The Diamond Multimedia Rio, a pager-size music player that doesn't need a cassette or compact disc to operate, has been met with mixed reviews -- especially by record shop owners.
The bad news, as music retailers see it, is the new technology could eventually do to the compact disc what the cassette did to the vinyl record.
The good news: The machines aren't flying off the shelves.
And just last week, design specifications to thwart online piracy -- a problem that the recording industry said would cost them big bucks -- were announced.
On the market since Christmas, the Rio uses MP3 technology to operate. It plays tunes, digitally compressed and downloaded with a personal computer from the Internet. The machines are selling in local electronic stores for less than $200.
Ultimately, the machines may replace portable disc players.
San Jose, Calif.-based company RioPort reports that the machines are selling modestly. About 200,000 were been sold from late November through March. Rio says it believes the machines use the technology of the future.
Its machine carries about an hour's worth of CD-quality music on a computer chip. It weighs less than 3 ounces and runs for about 12 hours on one AA battery.
The company is working on home versions of the machine, RioPort marketing manager Bob Nelson said. Analysts are predicting the MP3 technology will take off in the next two to four years, he added.
The original version of the Rio player has served as a focal point for the music piracy debate because it does not require copyright protection to play music using MP3 technology. Recently, the Recording Industry Association of America lost a suit to halt sales of the Rio.
The record industry is urging companies that use MP3 technology to come up with security measures that protect against piracy. These protections may turn the MP3 machines into jukebox-type devices that offer pay-per-play music.
Soon, a new generation of portable digital music players will be available. Area retailers are expecting to get them before the end of the year. These machines eventually will be equipped with security features designed to prevent piracy, designers say.
The Secure Digital Music Initiative -- composed of the big five record labels: BMG Entertainment, EMI Recorded Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group -- has been looking to capitalize on the growing digital music marketplace while protecting artist and label copyrights.
Industry members adopted the design specifications at a conference in Los Angeles earlier this month. They are under technical review and are to be ratified and made public by July 8.
A spokeswoman for Milpitas, Calif.-based Creative Labs said its Nomad digital music player, to hit store shelves in July, also will comply with the SDMI standard.
Analysts say the security features, however cumbersome, were inevitable.
"I think for the traditional music industry to back this, there is obviously going to have to be some fairly rigorous copyright protection," said Clay Ryder, an analyst for Zona Research.
He suspects computer-savvy hackers will try to find a way around the security features, but the chore will prove labor-intensive.
"Nothing's 100 percent crack-proof, but you would go through a hell of a lot of effort to descramble something," Mr. Ryder said.
Frank Witsil can be reached at (706) 823-3352.
Associated Press reports were used in this article.