RioPort Updates MP3 Player

SAN FRANCISCO (03/17/2000) - The hot MP3 software market cranks up another degree with a wide-ranging media player from RioPort Inc., released in a beta edition this week.

RioPort Digital Manager 3.0 encodes (rips) audio CD-ROMs to MP3 or Windows Media Format, burns standard audio CDs from MP3 or WMF files, and can download content to portable digital players.

You can download the 6.5MB program for free from the RioPort Web site. It works with Windows 95, 98, NT, and 2000.

If you just want to use it as a player or to rip CDs into Windows Media Format files, no upgrade is necessary. Otherwise, it's limited to 50 MP3 encodes and 25 CD burns. For US$18.95, you can get an unlimited upgrade; or you can purchase unlimited ripping ($9.95) or CD burning ($9.95) separately.

I installed RioPort Audio Manager 3.0 on a Quantex PIII 600 PC equipped with a Sound Blaster Live sound card. It's well worth carefully reading the package's privacy statement, because one new feature may give you pause.

RioPort Audio Manager includes built-in Digital Rights Management with the new industry standard MetaTrust Certification (along with the DRM built into Windows Media Format). This lets record labels deliver content in a secure "DigiBox" that can, for example, prohibit making digital copies.

What's more, the privacy statement says the RioPort Audio Manager may collect information from your PC and send it to RioPort when you're online. The company is interested in the RioPort version, your identity, license authentication information, and what you do with the music files.

If you're willing to live with this side of Digital Rights Management (it's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition), you'll find that RioPort Audio Manager 3.0 a capable media manager.

A Ripping Good Time

You can install it as your default player for audio CDs, MP3, Windows Media Content, streaming content such as Real G2 files, and even Quicktime and AVI movies.

For many MP3 aficionados, the proof is in the ripping. I found RioPort Audio Manager 3.0 excels. Although 128 kbps (offering 11.25:1 audio file reduction) and 160 kbps (9:1 reduction) are the most popular ways to encode audio in "near CD quality" MP3, the package also supports higher quality MP3 files at 192 kbps (7.5:1), 256 kbps (5.6:1), and 320 kbps (4.4:1).

Another plus is ultra-fast ripping. Exact speed depends on your CD-ROM drive and your choice of encoding. The HP CD-Writer Plus 8200i in my PC ripped at six times real time with RioPort Audio Manager 3.0. That means I could convert a 66-minute audio CD to an 128-kbps MP3 files in 9 minutes, 43 seconds.

The package also links to the online CDDB database, which automatically adds the album title, artist, cut titles, and lengths when you fire up an audio CD in your local drive (if you're online at the time).

Otherwise, RioPort Audio Manager 3.0 shares many features with competitors such as MusicMatch Jukebox, RealJukeBox, and Visiosonic PCDJ. For example, you can create a playlist, customize its look, and pair your selection with more than 100 visual effects that change with the music.

One omission, though, is that RioPort Audio Manager 3.0 lacks an equalizer to fine-tune the sound. That would be particularly handy for making inexpensive speakers sound at least marginally better.

RioPort Audio Manager 3.0 includes a mini-Web browser so you can directly connect to RioPort's Web site and music sites like MP3.com. Be warned, downloading MP3 files over a 56K dial-up connection is a time-consuming chore that averages 5 to 10 minutes per song. If you have a broadband cable or DSL connection, the sound possibilities are wide open.

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