Diamond pumps up MP3 volume

Diamond releases new MP3 software, its answer to RealJukebox.

Diamond Multimedia Systems has turned up the volume on the digital music market.

RioPort, a Diamond subsidiary, on Monday released a new, easy-to-use software program for the MP3 and Windows Media Audio audio formats: the RioPort Audio Manager. "Your grandmother can use this application," said RioPort Business Development Manager Kurt Ohlfs of the Audio Manager, which is Diamond's answer to RealNetworks' popular RealJukebox.

Like RealJukebox, Audio Manager aims to make your PC the centre of your entertainment centre -- the hub where you can convert CDs into formatted music files that can be arranged into play lists, burned onto CDs, transferred onto MP3 playing devices and exchanged over the Internet. Unlike the RealJukebox, the Audio Manager has the added advantage of being tailor-made to fit with Diamond's range of portable MP3 devices, the released Rio PMP300 and the upcoming Rio 500. It also has an eye on the holy grail of MP3 -- the crossover from geek to mass market appeal.

Diamond, which fought off a lawsuit from the Record Industry of Association of America over the Rio player, has become an early leader in the hardware side of the fledgling digital music market, which Forrester Research estimates could be worth $1bn by 2003.

According to Ohlfs, digital music has largely been the domain of "techies". Audio Manager, with its all-in-one interface for everything from CD ripping to Internet downloading, aims to change all that. "Primarily that is the highlight of this software: It's seamlessly integrated, from the Internet download to the device," he said. "This is also an integrated Web browser so that consumers can download music within the application," rather than have to jump from Internet Explorer or Netscape to the Audio Manager. "We tried to streamline this application for a much broader [user] base," he said.

Although it has a user-friendly design, the Audio Manager also has some useful tweaks under its hood, such as supporting digital tracks embedded with ID3 tags to provide information such as song titles, lyrics and CD art. It also encodes at up to 256kbit/s. This is twice as fast as RealJukebox, which encodes at up to 128kbit/s.

Ohlfs said the Audio Manager will be built into the Rio 500, which is set to hit the market next month. And, in a move designed to win a broader market, RioPort Director of Marketing Lorraine Comstock said Audio Manager will be licensed out to third-party MP3 device makers and bundled in upcoming Compaq computers. "It's to our benefit to proliferate an architecture that's supported by third-party devices," Ohlfs said. "The best way to capture the mass market is to make it affordable, to make it easier to get at."

RioPort Audio is available for download at RioPort's Web site. The free version of Audio Manager is only good for 50 encodes. The paid version of Audio Manger has unlimited encodes; it costs $9.95 (£6.20), or $4.95 for registered Rio 300 PMP owners.

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