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Improve Your iPod with Rockbox 343

polar_bear` writes "The allure of the iPod is undeniable -- they're well-designed, sleek little music players that pack a lot of features into tiny packages. However, iPods fail to deliver when it comes to support for free codecs like Ogg Vorbis, and -- let's face it -- iTunes leaves a lot to be desired. If you'd like to enjoy the hardware goodness of the iPod with GPLed firmware, give Rockbox a try. Tim Lord explains how over on" NewsForge is also a part of the OSTG network, and Tim Lord is "timothy", one of our own editors.
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Improve Your iPod with Rockbox

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  • So... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thebdj ( 768618 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:12PM (#15130058) Journal
    So to start, iTunes sucked in 2003? The only article the submitter had going to be 3 yrs old this year. The other site really doesn't say anything except, I hate paying money for music. So great examples about the lack of iTunes.
    Really, if you want to advertise the firmware that might void your warranty (not went EULA reading yet), for some added features, then go ahead. I honestly think OGG audio sounds HORRID. But please do not post your own little attack with the article.
  • by DDiabolical ( 902284 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:14PM (#15130074)
    Going travelling soon, got the camera connector to allow me to transport photos from my camera to the ipod, but on video the ipod falls very short; requiring me to get access to a computer to convert it so that I may watch it on the ipod.

    This reason alone has made me wish I bought the Zen.

    Rockbox seems to have lots of support for audio (though not much use when I use solely mp3) but doesn't mention video.
  • iTunes sucks? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MustardMan ( 52102 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:22PM (#15130142)
    So, just so I'm straight on this - TFA seems to indicate that the only way to get files onto rockbox is drag and drop. How, exactly, is this better than auto-sync? I plug in my ipod, all my podcasts, videos automatically re-encoded by my eyetv, and any songs I've downloaded with cabos are all automatically added to the player. Yeah, it sucks that the directories aren't in human-readable formats on the ipod, but there are plenty of third party apps to pull songs off an ipod. I keep the installer for a windows and mac version stored on my ipod.

    I have yet to find a player that gives me the functionality of itunes, either. I use smart playlists CONSTANTLY to generate groupings of songs I'm likely to want to hear. Again, all handled automatically and sync'ed every time I connect the ipod. Most players don't even have the library management I have come to enjoy from itunes. The closest I ever came when I was on windows was the MEXP plugin for winamp ( []), but that's still a far cry from itunes.

    I know a lot of people who don't own ipods and still use itunes to manage their music libraries. I guess if it doesn't run on your platform of choice, that means you can't use it - but it doesn't mean itunes sucks.
  • Denied! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:24PM (#15130154) Homepage Journal
    The allure of the iPod is undeniable

    I deny it. I've never really seen the appeal of the iPod over the tons of comparable, cheaper, multi-standard hard-drives-with-headphones out there.
  • by holden caufield ( 111364 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:24PM (#15130157)
    I've read through the article summary, the article, and the rockbox site, and I can't find a simple answer to the following question: What is it that this firmware offer (besides its open-software-ness). It appears that it provides ogg support, but there's not a clear description of anything else.

    I also enjoyed how the author was looking for very specific things in his portable music player, and then ignored them due to price. That is capitalism at its best.
  • by Funkcikle ( 630170 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:26PM (#15130169)
    I'll ignore the three year old list of complaints about iTunes, dealing with such hot issues as Titanium PowerBook drive speeds. But for someone like me:

    * who does not have five trillion CDs I need to convert at once;

    * who does not care what format they are in as long as I can listen to and search the files;

    * who doesn't worry about album art (I already have the CDs to see that! Who can honestly say they listened to CDs on their stereo whilst holding the CD case a few inches from their face, other than when on drugs?);

    * who doesn't particularly care about how much money "the poor artist" gets (if they can come up, either individually or as the kind of collective people whining about royalties infer they are, with a system which is as easy and as affordable as iTunes, I WILL BE ALL OVER IT)

    and who in general just needs something to play music on his computer, everything I read about "this sucks" and "this is better" and "use that" is quite irrelevant.

    So I cannot order my music files by Album in the iTunes main display. Boo bloody hoo. As long as it sits in the background, plays the music and allows me to effortlessly import new files and CDs, I really am not concerned with what else is out there.
  • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:34PM (#15130230) Homepage
    I like how the list of what's wrong with iTunes is from three years ago.
  • by Chanc_Gorkon ( 94133 ) <> on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:36PM (#15130242)
    I woudl be crippling my iPod by using rockbox. It would take away video from my 5th gen. Listening to OGGS ain't with that!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:43PM (#15130287)
    This thing just got SOUND on the iPod in January, and you're saying it's an improvement over the iTunes firmware? And why don't you have any screenshots?

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fahrenheit 450 ( 765492 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:55PM (#15130417)
    People don't like itunes because it's essentially a gateway to the itunes store.

    So, because I've been using iTunes for years without ever buying anything from the iTunes music store means I'm somehow using it wrong?

    This argument is really just beyond silly. If you don't want to use it to visit the music store... well don't. It's like complaining about some TV channel because you don't like one of their shows. If you want to use your non-"drm laden" tracks with iTunes, just drag and drop to import and you're golden. Or, you can use another player if you want, it's no skin off my nose, just don't use such a silly damn argument for your reasoning...
  • OGG (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shidoshi ( 567151 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @12:56PM (#15130431)
    Ah, Slashdot... always making it seem like the rest of the world outside of Slashdot actually cares about OGG. Seriously... can we stop bringing it up every time the iPod is mentioned? Most people don't care. I know what OGG is, and understand it, and I STILL don't care. If a great deal of iPod owners cared, Apple would have given the iPod support for it by now, trust me.

    Some people on here like it - we all understand that. Just, you know... ease up a bit.
  • Re:Denied! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by brickballs ( 839527 ) <> on Friday April 14, 2006 @01:15PM (#15130608) Homepage
    60 gigs is what did it for me. There aren't to many players out there that have 60 gigs of storage on them.
    The click wheel is nice too, although not a dealbreaker in and of itself.
  • Re:Learn to Link (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 14, 2006 @01:26PM (#15130732)
    Good thing not all people are idiots like you are, because if that were the case, we would not have things like Rockbox, Linux, etc. Just because you can't find use in something, it doesnt mean nobody can you complacent bastard.
  • Re:iTunes sucks? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slux ( 632202 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @01:31PM (#15130800)

    Very funny. You know, if you actually happened to have some music in that format, or any other that iPods don't support (and iPods are pretty bad as supporting a variety of audio formats goes) I think you'd find that no matter how absolutely reality-distortingly fantastic the original iPod firmware is in every other regard, it's pretty damn useless if you cannot listen to your music.

    You don't even have to willingly rip your music to Vorbis - maybe you like listening to Net labels such as this one [].

  • by Castar ( 67188 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @02:01PM (#15131120)
    Wow, I'm surprised. Here's a group of people working on an open-source project that has been very successful, hacking in features for electronics that the original manufacturers didn't see fit to include. It sounds like something Slashdot should be all over, right?

    But no... Because they think that some improvements can be made to an Apple product, they're suddenly demonized. People are falling over themselves to say just how *utterly fantastic* the stock firmware and iTunes are, and how horrible Rockbox is for even attempting to change it.

    iPods aren't perfect. Perhaps they're good enough, but there are some major features that they lack in regards to other forms of playing music (like, say, CDs or even LPs), a big one being gapless playback. Rockbox is trying to fix that. And not specifically for the iPod, in fact the iPod isn't even their main target. They started out improving the iRiver players, and now they're porting it to many platforms.

    As has been noted elsewhere, it's not done yet. It's a very early port (a few months old) and the official release milestone target for iPod support is sometime in November.

    I don't run Rockbox currently, because I have a Rio Karma which is already perfect. ;-) But I at least applaud them for taking their free time and trying to make DAPs better for everyone.
  • by eltonito ( 910528 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @02:02PM (#15131123)
    To comment that Apple includes fewer hardware features than competing brands is ignoring the fact they continually push new technologies that other companies blindly ignore. USB is a shining example of this. Apple was the first to embrace it and without them PC's wouldn't have moved away from legacy components for years*. I can't imagine life without a USB MP3 device or my 1GB USB flash drive and I don't think USB would've progressed so quickly without Apple pushing it.

    Unfortunately FireWire was never met with the same open arms by the PC industry, but that's mostly due to improvements in USB 2.0 and PC manufacturers drive to save $10 per system on something that would see limited use. Me? I use the hell out of FireWire and I'm happy Apple includes it.

    Admittedly the quality of the hardware they include can be questionable (dear god, why do their choices in optical drives suck so bad) but their feature sets tend to be respectable.

    * I went to COMDEX the year before and the year the iMac broke. I recall few manufacturers pushing USB the year before, but the post-iMac era was all abuzz about USB. PC and peripherals manufacturers seemed to be rushing onto the bandwagon with buggy and poorly thought out products and add-on's. Admittedly, PC's had USB before the Mac but no one committed to using it the way Apple did.

  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @02:14PM (#15131251) Journal
    No more f-cking around with the monstrosity that is the Itunes database. For those who prefer a filesystem approach, this is a godsend, and for those who like a tagged DB, Rockbox has just added support for a pretty nice platform-independent db of its own that can be generated on teh fly by the player!

    wtf? do some people just go out to make things difficult for themselves?

    In all my time as an iPod owner I've never had to deal with the iTunes database.

    For every minute I haven't had to 'f-ck around' with renaming files, sorting out the filesystem for my media, etc, I've done something far more enjoyable, worthwhile or profitable. I used to spend a lot of time dealing with my Foobar2000 + file system setup, and I'll never get that time back. iTunes is actually a pretty good application out of the box, and when it comes to listening to music, I'm far more into 'appliance mode software' that 'build it from scratch' software.

    And then you say that (clearly due to demand), the software has added in a system that does all this. However someone else said the UI of Rockbox sucked. I appreciate all the technical effort and knowhow and skill that has been put into writing this software, but clearly it is not being written against what users want to do on their system.

    So tell me again, as someone who has his CD collection ripped in AAC, an open format that actually isn't half bad, why I, and the vast majority of iPod owners, would want to downgrade their iPod experience?
  • by default luser ( 529332 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @03:00PM (#15131698) Journal
    The thing is, Apple supplements their boring, typical hardware by releasing unique devices that are ahead of their competition.

    Just look at the Mac Mini. When it was released, NO vendor had a desktop anything like it, and even today the Intel Mac Mini is competitively priced with Intel Core-based knockoffs. The difference is, the Mac Mini is ESTABLISHED thanks to Apple taking a risk, and the rest are scrabbling for marketshare.

    The original Ipod was smaller than anything else, but offered the capacity of a hard drive player. It was ungodly expensive, but it became rooted because the industry took too damn long to respond to the threat.

    The Nano is another recent product that still has no competition. I don't know how, but Apple managed to get a deal for flash devices twice the capacity of their competitors (32Gb, while the rest of the industry was on 8Gb). The result was the 4GB Nano, with room for Apple to upgrade the line to 8GB in the future (once the 32Gb chip becomes cheap).

    The fact that the Nano 2GB was priced at only $10-30 more than most other 1GB players shows just how lazy and wussified the whole industry is outside of Apple. Apple set the standard for pricing of 1GB players with the release of the Shuffle, but then instead of the industry pushing prices down and capacity up, they coasted while charging $10-30 less than an equivilant Shuffle. Then, when the 2GB Nano was released for $10-30 more than a 1GB player (despite the fact that the Nano used TWO 8Gb chips), was still competitively small AND had a smashing screen, the rest of the industry looked painfully stupid.

    THIS is why Apple owns the industry...because they're the first manufacturer since DIAMOND MULTIMEDIA's RIO PMP to really PUSH the industry.

    I have purchased Creative Labs Muvo players in the past because I WANT drag & drop without having to use a media library, but with Rockbox now I can turn any Ipod into exactly the interface I want. Suddenly, I don't have to compromise on larger size and less capacity for about the same price just to get some key features I need...Rockbox makes that possible.

    Full Disclosure: I bought my first apple product EVER last week, a Mac Mini. The OS is decent, but I could care less about the apps. I don't like Safari, so I have Firefox. I don't want to be forced to use a media library with Itunes, so I went through the trouble of installing XMMS. I bought the Mini because it was tiny, VERY quiet at nominal room temperature, competitively priced with other small Intel Core solutions. It also offered me the chance to try OS X, but fall back to Windows or Linux if I really hated the experience...that's something no other small Core box could offer.

    If the industry continues to lag Apple concerning small flash players, I may purchase a Nano or equivilant sometime in the future.
  • Re:Learn to Link (Score:4, Insightful)

    by X0563511 ( 793323 ) * on Friday April 14, 2006 @03:12PM (#15131810) Homepage Journal
    You're an idiot because you are closeminded, irrational, and overly hostile (for no apparent reason).

    Ogg probably never did any harm to you, and if you don't like it you're welcome to your opinion. But expressing it in such a manner is just immature.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 14, 2006 @03:34PM (#15132007)
    What again is stopping you from ripping to Apple Lossless? It is lossless you can easily batch transcode in the future w/o loss of quality.

    Why 320kbit MP3? LAME since 3.90 has had excellent VBR presets which give you the quality of a 320kbit MP3 at ~60% the file size (and reduced CPU consumption on playback - and all the extra battery life that entails).

  • Re:So... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by marc_gerges ( 561641 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @04:55PM (#15132609)
    Please name something that is a "Feature" not available on the iPod.

    Gap less playback. Just can't live without it when listening to live recordings.

    It's the one big thing that kept me from buying an Ipod, but I've ordered a Nano now.

    And, I like the fact Rockbox seems to cope nicely with keeping one's music organized in folders - without any internal database. Makes it nicer to use the device on multiple computers, and actually use it as mass storage when you prefer listening to your tunes on a computer.

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DWIM ( 547700 ) on Friday April 14, 2006 @08:12PM (#15133575)
    A "wealth of codecs" is only really important when you are pirating your music from fellow people who cannot decide on a single standard and you don't want to have to be bothered to convert your booty before it goes to your player.

    This is unbelievably ignorant. A wealth of codecs means that you have a wealth of choices. It means that the vast population of digital music listening people are likely to find their chosen format(s) is supported by this firmware.

    For individuals, they most certainly can and do have multiple formats of music in their collection legally. I have some mp3's and a vast amount of ogg vorbis. The mp3's were free downloads. The ogg vorbis are all ripped from my own CD collection. I also have some WAV files, which are my own recordings. And I happen to like the fact that I actually have the choice to try some of the other codecs, particularly the lossless ones, such as FLAC.

    Remember, choices are a good thing.

  • by David Jao ( 2759 ) * <> on Friday April 14, 2006 @08:39PM (#15133664) Homepage
    A "wealth of codecs" is only really important when you are pirating your music from fellow people

    I've been using slashdot long enough to have a four digit UID, and I must admit that I have never during all this time seen anybody say anything more false. In fact, not only is your statement false, it is the exact opposite of the truth in an egregiously offensive and inciteful way.

    Since you seem to lack even the minimal imagination necessary to envision why non-pirates would ever want to use an alternative codec, let me put it to you bluntly and in great detail. Right now, as of this writing, the aotuv [] vorbis encoder is widely believed to have by far the best sound quality of any codec at low bitrates. There are detractors who disagree, but the funny thing is, those decractors never bother to perform any actual listening tests, and if you bother to perform actual listening tests [], you'll find that ogg vorbis not only wins the quality battle, it wins it by a metric mile.

    We're talking stuff on the scale of "Ogg vorbis at 96 kbit beats the world's best mp3 encoder at 128 kbit and no other codec at 96 kbit even comes close to beating mp3." That kind of thing.

    Now, before you get all up in arms about how portable players have unlimited disk space and file size is no longer a constraint, let me remind you that the iPod nano has a maximum of 4 gigabytes of disk space as of this writing, and no other flash player on the market has larger capacity. Thus anybody in the market for a totally skip-proof digital audio player is stuck with a maximum of 4GB drive capacity, and in this context, file size is important.

    Therefore, people who rip their own CDs and play them on flash players have tremendous incentive to choose the highest quality audio format when ripping their CDs, so as to maximize the use of their portable player's limited disk space.

    That is why a wide range of supported codecs is important. Coincidentally, Rockbox supports ogg vorbis on the iPod nano, which is exactly the usage scenario I describe.

    But wait, there's more!

    Vorbis may be the quality leader today, but this has not always been the case. In the past there have been periods where vorbis was not the quality leader, and in the future I fully expect other audio formats to surpass it in time. Hence, in order to guarantee the maximal utility of an audio player in the future, it is mandatory that the user must be able to add support for new codecs as time goes on, in order to take advantage of the high rate of improvements in the audio codec landscape.

    Needless to say, the only way to guarantee the ability to add new codecs in the future is to run free software on your audio player. Coincidentally, that's exactly what Rockbox is: it's free software.

    For all these reasons and more, a wide range of supported codecs is necessary to have in an audio player, ESPECIALLY if you rip all your music from your own CD collection and thereby possess total control over the choice of what codec to use.

Civilization, as we know it, will end sometime this evening. See SYSNOTE tomorrow for more information.