital music player.
Also at the end of 1999 the first in-dash MP3 player appeared. The Empeg Car and Rio Car (renamed after it was acquired by SONICblue and added to its Rio line of MP3 products) offered players in several capacities ranging from 5GB to 28GB. The unit didn't catch on as SONICblue had hoped, though, and was discontinued in the fall of 2001
There are several types of MP3 players:
- Devices that play CDs. Often, they can be used to play both audio CDs and homemade data CDs containing MP3 or other digital audio files.
- Pocket devices. These are solid state devices that hold digital audio files on internal or external media, such as memory cards. These are generally low-storage devices, typically ranging from 128MB-1GB, which can often be extended with additional memory. As they are solid state and do not have moving parts, they can be very resilient. Such players are generally integrated into USB keydrives.
- Devices that read digital audio files from a hard drive. These players have higher capacities, ranging from 1.5GB to 100GB, depending on the hard drive technology. At typical encoding rates, this means that thousands of songs — perhaps an entire music collection — can be stored in one MP3 player. Apple's popular iPod player is the best-known example.
Generally speaking, MP3 players are portable, employing internal or replaceable batteries and headphones, although people are increasingly hooking players up to their car and home stereos — sometimes via a wireless connection — thereby turning them into portable jukeboxes. Some MP3 players also include FM radio tuners.
Many MP3 players can encode directly to MP3 or other digital audio format directly from a line in audio signal (radio, voice...)
Devices such as CD players can be connected to the MP3 player (using the USB port) in order to directly play music from the memory of the player without the use of a computer.
Modular MP3 keydrive players are composed of two detachable parts: the head (or reader/writer) and the body (the memory). They can be independently obtained and upgradable (one can change the head or the body; i.e. to add more memory).
Well-known MP3 players include:
- Sony Walkman by Sony
- iPod by Apple Computer
- Dell DJ by Dell (this is actually a rebranded Creative Nomad)
- Creative Nomad by Creative Labs
- Many models of player by iRiver
- Collecting MP3 Portables -- Part I - Richard Menta's article covers several of the first MP3 players on the market. With pictures of each player.
- Mp3 Player Guide - information on mp3 players available
- MP3 Players - reviews of both flash and hard drive memory players
- MP3 Player Reviews
- Portable MP3 Players - features individual player overview and the history of portable MP3 players
- Podcasting News - has info on using MP3 players to receive podcasts, and a Podcast Directory.
- Mp3 Player Guide - information on mp3 players available