Embracing Obsolescence

MpegDec on 68030, More on DRM, and Another MP3 Player for PowerPC Macs

- 2006.05.24

Today's article gives me a chance to expand my testing with MpegDec on a 68030 Mac, clarify my stance on Apple's DRM scheme, and offer a promising (but flawed) addition to any Mac user's staple of digital music playback software.

MpegDec on an LC II

MpegDec does not play well with 68030 Macs, at least not on my humble LC II. I suppose the FPU less 16 MHz 68030 CPU and meager 10 MB of RAM were not up to the task of playback of the high bitrate stereo MP3s.

I'm not sure how I could squeeze out more performance with my LC II system. I tried booting with extensions off, but even with the System Software using less than 2 MB of RAM, higher quality variable bit rate MP3s proved to much for the LC II. My test system didn't prove capable with 64kbps or even 48kbps mono MP3s.

The 11,025 Hz, 16kbps, mono version of Security Now! can almost provide smooth playback on the LC II. The GUI becomes nonresponsive while the podcast is playing, and there is constant stuttering, but I'm willing to consider the Security Now! test a moderate success. I choose to be a "glass half full" type of tester.

I'm sure a nice upgrade card, perhaps a US$99 33 MHz 6804-based Sonnet Presto Plus, could lend its increased 68LC040 or 68040 muscle and higher RAM capacity to improving playback quality on the venerable LC II. One day I may find a stash of these hidden somewhere, and then I will finally give my twin LC IIs the speed bump they so richly deserve.

Test System:

  • LC II
  • 16 MHz 68030
  • 10 MB RAM
  • System 7.5 (AppleTalk off)

MpegDec 3.1.1 Quality Settings:

  • Freq Div Off
  • Low Quality
  • Mono Single Mix

My Stance on DRM

Another issue I should clarify. Some people who have read my DRM column, DRM Increasingly Restricts What You Can Do with Your CDs, DVDs, and Downloaded Tunes, may have gotten the impression I was solely picking on Apple.

I want to clarify my stance on DRM - I don't like it, I don't appreciate it, and I don't want it.

Nevertheless, Apple's FairPlay is generally fair in its compromise between security and customer rights. If one has to tolerate a DRM scheme, one could do worse than FairPlay.

Obviously, I don't like the non-interoperable nature of the various DRM schemes, but if I had to choose one, I would pick Apple's over Microsoft's Plays4Sure in a heartbeat.

Since I don't use Windows, I lack the desired firsthand knowledge to really detail Microsoft's DRM scheme. Of course, that is the problem in a nutshell. From the get go, Microsoft's scheme starts off more exclusive than Apple's. If you want to play, you have to run Windows.

With Apple there are two supported operating systems, Mac OS X and Windows.

To reiterate, the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) isn't a horrible service, and you could certainly do worse, but I'd like to believe the digital music buying public will show their support for better existing options of DRM-free digital music. Higher quality, a wider range of formats, and a more open mechanism (the browser) for purchasing content should be more than enough incentive to test the waters with those previously listed alternative services.

A Look at Mint Audio 1.5

Finally, I wanted to touch upon yet another software option for playing digital music on your Mac jukebox. While looking for a single software solution which could cope with playing both my MP3s and Ogg Vorbis files, I stumbled upon Mint Audio 1.5.

Unbeknownst to me, Unsanity had released two different digital music players: Mint Audio was the second attempt, and Echo was their first. Both have been discontinued, although some sites still have active download links. Tucows was one such site, and with a hop, skip, and jump, I was ready to give Mint Audio a few days of testing.

With fingers crossed and bated breath, I fervently hoped to give this promising application a mini review after my comfortable, yet swift, testing period. Unlucky I would seem, as I never found a work around for the one real drawback of this fine application: Mint Audio was formerly shareware and needs to be registered to defeat the built in "Pay me now, you deadbeat!" reminder.

I would love to do this, except Unsanity has disavowed any knowledge of the application. Okay, not really disavowed, but Unsanity doesn't provide any links to download Mint Audio, nor do the "Purchase Mint Audio" links lead to any page where you can actually purchase a license.

An unregistered copy of Mint Audio will stop playing after one hour. The application doesn't quit or otherwise misbehave, but I have to restart my playlist afterwards - not terribly awful, I guess, but I'd rather not have to fast forward to my listening point in a long podcast after every time out.

For those not put off by the one hour time out, go ahead and give Mint Audio a try. I've been impressed with its small RAM footprint and unobtrusive design. The player is skinnable, although it only comes with three skins. I tend to use the "TiMint" skin, as the silver design is the best option for remaining unobtrusive.

Mint Audio

The feature set is robust, especially considering the low demand on system resources. There are settings for creating and saving playlists, repeating one track or a whole playlist, random play, adjusting an equalizer, alarm clock wake functions, and even a visualizer (although somewhat useless, as the display window is a tiny square on the already tiny player).

The player can be set as a persistent window, to autohide, or it can be collapsed similarly to the control strip. Overall, having a small player capable of playing both MP3s and Ogg Vorbis music files is always welcome on my Mac.

Alas, all is not perfect. Getting preferences to stick from the preference menu is hit or miss. The drop down selector on the player seems to remain free from the preferences not sticking affliction. If you want to change a setting, just use the player, don't bother fighting the recalcitrant preferences menu.

Another sore spot is streaming music support. Opening a stream manually never yielded success, nor does refreshing the streaming window. Not a deal breaker, but even MpegDec and JustOgg work more often than not with streaming audio. Audion, of course, found the same test streams inoffensive and was more than happy to comply with my streaming wishes.

The catch with closed source software no longer in development is the zero percent chance of bugs being fixed or features added.

Again, the biggest negative is that Unsanity has long since stopped developing this application. Even worse, there's no way to purchase a registration key, nor has the software been released as freeware or open source.

I'll perform further research and report back if I can find a work around to the registration issue.

Mint Audio 1.5 System Requirements: Mac OS 8.6 or later (OS X is fully supported), CarbonLib 1.2.5 or later, 4 MB of RAM and 4 MB of disk space. File Size: 2.96 MB

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