Network MP3 Player Cuts The Cord, But Not the Mustard

 
 
By Bill Howard  |  Posted 2003-04-11 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The cd3o c300 Network MP3 Player has some unique aspects, and can take advantage of Wi-Fi networks, but ultimately cannot fulfill the vision of the networked stereo.

Six months ago, cd3os media hub would have been a breathtaking product with a couple of quirks. Now, the cd3o c300 Network MP3 Player ($249 direct), which transports MP3, WMA, and WAV files from your PC to your stereo receiver, may get lost in the buzz about products from better-known names like Hewlett-Packard. And it still has the quirks.

The cd3o—yes, the name is a play on the Star Wars droid—comprises a small receiver that pulls files from your Microsoft Windows PC rather than from a hard drive embedded in the device. The $149 entry-level c100 has wired Ethernet. The midrange c200 ($199) adds wireless, and the tested c300 adds coaxial and digital outputs and a longer-range Wi-Fi antenna. Setup is easy—we were up and running in less than 15 minutes. Some $2,000 premium digital media hubs, particularly those using Open Globes back-end services, are much more daunting.

The c300 lacks a TV connection, however, which would let you display whats playing. Other players, like the HP Digital Media Receiver ew5000 and the Onkyo NC-500 Net-Tune, offer this. Instead, you can see and control the sequence of music with your PC or operate the system using the c300s Voice Guide remote control and CD-DJ, a synthesized voice that plays through your stereo speakers and tells you whats playing now or whats up next. Although a PC is vastly better at handling big groups of files than a remote, odds are that your computer is not in the same room as your stereo system, whereas youre pretty likely to have a TV nearby.

CD-DJs speech synthesis is poor. The unmistakably artificial quality of the voice is off-putting. It pronounces James Brown okay, but doesnt even come close on Jimi Hendrix. The company says its working on enhancements to the Microsoft Windows speech-synthesis utility by hard-coding the names that are difficult to pronounce. Most users, we believe, will prefer a TV interface. The just-before-production version of the software we were using also had some stability issues—at times it ran around the clock without incident, and at others it crashed on back-to-back songs. A firmware upgrade improved the problem somewhat, but at press time, we were still experiencing some crashes.

The PC interface isnt pretty, but it gets the job done. Altering a play list to slip in a couple of new songs is easy with a keyboard and PC, but can be cumbersome with a remote control and a TV. The same is true when youre trying to find specific songs—a keyboard and mouse are far superior and faster. A remote does have useful shortcuts, though, particularly the ability to spell out album and artist names using the numeric keypad in much the same way that youd type a name on a cell phone.

The c300 plays MP3, WMA, and WAV files only. Its not designed to display digital photos or video clips. Users looking for a player of all things digital might want to check out something like the HP Media Center. For those who want a cheap way to play MP3s, the c300 offers a cost-effective solution, but not everyone will be happy with the lack of a TV display. If youre just going to start up a long play list—say for background music at a dinner party, the c300 will be fine.

 
 
 
 
Bill Howard

Bill Howard is the editor of TechnoRide.com, the car site for tech fans, and writes a column on car technology for PC Magazine each issue. He is also a contributing editor of PC Magazine.

Bill's articles on PCs, notebooks, and printers have been cited five times in the annual Computer Press Association Awards. He was named as one of the industry's ten most influential journalists from 1997 to 2000 by Marketing Computers and is a frequent commentator on TV news and business shows as well as at industry conventions. He also wrote the PC Magazine Guide to Notebook & Laptop Computers. He was an executive editor and senior editor of PC Magazine from 1985-2001 and wrote PC Magazine's On Technology column through 2005

Previously, Howard spent a decade as a newspaper editor and writer with the Newhouse and Gannett newspapers in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Rochester, New York. He also writes a monthly column for Roundel, a car magazine for BMW enthusiasts.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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