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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 August, 2003, 07:16 GMT 08:16 UK
MP3 music goes hi-fi
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

Ever wished you could listen to the hundreds of MP3 tracks on your PC on your stereo? A range of digital music players are springing up that let you listen to songs on a hard drive on a hi-fi.

Slimp3 kit
The Slimp3 can be programmed via a remote control
One of these is a gadget called Slimp3, which spans the divide between your computer and the stereo in the living room.

California-based start-up Slim Devices came up with the idea to tap into a generation who grew up with the internet and the now defunct file-sharing pioneer Napster.

"They now have a disposable income and they don't think about CDs any more," said Patrick Cosson, vice-president of sales and marketing.

"They like to listen to individual songs and have masses of playlists. The Slimp3 fits in with a shift of behaviour."

The gadget went on sale about a year ago. Now, Slim Devices says thousands of people are using the player every day.

Small and unobtrusive

Unlike many MP3 players, the Slimp3 does not have a hard drive. Instead, it works by streaming tracks stored on a computer's hard drive to a hi-fi.

Close-up of CDs
We really appeal to the MP3 collector, to people in countries where the whole culture has evolved
Patrick Cosson, Slim Devices
At one end, the player is connected to the PC by a network cable and at the other to the hi-fi using standard audio cables.

The player is designed to be discreet and easy to set up. In most cases, it will recognise the necessary settings and automatically set itself up.

But an internet firewall could prevent the computer from seeing the Slimp3.

Slim Devices believes its product will appeal to people in their 20s and early 30s who are used to downloading music over the internet, but do not want to have to listen to the songs on tinny PC speakers.

"We really appeal to the MP3 collector, to people in countries where the whole culture has evolved," said Mr Cosson.

"Once you have content, you want ubiquitous access to it."

Listening to music is straightforward enough. Using a remote control, you can navigate, search and organise all the MP3 music files on a computer.

You can also set up playlists and change the settings on the computer, as well as add internet radio stations to listen to.

Slim Devices boasts on its site that the player enjoys "high spouse approval" and anecdotal evidence suggests this is the sort of gadget that a partner would welcome, rather than resent.

Open code

The key element, though, is not the player itself, but the software loaded on a computer that turns it into a music server.

Slimp3 player
The player has a small display screen
"It is really hard to do well," explained Mr Cosson, saying that the big challenge was coming up with a system that streamed music to the player without any delays or hiccups.

The software used on the player itself is open source, meaning that other programmers can work on the computer code and improve on it.

Slim Devices is also encouraging developers to come up with other uses for the player. Already you can download a program that will stream the BBC news ticker on the Slimp3.

In the future, says Mr Cosson, e-mails or news alerts could be sent to the player to flash up on its screen.

He is reluctant to talk about sales figures, but says the 10-person company set up in 2000 is profitable.

So far, most of the players have been sold in the US, but about a third of sales are to the UK.




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