Network MP3 Player Cuts The Cord, But Not the Mustard

 
 
By Bill Howard  |  Posted 2003-04-11
 
 
 

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.

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