April 16, 2005 07:29 PM PST
I finally installed the OmniFi DMP1 MP3 car audio player I bought for $200 off Woot
a couple of weeks ago. I currently also have an Aiwa CDC-MP3 player that plays MP3 CDs.
This player is similar to the Kenwood music Keg, but was much cheaper because it's been discontinued by the manufacturer, despite being a highlight of the 2003 CES show. It's a faceplace that can be mounted pretty much anywhere, an under-seat mountable drive dock, and a 20GB ejectable laptop drive. The laptop drive is formatted as FAT32 and can be connected to a PC via USB for normal data storage. The Woot package also included the home media player DMS1 and two USB Wi-Fi adapters.
That's right - the coolest thing about the player is that it supports synching with your PC based music repository via Wi-Fi.
The player will automatically scan for access points and servers in the area. You can synch manually from the deck, or pick a time for the player to automatically synch. Initially, to fill the 20GB drive, you need to transfer via USB, since the Wi-Fi synch is quite slow and has an internal timeout of 1.5 hours. I think the drive might support USB2, this was really fast.
Via Wi-Fi, transferring ~60MB of MP3s took about 10 minutes. So this makes it reasonable to add a few new albums a day to the player. It's really cool to make changes to playlists on your computer, or rip a new CD, and the next morning have those changes fully integrated into the car player. The car player actually uses FTP as the protocol, and you can actually FTP to your car!
The Wi-Fi synch opens interesting possibilities for stream ripper software to record daily tracks off online music streams and have them synched nightly to the car player. Similar to a TiVo for radio that you can listen to in your car. Obviously the car has a radio, but not one you can skip tracks on to the next song, or timeshift Howard Stern. I'd appreciate comments on any good stream ripper software you guys have used in the past.
Navigation is relatively easy, although still potentially difficult while driving (I feel only a voice command interface will help here). Still, it's relatively straightforward to find an artist, album or playlist. The shuffle feature is smart enough to shuffle through whatever playlist, genre or artist you've selected. The speed of track name display and navigation is a great improvement over CD based MP3 players that don't precache the metadata.
There are a few drawbacks to the player. It's basically a version 1.0 that doesn't have active support for firmware/software updates. The biggest issue with the player is that it doesn't support fast forward or reverse on songs. Even a simple 10 second skip forward or back would be welcome in music and audiobooks. The player also doesn't have a built in amp, which is fine, except it doesn't support any kind of volume control. This means you must interface it with an existing head unit, rather than just being able to hook directly to an amplifier. The controls are also a bit unresponsive - navigation is fast, but it can take up to 2 seconds to pause a track after hitting the button!
The media server software is basic and on par with TiVo or D-Link's (so now I run 3 media server daemons and iTunes). The format of the mp3 files on the mobile drive are not DRM'd but they are renamed to a cryptic code, probably to help with the syncing protocol. This is a pain though, because you can't just transfer your media off the mobile drive to another machine without a third party utility - even though you can store otherwise normal files on the drive.
Overall, I'm happy with the player. I considered an iPod as an interface, but I'm happy with the car-oriented display and buttons of the DMP1, and the Wi-Fi synch opens a whole set of possibilities for new daily content. The iPod and iTunes are still the best music interfaces I've seen. I wish someone would market a faceplate for connectivity to an iPod, that would probably be the best solution short of full voice command.
Update May 27, 2006:
I've installed OpenFi on the DMP1
. Rather than install SimpleCenter on my latest computer, I decided to go with OpenFi because it supports indexing files and folders copied directly to the DMP1 HDD.
Originally, I installed DMP1Sync, which creates the index files and renames the MP3s so they can be found by the stock firmware. This program is almost laughably limited however. It doesn't synch at all, and really doesn't allow you to add files to the HDD. Every time you run it, it re-copies and reindexes and replaces the content you already have on the drive. So if you wanted to add a new album - yep, you're re-copying your entire library over. Dumb. At a minimum it must support an "add to library" function to be useful.
OpenFi has the attractive feature that you simply copy the files and organize them like you want to on the DMP1 disk. The firmware itself will index the folders each time. This does introduce a slight delay when you navigate into a folder, but for a standar 10-20 song folder it is not an issue. The folder data seems like it may be cached while the power remains on. The firmware install is very easy, and actually is loaded on top of the original firmware if a file is present in a certain location on the HDD, so it is very easy to revert to the original firmware.
The benefits of the new firmware are that you can now fast forward and rewind using the jog dial, and the files are stored on the USB 2.0 disk as normal files (with the stock firmware, the files are renamed as to be unusable if they were copied to another hard disk). The DMP1 HDD does support a standard high speed USB 2.0 mini jack, but unfortunately requires an external power brick so it's not totally simple to just pop the drive out and plug it in at work unless you tote around the power supply everywhere.
The primary interface drawback of the firmware is that you cannot navigate songs while one is playing. So in order to chose the next song or album on rotation, you have to back out of the song and folder you're in. I've gotten over this, but hope that future versions of the firmware allow navigation while playback continues.
I'm glad to not have to use SimpleCenter to manage my music on the DMP1, but this does have one large drawback. Both OpenFi and OmniFi allow synchronization over Wi-Fi with SimpleCenter and nothing else. So without running SimpleCenter, you have to manually plug the HDD in via USB2 to add songs. This removes one of the coolest features of the player and the ability to auto-synch podcasts overnight, but on a day to day basis, it is something I can live without.
I plan to stick with the OpenFi firmware and give up on synching via Wi-Fi. I'm happy with what the open source developers have done, and only wish the DMP1 was better supported by the manufacturers.