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Files, Files Everywhere

Since the introduction of my blog last week, I've received a good deal of information from a variety of sources, both personal and professional, that I want to share with you. The swift response is just an indication of the interest in this topic.

Pretty much everyone knows about Apple's iTunes, and in no small measure, they are responsible for thrusting downloadable media into the mainstream. Now everyone wants to get in on the act and rip some of that business away from Apple. Recently, Amazon.com entered the fray with amazonmp3. Slightly undercutting iTunes, amazonmp3 offers audio files for 89-99¢, whereas iTunes is always 99¢ for a single song download. All of Amazon's songs are DRM-free, which is a slap in the face to iTunes, who only offers certain selections without DRM and then charges an extra 30¢ for the privilege. Sure, I've been an Apple/Mac devotee for many years but I'm all for competitive pricing. Moreover, for you PC fans, the Amazon files download just as easily into Windows Media Player as they do iTunes.

This week, Sony launched video downloads via the Playstation 3 Network. Movies and TV shows from MGM, 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., Disney, Paramount, Turner Entertainment, and, of course, Sony are available to download, either as a purchase or a rental. TV show rentals start at $1.99, with movies ranging from $2.99 to $5.99, the higher price indicating the high-definition version. As an added bonus, purchased videos are transferable to Sony's PSP hand-held game console for on-the-go viewing.

How they compete against Apple with this service remains to be seen considering Sony Connect, a direct response to the iTunes music service, had to shut down this past March. Even with the slightly better pricing and DRM-free files, we'll have to wait and see how Amazon does against the established iTunes.

Of course, the real issue with mainstream music services is the quality of the files. Files are compressed to the mp3 format with data rates as low as 120kbps. For true high-fidelity files, you have to look at services that offer lossless-audio formats with extremely high data rates.

A not so new service, but hardly a household word, is MusicGiants. I am in the process of opening an account with them and will be filling you in on their service soon.

While Apple and Sony offer movie rentals in high definition, the files are heavily compressed. I have not had the opportunity to test Sony's downloaded material, but I have rented a few HD movies off iTunes. It's definitely not Blu-ray quality, lacking the same level of depth and color saturation. It does appear to be pretty close to the same quality I get from DirecTV, though. With wireless streaming directly to my Apple TV, viewing is almost instantaneous due to my 6Mbps DSL line.

The amount of bandwidth needed for faster downloads is a subject that will surely come up as we delve further into these higher end services, especially with respect to video.

One last item I discovered this week is a site squarely marketed for the 25-and -under crowd called Grooveshark. It appears to combine legitimate music downloads, P2P music sharing, and social networking. According to their website, "Grooveshark was founded in 2006 by three University of Florida students determined to accomplish what the music industry couldn't—make purchasing music online easy, enjoyable and worthwhile." On Grooveshark, you have the ability to find and listen to any song in its entirety, share and receive personalized recommendations, and purchase music with full knowledge the copyright holder is being paid. They already have a staff of 40. Pretty impressive and a great example of how regular folks are miles ahead of the record industry in understanding what consumers want.

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