It’s not completely new, but I know not everyone reads Slashdot and pays attention to the latest news from techno-geek lands like ZDNet and CNet. Anyway, there’s a new music distribution format that the RIAA (motto: we’re not an evil entity, but we play one on TV) actually likes for a change: DataPlay.
Basically, the DataPlay disks are 500 megabyte CD-R disks that are downsized to a miniscule 1-inch wide platter. BUT, what the RIAA wants to do with them is to put not 500 megabytes of actual CD-DA audio on them, but 500 megabytes of compressed audio, with most of it encrypted when you buy it. Say you buy the latest Madonna album on DataPlay disks (let’s call them DP for short :)). It may well include the Immaculate Collection on it as well as Like a Virgin. But, you can’t hear those other albums until you pay the label for them. You connect the DP to your computer, and send an electronic funds transfer to Warner Bros. In seconds, your DP has had a few more bytes written to it, and now you can listen to all three of those albums, from a disk the size of a quarter. Pretty neat, in my opinion. Obviously, with compressed music you get some lower sound quality, but not enough to hurt sales. After all, MP3 is amazingly popular, and you can fit about 8 albums in 500 megs with that format.
Here’s the deal, though: chicken and egg. When CDs replaced LPs (don’t complain, the vinyl record is as near dead as makes no difference), they had the benefit of being smaller and better-sounding, with no pops or hisses or crackles. They are also, of course, much more durable than vinyl. Although some people don’t take care of their CDs very well, if you remember to put them back in their jewel cases instead of using them like coasters, they should last much longer than vinyl would under normal usage. Where are the players for the DP disks? If you look at the DP site, it seems that all the players are portables, and most are made in Korea (whatever that means).
So, is the rationale here that we would use CDs at home, and then burn our own DPs with 5-6 albums on them for our portable use? The RIAA makes money on the blank DPs, I’m guessing, just as they do on blank DAT tapes (a great format that the RIAA nearly killed 15 years ago). (They must, if the disks are going to cost 5-12 bucks each for blanks. Of course, remember when CD-R disks were that expensive?) Sounds good to the RIAA, and maybe it will even work out ok for consumers, so long as we can burn whatever we want to the DPs and not need permission for each file, etc. I’d hate to be strangled by Windows Media Player (wimp) or the abominable SDMI when I just wanted to take my entire Concrete Blonde collection on one disk when I went for a bike ride.
Keep an eye on the DataPlay format, it may turn out to have better legs than MiniDisc and DCC (anyone besides me remember that one?)
Update: Yeah, I was obviously way off on this one. DataPlay never really even hit the market before it died.