Portable media player

Portable media player
Sixth generation iPod

A portable media player (PMP) or digital audio player, (DAP) is a consumer electronics device that is capable of storing and playing digital media such as audio, images, video, documents, etc. the data is typically stored on a hard drive, microdrive, or flash memory. In contrast, analog portable audio players play music from cassette tapes, or records. Often digital audio players are sold as MP3 players, even if they support other file formats.[1] Other types of electronic devices like cellphones, internet tablets, and digital cameras are sometimes referred as PMPs because of their playback capabilities.[2] This article however focuses on portable devices that have the main function of playing media.



The immediate predecessor in the market place of the digital audio player was the portable portable CD player and prior to that, the Cassette-based Walkman.


British scientist Kane Kramer designed one of the earliest digital audio players, which he called the IXI. His 1979 prototype was capable of approximately 3.5 minutes of audio playback but it did not enter commercial production. His UK patent application was not filed until 1981.[3] Apple Inc. hired Kramer as a consultant and presented his work as an example of prior art in the field of digital audio players during their litigation with Burst.com almost two decades later.[4]

Audio Highway Listen Up

Audio Highway's Listen Up player, winner of an Innovations Award at the Consumer Electronics Show in Jan. 1997.

The world's first company to announce a portable MP3 player and the attendant system for uploading MP3 audio content to a personal computer and then downloading it onto a personal MP3 player was Audio Highway. Under the direction of founder and CEO Nathan Schulhof, Audio Highway announced its Listen Up player on September 23, 1996,[5] won an Innovations Award for its Listen Up player and its Listen Up Personal Audio System at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 1997,[6] and began shipping the Listen Up player in the United States in September 1997.[7] The Listen Up player also won a People's Choice Award[8] at the 2nd annual Internet Showcase conference, held Jan. 30, 1998. The device was not mass-produced; only about 25 units were made.[9]

As the lead inventor on three U.S. patents,[10][11][12] as well as co-inventor on another U.S. patent,[13] Schulhof is sometimes referred to as "the father of the MP3 player industry."[by whom?]

SaeHan/Eiger MPMan

The next company on the MP3 player scene was South Korea-based SaeHan Information Systems which began selling its mass-produced “MPMan” player in April 1998. In mid-1998, the South Korean company licensed the players for North American distribution to Eiger Labs, which rebranded them as the Eiger MPMan F10 and F20.[14] The flash-based players were available in 32 MB (about 6 songs) storage capacity.

Diamond Rio

The Rio PMP300 from Diamond Multimedia was introduced in September 1998, a few months after the MPMan, and also featured a 32 MB storage capacity. It was a success during the holiday season, with sales exceeding expectations.[15] Interest and investment in digital music were subsequently spurred from it.[16] Because of the player's notoriety as the target of a major lawsuit,[17] the Rio is erroneously assumed to be the first DAP.[18]

HanGo Personal Jukebox

In 1998, Compaq developed the first hard drive based DAP using a 2.5" laptop drive. It was licensed to HanGo Electronics (now known as Remote Solution), which first sold the PJB-100 (Personal Jukebox) in 1999. The player had an initial capacity of 4.8 GB, with an advertised capacity of 1200 songs.[19]

Creative NOMAD Jukebox

Various iPods, all of which have now been updated or discontinued

In 2000, Creative released the 6GB hard drive based Creative NOMAD Jukebox. The name borrowed the jukebox metaphor popularised by Remote Solution and also used by Archos. Later players in the Creative NOMAD range used microdrives rather than laptop drives.

Archos Jukebox

In December 2000, some months after the Creative's NOMAD Jukebox, Archos released his Jukebox 6000 with a 6GB hard drive too.

Apple iPod

On October 23, 2001, Apple Computer unveiled the first generation iPod, a 5 GB hard drive based DAP with a 1.8" Toshiba hard drive. With the development of a spartan user interface and a smaller form factor, the iPod was initially popular within the Macintosh community. In July 2002, Apple introduced the second generation update to the iPod. It was compatible with Windows computers through Musicmatch Jukebox. The iPod series, which grew to include flash memory-based players, is a big name in portable media player market, having sold about 300 million units to date.[citation needed]

Archos Jukebox Multimedia

In 2002, Archos released the first "portable media player" (PMP), the Archos Jukebox Multimedia[20] with a little 1.5" color screen. Manufacturers have since implemented abilities to view images and play videos into their devices. The next year, Archos released an other multimedia jukebox, the AV300, with a 3.8" screen and a 20GB hard drive.


In 2004, Microsoft attempted to take advantage of the growing PMP market by launching the Portable Media Center (PMC) platform. It was introduced at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show with the announcement of the Zen Portable Media Center,[21] which was co-developed by Creative. The Microsoft Zune series would later be based on the Gigabeat S, one of the PMC-implemented players.

Mobile phones

In 2001 MP3 players functionality began to appear in mobile phones. The idea spread across the globe and by 2005 all major handset makers had released musicphones. By 2006, more MP3 players were sold in mobile phones than all stand-alone MP3 players put together. The rapid rise of the media player in phones was quoted by Apple as a primary reason for developing the iPhone. In 2007, the installed base of musicphones passed the 1 billion level.[citation needed]


Close-up view of the Philips GoGear SA1110 flash-based player
An embedded hard drive-based player (Creative ZEN Vision:M)
An MP3 CD player (Philips Expanium)

Digital audio players are generally categorized by storage media:

  • Flash-based players: These are non-mechanical solid state devices that hold digital audio files on internal flash memory or removable flash media called memory cards. Due to technological advances in flash memory, these originally low-storage devices are now available commercially ranging up to 64 GB. Because they are solid state and do not have moving parts they require less battery power, are less likely to skip during playback, and may be more resilient to hazards such as dropping or fragmentation than hard disk-based players. There are USB flash drives available that include basic MP3 playback capabilities.
  • Hard drive-based players or digital jukeboxes: Devices that read digital audio files from a hard disk drive (HDD). These players have higher capacities as of 2010 ranging up to 500 GB.[22] At typical encoding rates, this means that tens of thousands of songs can be stored on one player. The disadvantages with these units is that a hard drive consumes more power, is larger and heavier and is inherently more fragile than solid-state storage, thus more care is required to not drop or otherwise mishandle these units.
  • MP3 CD/DVD players: Portable CD players that can decode and play MP3 audio files stored on CDs. Such players are typically much less expensive than either the hard drive or flash-based players. Also, the blank CD-R media is very inexpensive, typically costing less than US$0.15 per disk. In addition, these devices have the bonus of being able to play standard "Red book" audio CDs. A disadvantage is that due to the mechanical nature of these devices, they are even more fragile than the hard drive based players, and thus more susceptible to skipping or other misreads of the file during playback if mishandled. Also, a CD can typically hold only around 700 megabytes of data, thus a large library will require multiple disks to contain. However, some of the more expensive, higher-end units are also capable of reading and playing back files contained on larger capacity DVD disks as well, including the ability to playback and display video content, such as movies.
  • Networked audio players: Players that connect via (WiFi) network to receive and play audio.[23] These types of units typically do not have any local storage of their own and must rely on a server, typically a personal computer also on the same network, to provide the audio files for playback.
  • USB host/memory card audio players: Players that rely on USB flash drives or other memory cards to read data.

Typical features

PMPs are capable of playing digital audio, images, and video. Usually, a color liquid crystal display (LCD) or organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen is used as a display. Various players include the ability to record video, usually with the aid of optional accessories or cables, and audio, with a built-in microphone or from a line-out cable or FM tuner. Some players include readers for memory cards, which are advertised to equip players with extra storage or transferring media. In some players, features of a personal organizer are emulated, or support for games, like the iriver clix (through compatibility of Adobe Flash Lite) or the PlayStation Portable, is included.

Audio playback

Nearly all players[24] are compatible with the MP3 audio format, and many others support Windows Media Audio (WMA), Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) and WAV. Some players are compatible with open-source formats like Ogg Vorbis and the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC). Audio files purchased from online stores may include Digital Rights Management (DRM) copy protection, which many modern players support.

Image viewing

The JPEG format is widely supported by players. Some players, like the iPod series, provide compatibility to display additional file formats like GIF, PNG, and TIFF, while others are bundled with conversion software.

Video playback

Most newer players support the MPEG-4 video format, and many other players are compatible with Windows Media Video (WMV) and AVI. Recently, more and more players are enabling compatibility to the DivX video format and its open-source parallel, Xvid. Software included with the players may be able to convert video files into a compatible format.


Many players have a built-in electret microphone which allows recording. Usually recording quality is poor, suitable for speech but not music. There are also professional-quality recorders suitable for high-quality music recording with external microphones, at prices starting at a few hundred dollars.


Some DAPs have FM radio tuners built in. Many also have an option to change the band from the usual 87.5 - 108.0 MHz to the Japanese band of 76.0 - 90.0 MHz

Common audio formats

Most audio formats use lossy compression, to produce as small as possible a file compatible with the desired sound quality. There is a trade-off between size and sound quality of lossily compressed files; most formats allow different combinations—e.g., MP3 files may use between 32 (worst) and 320 (best) kilobits per second. Different lossy formats may give files of different sizes for the same perceived quality.[25]

The formats supported by a particular DAP depend upon its firmware; sometimes a firmware update adds more formats. To listen to a file on a player, it must be in a supported format; format conversion on a computer is usually possible, but with loss of quality.

MP3 is the dominant format, and is almost universally supported.[26] It is a proprietary format; manufacturers must pay a small royalty to be allowed to support it[27].

The main proprietary alternative formats are AAC and WMA. Unlike MP3, these formats support DRM restrictions that are often enforced by files from paid download services.

Free formats, which do not require manufacturers or music distributors to pay a fee, are available, though less widely supported. Examples include Vorbis, FLAC, and Speex.

Most players can also play uncompressed PCM in a container such as WAV or AIFF.


PMPs are usually packaged with an installation CD/DVD that inserts device drivers (and for some players, software that is capable of seamlessly transferring files between the player and the computer). For recent players, however, these are usually available online via the manufacturers' websites, or natively recognized by the operating system through Universal Mass Storage (UMS) or Media Transfer Protocol (MTP).


  • Storage
The Iriver SPINN features SAMSUNG storage and a Telechips processor. It also features both touchscreen and a clickwheel mechanism for navigation. The SPINN implements haptic feedback by vibrating with user input. Additional hardware capabilities enable it to decode Xvid and Divx formats and play back audio using SRS WOW

As with DAPs, PMPs come in either flash or hard disk storage. Storage capacities have reached up to 64 GB for flash memory based PMPs, first reached by the 3rd Generation iPod Touch, and up to 500 GB for Hard disk drive PMPs, first achieved by the Archos 5 Internet Tablet.

A number of players support memory card slots, including CompactFlash (CF), Secure Digital (SD), and Memory Sticks. They are used to directly transfer content from external devices, and expanding the storage capacity of PMPs.

  • Interface

A standard PMP uses a 5-way D-pad to navigate, however there have been many alternatives used. Most notable are the wheel and touch mechanisms seen on players from the iPod and Sansa series. Another popular mechanism is the swipe-pad, or 'squircle,' first seen on the Zune. Additional buttons are commonly seen for features such as volume control.

  • Screen

Sizes range all the way up to 7 inches. As well, resolutions also vary, going up to WVGA. Most screens come with a color depth of 16-bit, but higher quality video oriented devices may range all the way to 24-bit, otherwise known as Truecolor, with the ability to display 16.7 million distinct colors. Screens commonly have a matte finish but may also come in glossy to increase color intensity and contrast. More and more devices are now also coming with touch screen as a form of primary or alternate input. This can be for convenience and/or aesthetic purposes. Certain devices, on the other hand, have no screen whatsoever, reducing costs at the expense of ease of browsing through the media library.

  • Radio

Some portable media players include a radio receiver, most frequently receiving FM.

  • Other features

Some portable media players have recently added features such as simple camera, built in game emulation (playing Famicon or other game formats from ROM images) and simple text readers and editors.


Connecting a computer to a SanDisk Sansa Clip.

Digital sampling is used to convert an audio wave to a sequence of binary numbers that can be stored in a digital format, such as MP3. Common features of all MP3 players are a memory storage device, such as flash memory or a miniature hard disk drive, an embedded processor, and an audio codec microchip to convert the compressed file into an analogue sound signal.

Most DAPs are powered by rechargeable batteries, some of which are not user-replaceable. They have a 3.5 mm stereo jack; music can be listened to with earbuds or headphones, or played via an external amplifier and speakers. Some devices also contain internal speakers, through which music can be listened to, although these built-in speakers are typically of very low quality.

Nearly all DAPs consists of some kind of display screen, although there are exceptions, such as the iPod Shuffle, and a set of controls with which the user can browse through the library of music contained in the device, select a track, and play it back. The display, if the unit even has one, can be anything from a simple one or two line monochrome LCD display, similar to what are found on typical pocket calculators, to large, high-resolution, full-color displays capable of displaying photographs or viewing video content on. The controls can range anywhere from the simple buttons as are found on most typical CD players, such as for skipping through tracks or stopping/starting playback to full touch-screen controls, such as that found on the iPod Touch or the Zune HD. One of the more common methods of control is some type of the scroll wheel with associated buttons. This method of control was first introduced with the Apple iPod and many other manufacturers have created variants of this control scheme for their respective devices.

Content is placed on DAPs typically through a process called "syncing", by connecting the device to a personal computer, typically via USB, and running any special software that is often provided with the DAP on a CD-ROM included with the device, or downloaded from the manufacturer's website. Some devices simply appear as an additional disk drive on the host computer, to which music files are simply copied like any other type of file. Other devices, most notably the Apple iPod or Microsoft Zune, requires the use of special management software, such as iTunes or Zune Software, respectively. The music, or other content such as TV episodes or movies, is added to the software to create a "library". The library is then "synced" to the DAP via the software. The software typically provides options for managing situations when the library is too large to fit on the device being synced to. Such options include allowing manual syncing, in that the user can manually "drag-n-drop" the desired tracks to the device, or allow for the creation of playlists. In addition to the USB connection, some of the more advanced units are now starting to allow syncing through a wireless connection, such as via WiFi or Bluetooth.[28]

Content can also be obtained and placed on some DAPs, such as the iPod Touch or Zune HD by allowing access to a "store" or "marketplace", most notably the iTunes Store or Zune Marketplace, from which content, such as music and video, and even games, can be purchased and downloaded directly to the device.


Although these issues are not usually controversial within digital audio players, they are matters of continuing controversy and litigation, including but not limited to content distribution and protection, and digital rights management (DRM).

Lawsuit with RIAA

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed a lawsuit in late 1998 against Diamond Multimedia for its Rio players,[17][29] alleging that the device encouraged copying music illegally. But Diamond won a legal victory on the shoulders of the Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios case and DAPs were legally ruled as electronic devices.[30]

Risk of hearing damage

According to SCENIHR, the risk of hearing damage from digital audio players depends on both sound level and listening time. The listening habits of most users are unlikely to cause hearing loss, but some people are putting their hearing at risk, because they set the volume control very high or listen to music at high levels for many hours per day. Such listening habits may result in temporary or permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, and difficulties understanding speech in noisy environments.[31]

Alternative methods to reduce risk

Much of the risk of hearing loss is largely associated to the fact that many use headphones with the devices, and that they consider them personal devices instead of stereo system components. If a digital audio player is connected via its TRS connector to a separate amplification device like a bookshelf stereo or car head-unit, then the output can be via speakers rather than a headphone.

See also


  1. ^ http://www.webopedia.com/DidYouKnow/Hardware_Software/2008/iPod_mp3Player.asp
  2. ^ Yu, Emily. "PMP needs to merge with cellphone, says Smartwork exec". EE Times Asia. http://www.eetasia.com/ART_8800411138_499495_NT_d0c02d8d.HTM. 
  3. ^ UK Patent 2115996 issued in 1985, and U.S. Patent 4,667,088 in 1987
  4. ^ British Man Says He Invented iPod in 1979, Foxnews.com, 9/09/2008
  5. ^ "Audio Highway news release, Sept. 23, 1996". http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Audio+Highway+Announces+the+Listen+UP+Player+--+A+New+Device+that...-a018696161. 
  6. ^ "Audio Highway news release, Jan. 9, 1997". http://www.prnewswire.com.au/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/46598&EDATE=. 
  7. ^ "Audio Highway news release, Aug. 7, 1997". http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Audio+Highway+Launches+Personalized+News+and+Information+Service-a019649073. 
  8. ^ 1998 People's Choice Award
  9. ^ Ha, Peter (Oct. 25, 2010). "All-TIME 100 Gadgets". Time. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2023689_2023681_2023609,00.html. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  10. ^ U.S. Patent 5,557,541, U.S. Patent 5,572,442 and U.S. Patent 5,841,979. Each of these patents were assigned to Information Highway Media Corp., a company co-founded by Schulhof and the predecessor name of Audio Highway. 5,557,541: Apparatus for distributing subscription and on-demand audio programming
  11. ^ 5,572,442: System for distributing subscription and on-demand audio programming
  12. ^ 5,841,979: Enhanced delivery of audio data
  13. ^ U.S. Patent 6,549,942
  14. ^ "MP3 Players - The Basics and History". http://www.mp3playerlimelight.com. 
  15. ^ Menta, Richard. "Collecting MP3 Portables -- Part 1". Antique Radio Classified. http://www.antiqueradio.com/Dec04_Menta_mp3pt1.html. 
  16. ^ "Diamond Multimedia Announces Rio PMP300 Portable MP3 Music Player" (Press release). Harmony Central. 1998-09-14. http://news.harmony-central.com/Newp/1998/Rio-PMP300.html. Retrieved 2007-12-05. 
  17. ^ a b Hart-Davis, Guy; Rhonda Holmes (2001). MP3 Complete. San Francisco: Sybex. p. 613. ISBN 0782128998. 
  18. ^ "Bragging rights to the world's first MP3 player". http://www.news.com/Bragging+rights+to+the+worlds+first+MP3+player/2010-1041_3-5548180.html.  CNet.com article on the first manufactured DAPs.
  19. ^ Yoshida, Junko; Margaret Quan (2000-08-18). "OEMs ready to roll on jukeboxes for Net audio". EE Times. p. 1. http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20000818S0035. Retrieved 2007-12-05. 
  20. ^ "ARCHOS Generation 5 Available Worldwide" (Press release). Archos. 2007-09-12. http://www.archos.com/corporate/press/press_releases/PR_ARCHOS_Gen_5_Availability.pdf. Retrieved 2007-12-05. 
  21. ^ Van Buskirk, Eliot (2004-01-09). "Microsoft visualizes portable video". CNET. http://www.cnet.com/4520-7912_1-5116568-1.html. Retrieved 2007-12-30. 
  22. ^ "Archos 5 500GB Internet Tablet with Android". gazaro. http://www.gazaro.com/deal/amazon-archos-5-500-gb-internet-tablet-with-android-1249823. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  23. ^ DIY Networked Audio Player
  24. ^ Bell, Donald (2004-10-25). "Sony Network Walkman NW-HD1 (20GB) Review". CNET. http://reviews.cnet.com/mp3-players/sony-network-walkman-nw/4505-6490_7-30959614.html. Retrieved 2007-12-12. 
  25. ^ Comparison of Audio Compression formats with examples to listen to
  26. ^ "Péter's Digital Reference Shelf - Amazon MP3". http://gale.cengage.com/reference/peter/200712/amazon.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-17. 
  27. ^ "A Big List of MP3 Patents (and supposed expiration dates)". tunequest. 26 February 2007. http://www.tunequest.org/a-big-list-of-mp3-patents/20070226/. 
  28. ^ "MP3 streaming over Bluetooth". clarinox. http://www.clarinox.com/docs/whitepapers/Whitepaper_05_MP3.pdf. Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  29. ^ RIAA v. Diamond (9h Cir. 1999-06-15). official documentation. Text
  30. ^ Gross, Robin D. "Court Gives "Go-Ahead" to Digital Music Revolution". Virtual Recordings. Archived from the original on 2007-10-31. http://web.archive.org/web/20071031072846/http://www.virtualrecordings.com/rio.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-05. 
  31. ^ "Personal Music Players & Hearing". GreenFacts Website. 2008-09-23. http://copublications.greenfacts.org/en/hearing-loss-personal-music-player-mp3/index.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Portable Media Player — DNT Steel80 Multimediaplayer Ein Portable (Multi)Media Player (engl. für Tragbares Medienabspielgerät, kurz: PMP) ist ein mit einer Festplatte oder Flash Speicher ausgerüstetes elektronisches Gerät, ähnlich einem tragbaren MP3 Player. Ein… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • ZEN (portable media player) — Information appliance| title = manufacturer = Creative Technology type = Portable media player connectivity = USB 2.0 lifespan = 2007 ndash;present storage = Available in 2, 4, 8, 16, and 32 GB flash memory operatingsystem = ZEN UI 1.21.01 input …   Wikipedia

  • Portable Multimedia Player — Chinesischer MP4/MTV Player Ein Portable (Multi)Media Player (engl. Bezeichnung für „Tragbares Medienabspielgerät“, kurz: PMP) ist ein mit einer Festplatte oder Flash Speicher ausgerüstetes elektronisches Gerät, ähnlich einem tragbaren MP3 Player …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Portable audio player — A portable audio player is a personal mobile device that allows the user to listen to recorded audio while mobile. Portable audio players became possible in the 1970s and continue to be developed today. The technology used in such players… …   Wikipedia

  • Portable Media Center — (PMC) is a defunct hard drive based portable media player (PMP) platform developed by Microsoft. Codenamed Media2Go , it was announced at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and later rebranded as Windows Mobile software for Portable Media… …   Wikipedia

  • Media player — can refer to: Media player (application software) Data storage devices that play media and content: HD media player Mobile Digital Media Player (M DMP) Portable media player See also Comparison of media players Home theater PC Media controls …   Wikipedia

  • Media Player (Microsoft) — This article is about the original Microsoft media player. For media players in general, see Media player. For the current Microsoft media player, see Windows Media Player. Media Player Media Player in Windows XP …   Wikipedia

  • Media player (application software) — MPlayer, an example of a cross platform media player Media player is a term typically used to describe computer software for playing back multimedia files. While many media players can play both audio and video, others focus only on one media… …   Wikipedia

  • Media-Player — Mediaplayer ist ein aus dem englischen Sprachraum stammender Gattungsbegriff für eine Gruppe von Computerprogrammen. Media bezieht sich dabei auf Medieninhalte wie Video und Audiodaten, seltener sind damit auch einzelne Bilder oder Grafiken… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Portable Media Center — Creative Zen Portable Media Center Portable Media Center (PMC) портативное устройство, медиаплеер на основе жёсткого д …   Википедия