Sunday, February 18, 2007

The beat of a different DRM

As mentioned earlier, I have an iPod. On it I have ripped pretty much all of my favourite CDs and a few other bits that I have liberated off the net. Have I brought anything from iTunes? A couple of things, but nothing that I wouldn't mind losing if I ever switched back to a non Apple player. You see, anything you buy from iTunes is encoded with Digital Rights Management (DRM) in such a way that you can only play it on YOUR ipod or your copy of iTunes. Considering there are hundreds of makes of MP3 player out there, this is a bit of a limitation. Especially now that Microsoft have launched the Zune media player. Music purchased from the Microsoft site will play on the Zune but not on the iPod.

So what has caused this stupid state of affairs? Its because the digital music revolution has been lead by the hardware manufacturers up till now. In the old days someone would invent the tape cassette or the CD player and all the music companies would agree to use it. The phrase download is a bit misleading as there are so many sorts. An itunes download would be more equivalent to an Apple CD that could only be played in an Apple CD player. The only thing it shares with an MP3 is that they are both stored as computer files.

There is one simple solution to this whole saga though. That is for the music companies to come up with their own format. This would have all the features of Apples FairPlay but would be licensed to M$, Apple, iRiver and anyone else who wanted it. I am sure it wouldn't take long to come up with some encrypted version of an MP3 file. Then, as long as the manufacturers stuck to the rules you could play the tunes you downloaded from itunes on your Zune and vice versa. I mean, how hard can it be to create a new audio processing codec? I am sure for a fee apple would license the algorithms behind FairPlay. Wrap that round an MP3 file and you are ready to go. Of course Sony has tried something like this. They came up with their ATRAC file format which you could only download from the Sony site and that only played on Sony players. Therefore trying to copy Apple but failing miserably (of course naming your new technology after the old 8 track technology didn't help).

The other thing about DRM is that people say its too restrictive. How many places do you need your music though? Your PC, your laptop and your music player should be enough. M$ have given us the ability to "lend" music to friends for a bit. If you buy a CD you can only really play it in one place at any one time. You could burn a copy for the car and a copy for the office, but who does that? Also, as long as the new system worked with all the various subscription services as well they would have it all tied up. Then digital music would really take off in a big way.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mark Eitzel goes musical

Mark Eitzel likes Brighton (the one in the UK). The American Music Club have played there a couple of times and he has appeared solo a couple of times. In fact he likes it so much he's writing a musical about it.

I saw him when he played the town over xmas as was suprised when he announced this. He played two of the songs from it and they sounded really good. One was set in Lower Rock Gardens which is in the shady part of town. From what I remember, it was about a woman who possibly had a difficut childhood and was possibly on the game. The other was more of an anthem for the town. There was some lyric about blokes in jeans and white t-shirts. The chorus was something about spending "another year in Brighton", though I can't remember if it was meant in a good or bad way.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What I hate about iPods & iTunes

I have probably had my (5.5G 80Gb) iPod about 6 months now, so its probably a good time to review what I like and don't like about it.

  • Integration with iTunes. As a complete package its great. Having put most of my collection on there now (several hundred CDs and the same amount of "backups") it has opened up a whole new way of listening to music.
  • Smart Playlists are cool and so is the ability to mark a Cd as a compilation. It keeps the list of Artists a bit cleaner.
  • Video and games are quite fun if you have 20 mins to kill on a train journey. I wouldn't watch a whole film on it though.
  • Podcasts. There are some really good ones on there.
  • Nice long battery life.


  • As Apple is in league with the record companies, why couldn't it get its track names from them as well instead of going to that CDDB thing. Windows Media Player nearly always came back with the right disc and track names. Give iTunes a 2 disc set though and it will come back with two similar but distinctly different disc names.
  • Inability of iTunes to play an album or artist without keeping the music pane open at all times. If you continue browsing through your music then it just plays the current song and finishes.
  • The way the iTunes Music pane always goes to the top of the artists list whenever you switch to it, instead of keeping your last selection. Very annoying.
  • Might just be my MacBook but the Cd is very flakey. Often it will freeze mid rip and the only way to eject it is a reboot.
  • Misc hardware fault which returns error -48 and requires you to have your MacBook set to a West Coast US timezone in order to sync with your iPod.

  • More than £20 for the optional power adaptor. I got one from Amazon for £2.50.

  • The fact that the audiobooks and one single that i have brought can only be played on an iPod or in iTunes.

I had a iRiver H340 and while it was a nice bit of kit they assumed that just the ability to play music was all that was needed.