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Open-source audio wins MP3 player support

Open-source audio technology Ogg Vorbis will get its first official entry into a commercial portable MP3 player next month.

Open-source audio technology Ogg Vorbis will get its first official entrée into a commercial portable MP3 player next month.

Digital Innovations is set to release its Neuros Digital Audio Computer in March. The device, which will also support connections with Linux-based computers, may be the most open source-friendly MP3 player yet released on the market. Emmett Plant, chief executive of the Xiph Foundation, the team behind the Ogg Vorbis format, said he signed the deal with Digital Innovations last weekend.

This "means Linux interoperability for a portable player that's supported by the manufacturer, not an after-market hack supported by some guy in Johannesburg with a dial-up connection and a copy of Emacs," Plant said in a letter posted on the Ogg Vorbis Web site. "It means that you'll be able to go out and buy a portable audio device that will play Vorbis and support Linux at your local CompUSA."

The release of the open-source support for the Neuros could be a welcome development for tech-minded audiophiles. Most commercial audio players such as Apple Computer's popular iPod have been released without support for Linux or Vorbis. Enterprising programmers have created tools to let both technologies work with some players, but overall support has been hit-or-miss at best.

Vorbis, an audio codec comparable to MP3 or Windows Media Audio, was created by open-source programmers to give developers a high-quality technology that could be used without license or royalty fees. Vorbis' development team finished its first full release last July.

The technology has already begun filtering into a few handheld and consumer-electronics devices, but the Neuros is the first player that will have Vorbis support provided directly by the manufacturer.

Digital Innovations' device is providing a new twist on the old MP3 player in other ways as well. Coming with either 128 megabytes or a 20-gigabyte hard drive, the player will broadcast songs on the FM band so that the stored music can be played on a car stereo. The machine can also record songs from FM radio.

The basic Neuros player is slated to be released early next month. The Vorbis and Linux support will be released in May, Plant said. Consumers will have to download and load the technology on the machine themselves.