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Home > Hardware Reviews > Consumer Electronics

Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Terratec M3PO

1. Background

Terratec M3PO - Page 1

MP3 players background

Since the early eighties, when the dissemination and playback of audio disks changed dramatically due to the introduction of the audio Compact Disk (CD-Audio), little been offered since then by the leading (Japanese) manufacturers for extending the total playback time of these disks.

Although the necessary technology already existed since the late eighties, it seems the marketing of audio material, the "politics", and the (not to be overlooked) insatiability of copy-righted material owners has prevented, until recently, plain users and audiophiles from acquiring and using the latest in what the technology has to offer in this area.

Early solutions trying to overcome the rather limited (by today's standards) playability of audio compact disks leaned towards mechanical (instead of optical) solutions. CD changers became the only feasible solution and this (of course) resulted in a not-so-compact solution Increased cost and reliability issues has prevented this solution from entering mass market.

Limitations in the manufacturing of reliable laser diodes of short wavelength have always restricted the density of the pressed and (more recently) recorded pits on a compact disks' surface. Even the most recent DVD introduction offers (after 15 years of intensive lab research and development) only double the density of a plain old audio compact disk.

While laser and the accompanied material technology seems to move forward in such a slow pace, software innovation and psychological studies have already offered an elegant solution to this problem. Losy compression through the use of sophisticated psychometric techniques has been available since the days of the introduction of the Sony Mini-disk and the Philips Video CD. It is because of the advent of Internet and the necessity following out of it for establishing a new format for quick, and thus "cheap", audio content dissemination medium that things changed recently. An extension to the original MPEG-1 audio specification became so quickly the new de facto standard under the name of MP3 (MPEG 1, Layer 3).

Until just one year ago, playing MP3 audio files on anything else than a relatively "modern" home computer seemed almost impossible. When MP3 audio files started spreading over the Internet some 4-5 years ago, most 486 based PCs had trouble decoding them decently. Even one year ago, the early stand-alone MP3 players exhibited by some Taiwanese manufacturers where bulky, troublesome and expensive.

All this seems to have been changed dramatically lately. The introduction of more advanced ICs for implementing the MP3 software decoding on-chip, the low price, low consumption "miniature" processors originally intended for the WinCE and other embedded appliances market have now offered new possibilities for more compact and feature rich designs.

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