Rio Carbon

Earlier this week I was given a Rio Carbon as a thank-you gift for doing a big presentation for another team at work. I was really impressed at the generosity, and also with the player itself.

Then I got it home and tried to use it. And this is where the wheels started to come off the wagon. In the end, I'm now able to get it to do everything I wanted it to, but not without some serious trying. Here's a quick look at what I ran into:

I plugged in the player and fired up Windows Media Player 10, thinking everything would work just fine (for sure)! A dialog came up asking me to set up auto-synchronization - this sounded good so I selected an auto-playlist I have of basically all my music except for holiday music. The progress meter started spinning and the next morning when it was done, I was surprised to see that it only copied about half of my music over.

There was no warning that it wouldn't fit before I started, if there was, I would have told it in advance to downsample the music. Since I'm going to use this player at the Gym, I'm totally fine with only 96 or 64k quality audio from tiny earbud headphones. After a little fiddling, I got it to understand that it should convert the music before sync'ing and I left it once again to do its thing. Several hours later it was done - just over 4 gig's of music in a nice little package!

But wait - at the Gym I need playlists. After all, how am I going to keep my heart-rate up if it decides to queue up a slower track from my collection? So I made a playlist in WMP10, and clicked the sync button. A few seconds later, it was all done. I unplugged the player to try it out - this was a trial of patience in and of itself. The thing takes longer to boot than my old 486DX from college!  After thinking, starting, organizing, integrating, and various other "ing"-words that appeared on the display, it was ready to go. I figured out the click-wheel and went into playlists. But my playlist isn't there.

Now I'm confused. It turns out that "plays for sure" doesn't imply anything about playlists. After about 30 minutes of searching around online it becomes clear that the Carbon doesn't support something called "MTP" which is required for Windows Media Player to sync playlists. The only way to do it is by using the Rio Music Manager CD that came with the device. If this was my first computer and my first music player that would be no big deal - but my music is already ripped in WMA and organized in the WMP10 library. So I'm not interested in installing any more software on my PC. (Note to music-player manufacturers: I already have my music set up. I just want a portable player. I don't want your desktop software.)

So what next? Determined not to install the Rio software, I keep surfing for a solution. Eventually I noticed a comment on a forum indicating that just dragging playlists in the shell worked for one customer. Will it work for me too? Not right away. It turns out that the Carbon also doesn't understand the Windows Media Player's playlist format, but it does understand M3U, and luckily Windows Media Player can export to M3U - sort of. The thing is - when you save as M3U from WMP10, it puts absolute paths in the file (why wouldn't it?) and when you move the file on to the device in Windows Explorer those paths aren't adjusted (why would they be?). So the way to get it to work is to copy the M3U file onto the "Music" folder on the device, and then open it up in notepad, and correct the paths by removing the drive letters and just having the folder names as they would appear inside the "Music" folder.

So it works now - which is good. Would any real-customer succeed here? Maybe if they used the Rio Music Manager - but then what would that do to the other things they depended on WMP for? Who knows... For now, I'm waiting for the "MTP Support" firmware upgrade to show up on the Rio Carbon - hopefully it won't be long.