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  • MP3 Player Advice And Info.

    Getting More Out Of Your MP3 Player

    Forks are amazing. You can do so much more with them than eat: they could wedge open a door, hold up a complicated haircut, fend off attackers, construct expiremental art...Really, they're amazing. And yet you resign them to such a dull repititious fate. With such a precedent, what hope does your MP3 have? It's not just an MP3 player, it's a portable entertainment device, so please make more of it than than listening to that awful Arctic Monkeys album over and over again.

    So, what did you get? An iPod? Thought so. Nothing wrong with that; it's the finest player out there at the moment, and thanks to its enormous user base, there's a bewildering array of modifications, add-ons and homebrew software for it. Before we get to that, however take a browse in the 'Extra' submenu if the player itself, and you'll discover it's a basic but functional PDA. Using iTunes, you can import your contacts into it, pulling up names, addresses and phone numbers at a whim. There's a calender in there too, which you can program to sound an alarm for an impending appointment. You can even drop text files onto the 'Pod and thus read (short) ebooks on the train.

    Apple's arch-rival in the MP3 player stakes, Creative are bundling similar bonuses into their most recent devices. So the chances are you'll find some sort of handy extra features on your player too.

    However, that huge iPod user base I mentioned earlier has really pushed the boat out for Apple devices. For instance, there are apps that will grab the latest updates to your favourite websites (as RSS feeds), save them and upload them to the iPod as readable notes. Just plug your iPod in the first thing of a morning, have your breakfast, then read all the news you want off your player as you commute to school/work/cult HQ. Check out the excellent app Yamipod (www.yamipod.com): as well as handling the RSS feeds, it can manage the music on your iPod without the need to install and load increasingly unwiedly official desktop software iTunes. Its killer feature is that it's a 5MB file that can be run from the iPod itself.

    Yamipod also enables you to copy songs to and from your iPod. iTunes won't let you copy songs back to a PC, so this is a major bonus.

    Your iPod will permit you to transfer other (ie, non-music) files from PC to PC, however. If you plug it into your PC, like most MP3 players it shows up as a removable drive in My Computer. You can then drag any files, be they the latest World of Warcraft patch. A collection of love letters to your GeForce 7800 or a digital photo album, to your device. The device can then be plugged into another PC and the files copied to that.

    If you only use your MP3 player with one PC and don't like its supplied software, you might be in luck. Firmware updates are available for older Creative players that enable Windows Media Player to manage their content instead. Many new non-Apple MP3 players now do this out of the box. Media Player is no beauty, but it's a damn sight easier than most of the grint that ships with a new player. Loveable and endessly customisable music software grandaddy Winamp (www.winamp.com) can also be tweaked to accept iPods and thus negate the need for iTunes entirely with the excellent ml_iPod plugin (http://mlipod.sourceforge.net). There's also a plugin that works with most of the Creative range of players at http://winampzenplugin.sourceforge.net/ and one for iRiver at http://winamp.com/plugins/details.php?id=143102 If you own a player by another manufacturer, have a search of Winamp's plugins page in case someone's come up with some software for yours. Sadly. Sony's approach to the file system is so awkward that you're stuck with the supplied software for their player for now.

    That's the music sorted, but how about video? If you've got a vast archive of , oh, lets say holiday movies on your hard drive that you'd just love to be able to watch on your spanky new iPod, it's not going to be easy. Apple don't include software to re-encode video into a format supported by their players although if you want to fork out 20 you can buy Quick Time Pro from them, which does allow conversion. Happily, a bevy of cheaper, more versitile and even free (see www.videora.com) apps out there will do the same job. Creative's Zen Vision and Vision:M movie players will automatically re-encode unsupported movie's as they're copied over, and Windows Media Player will sort out video files for any of the Portable Media Centres (a range of video players that run a custom version of Windows)

    With all of these you'll struggle with the widescreen movies. Either they'll come out as a thin strip with huge black bars at top and bottom, or they'll be squashed, resulting in wierdly stretched people. You're often best off sorting this out yourself - the excellent and free (but complicated) Virtual Dub (http://virtualdub.sourceforge.net) enables cropping and resizing of video, so you can put it into a standard 4:3 aspect ratio before copying it over.

    A final note: you may notice that your MP3 player becomes more sluggish with time. That's because it suffers in exactly the same way as a regular hard drive if files are regulary being added and removed. So, if it appears as a removable drive in Windows, give it the occasional defrag (right click, Properties, Tools, then defragmentation). This will help will help keep your MP3 player running smoothly.

    Organise You Music Files

    1) Take a look at all your MP3 (check the folder where you save/store most of your music). How many of them claim to be from an unknown album by an unknown band, when in fact you're perfectly well aware who wrote it, who's singing it and what their pet's called? You want to fix up your ID3 tags - you can do this by right clicking a file or group of file in Windows, selecting Properties, then Summary, then Advanced, and you can enter as many details as your heart desires.

    2) You can also edit tags in iTunes (for iPods), MediaSource (for Creative players), Windows Media Players, and most other music managment apps. If you don't have the details like track names to hand, visit www.cddb.com and search for the album or artist to bring up a tracklisting. If you've no idea what a song is, try www.musicbrainz.org - it will try to identify a track by its acoustic properties.

    3) Many color-screen MP3 players will display an album's cover art as it plays. For that to happen, you either need to have bought the tracks from somewhere legal like iTunes, or to have added the art yourself. Album Cover Art Downloader (http://louhi.kempele.fi/~skyostil/projects/albumart/) makes it easy, automatically looking up every album on your PC on Amazon and downloading an image of its cover.

    Advance Use Of Your iPod
    Think your a real tech hotshot? Then go the extra mile and install Linux on your iPod to use it like a teeny PC - see www.ipodlinux.org

    Dictionary

    RSS- Really Simple Syndication; essentially, grabbing text updates from websites without having to visit the site itself.

    Firmware- The read-only sofware inside a piece of hardware like an MP3 player or a digital camera. Can often be updated to enable new features and fix problems.

    Encode- Make one media file into another type of media file. For exampe, video into DivX/

    Defrag- Reorder informationon a drive so that it's as effectively laid out as possible.

    Plugin- A small piece of software that adds new features to a full application.

    ID3 Tag- Date inserted into an MP3 file to inform your PC and MP3 player who the track is by, what it's called and so forth

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