Apple iPod and substitutes

iPod is a lightweight external hard drive with audio headphone output, a small LCD and easy to use controls. It is intended as an MP3 music player and as an external hard drive. The great advantage it has over many early MP3 players is the large capacity of the hard drive compared to the normal solid state memory. Close integration of the iPod with Apple's iTunes music organising program makes the iPod easier to use with playlists than are most music players.

iPod uses a physically incompatible connector to connect to a Firewire port. Originally designed to connect to a Macintosh, versions that connect to a Windows computer are very popular. Since it needs the special Apple cable to recharge the non-removeable battery, recharging while travelling may be difficult.

A non-removeable battery is sufficient to ensure I'd never buy one. I also note without surprise that people have reported battery problems. You can now get insurance (US$59) or a battery fix (US$99).

Various companies make accessories. iPod to Firewire adaptor. Voice recorder. Radio receiver. FM transmitter. Remote control. Connections to audio systems. Media card reader.

One big feature is the iTunes music store, where you can download music for your iPod at 99 cents US a tune. This has attracted a lot of media attention. Given iTunes is USA only, this is however no use to anyone outside that country (in mid 2004 Euro currency countries also gained access). iTunes music store is not available where I live.

iPod seems to have been the product of a design chain that included Santa Clara based Portal Player's PP5002 system on a chip reference design, containing two ARM 7TDMI cores, as the main controller. 160 by 128 LCD. The Firewire connection has used a TI TSB43AA82 (I believe Apple use TI IEEE-1394 chips in their computers, and they insisted on using TI). The 1.8 inch miniature hard drive is from Toshiba, the only company producing that size at the time. The hard drive is probably half the production cost of an iPod. It has a standard ATA interface, but a custom connector. There were also heat and shock issues addressed by Toshiba in the design. The old 10GB version hard drive was a MK5002MAL. The DAC sound converter was an Edinburgh U.K. Wolfson WM8721 for the 1st and 2nd generation of iPod, a WM8731 for the third generation. It also provides headphone amplification. Wolfson codec. The LCD controller was a Hitachi HD66753 now owned by Renesas technology Europe. Sony planar lithium battery. 32MB of Samsung DRAM for the anti-skip buffer and to let the drive remain untouched for long periods. 1 MB of Sharp flash memory for the downloaded system software. Linear Technologies battery charging chip. No ASIC involved, which would probably have helped time to market.

Fairplay DRM was developed by Veridisc Corp. Veridisc was funded by Greg Halpern, CEO of Circle Group Internet, Inc back in 2000 for the specific task of developing a DRM scheme which would satisfy the recording industry.

Veridisc was looking to sell Fairplay to the recording industry. They also set out to partner with computer manufacturers to include their software in new computers.

Here's where the story ends. Veridisc/Fairplay seems to have vanished as fast as they came on the scene back in 2000. Veridisc don't seem to have renewed their domain registration and some pr0n site gut it. Get to their info from the parent company's site at, or a direct link to Fairplay at

Perhaps Apple (possibly Pixar) bought this small startup company and now owns all rights to Fairplay. Just conjecture.

As a side note. It's interesting to note the Fairplay system also works with online movies as well. 2004 speculation. iMovie online next?


AAC: codec for mp4 audio (m4a) -- license from MPEG-LA . AAC is an open format. dard.html

WMA: audio wrapper format -- license from Microsoft

WMRM []: DRM used by WMA et al -- license from Microsoft

FairPlay: DRM used by ITMS (m4p) -- license from Veridisc []

Alternative Music Players in 2004

You could instead get a different device with media card or colour screen or editing and recording, which was my choice. Here are some possibilities.

Addonics Multifunction Recorder
Butt ugly battery portable multiple solid state memory card reader, which will burn camera and PDA memory cards to a CD without a computer. Use headphones as portable (but clunky) sound system, for audio or MP3 CDs. Connect to stereo or powered speakers and/or TV as portable sound system or portable DVD player. Also show camera memory card slide shows on TV. Also connect to computer via USB as external CD reader and writer, and DVD player. Rechargeable battery is external, spare replacements under $40. Uses 12 volt power. Comes with carry case, manual and all accessory cables for connecting to TV, sound system, computer. Also includes a remote control. I've found the Addonics very handy when friends need a camera card burnt quickly onto CD so they can reuse the card. Stick in the memory card, and a blank CD, and press a button twice. Note that use of the Addonics as a DVD player requires unprotected DVDs, such as those you have burned yourself. Commercial DVDs will usually not play due to Macrovision copy protection used on almost all commercial films making them unplayable. If you want to play most commercial DVD films you would need to use your computer to bypass copy protection and burn the movies onto your own DVDs. I suggest where possible that you buy already unprotected DVDs, or burn DVDs from TV broadcasts.
Archos AV 400
20GB to 100GB portable video recorder with USB2 and a CF slot. Records video in MPEG-4, audio in MP3, WMA and records and plays in WAV. Displays jpg photos. Connection to Windows systems is as a standard external drive, no custom software involved. Price on release around US$550. Built in microphone, also line in. Comes with a remote control. Display is 3.5 inch quarter VGA (320x240) TFT with 256k colours, and the Archos has video out. Uses a custom cradle and connector to TV, and connection can involve a large mess of wires, so it isn't handy as a portable. Recording from TV broadcasts is fine. If you want to view commercial film DVDs on this device you will first need to use your computer to break the restrictive copy protection.
Archos GMINI
Avias MEC
Digital multimedia player made by SmartDisk. 5.6x3.6x1.2 inch size, with tiny fold up 3.5inch 480x234 LCD for displaying JPG pictures and MPEG movies from its 30GB drive. MP3 sound out via headphone port or internal speaker. Rechargeable battery, USB 2 port, slot for Compact Flash cards which can be copied to the hard drive or viewed. Video out port for connecting to a TV. Infrared remote control. Australian agent
GenSoc MJB-3100
iRiver iHP-120
Similar to iPod, with 20GB hard drive. Microphone allows recording in MP3 or WAV. Analogue and digital inputs. Text file reader. Clock. Built in rechargeable lithium battery (may have same problems as iPod battery). USB 2 connection. Supports MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WMA, ASF, WAV. A$699.
MP3OK Jukebox ET970
South Korean company, claims to be making an iPod compatible, with very small 1.5GB hard drive. Comes with FM radio, USB 2.
Snazio Pocket Cinema
Portable USB2 hard drive with camera flash card backup facility. Small LCD displays photos, movies. Play MP3. Plug into TV or stereo.
Sony GigaPocket
Top 10 Multimedia Players
List of Personal Video Players

Apple Mac
Psion Epoc




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