Back in the High Life Again

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In Edward Bellamy's classic novel Looking Backward , a Bostonian has the bum luck to fall asleep for quite a while--113 years, to be exact. Upon waking in the year 2000, he finds himself in the unique position of being able to witness firsthand just how much (or little) society has progressed since 1887.

Although I can claim neither an equal geographical location nor historical perspective, life moves very fast in the tech world. All the more reason to look back at some of the media and storage issues of the past months, and a few updates.

Those Teeny-Tiny Files

When it comes to taking your music--in the form of MP3s--with you, there are still very few choices for Mac users. I-Jam MultiMedia has yet to deliver a Mac-compatible version of its portable MP3 player/FM radio.

Creative Labs now has Mac drivers for its Nomad II MP3 player/FM tuner--you just need to fill out a form to get them. Casady & Greene's SoundJam MP, however, already includes a driver for the Nomad II.

S3, makers of the Rio series of MP3 players, has just started shipping the Rio600, an update to the Rio500 with a new style, design, and lack of memory. It includes only 32MB, which is half as much as its predecessor. But for only $170, it might not be a bad choice.

The really exciting news is the Rio Car, an in-dash MP3 player that should be available for your traveling needs by the end of the year. Although there are no specs available yet, there should be plenty of room for music to keep you company on a rather lengthy drive.

And according to a recent story, Philips plans to ship eXpanium, an MP3-based portable CD player, later this year. The player will allow you to carry around and listen to data CDs burned with tons of MP3 files--about 10 hours per disc!

My Discs are Burning

Back in January I wrote about Sanyo's BURN- (Buffer Under-Run) Proof technology, designed to make sure CDs that came out of your CD-R or CD-RW burner would be useful for data retrieval, rather than just for retrieval by the family pet. Plextor has begun shipping the first product to incorporate this new technology, the PlexWriter 12/10/32A. The PlexWriter is an internal ATAPI drive, but Plextor usually comes out with Mac-compatible SCSI versions of their drives in due time, so stay tuned.

Adaptec has also updated its CD-burning software, Toast to version 4.1, which now supports USB and FireWire CD burners natively--so no more shim shell games to fool Toast into thinking the drive was something else (before the update, you needed a special driver for each burner to trick Toast into believing the drive was on a SCSI bus and not attached via USB or FireWire). And Adaptec's audio-burning program, Jam, is deep in the update realm with version 2.6 on its way--Jam now shares the same burn engine with Toast and can also burn to USB, FireWire, and 12x SCSI drives.

Video and More Video

When Apple announced at NAB that they were acquiring Astarte's DVD-authoring software, it was unclear what would happen. But now, Astarte's MPack (a low-end encoder for creating MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video) and DVDirector (a high-end product for creating DVDs with interactive buttons) have been yanked. Although Apple doesn't comment on anything Steve Jobs hasn't nit-picked, scrutinized, and OK'd for public consumption, it may very well be working on DVD-authoring tools to sell as separate products or possibly incorporate into future releases of iMovie and Final Cut Pro.

Digital Audio

Even though Opcode never got around to creating Mac drivers for DATport, its USB digital audio interface, the USB audio drivers in Mac OS 9 support it. The only problem is you can't configure it to your desired bit depth or sampling rate.

E. Gorouben has written the SONIC'config control panel, currently a beta, that will allow Macs (especially those without PCI slots, such as the iMac and the PowerBook) to import and export digital audio to and from DAT without having to go through analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversions--something that should be avoided if at all possible.

Good luck finding the DATport, however. Opcode seems to have gone exclusively into the software market, but you may be able to pick one up at a local music store or online-- Sweetwater Sound is selling them for about $180. If you're a person who bought one of these waiting for Mac drivers, though, it's time to rejoice just a little.

The good news is MP3 devices are becoming more ubiquitous, CD burners are getting faster and more reliable, digital video products are evolving, and high-quality audio hardware and software continues to be developed for Mac users. Yee-haw.

Associate Editor JONATHAN SEFF covers all things media and multimedia for Macworld, and writes about them regularly in his Media Magnet column.

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