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"Nice Video, Shame About the Song"

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Does anyone remember ‘Not the Nine the O’Clock News’, the early eighties sketch show that started the careers of Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones and Pamela Stevenson? One sketch from it that I'm often reminded of was called, “Nice Video, Shame About the Song”, which parodied acts that had flashy music videos to promote truly rubbish songs. The phrase has always stuck in my head and often when reviewing products I find myself thinking, ‘Nice Product, Shame About the Software.”

This week I took a look at Toshiba’s Gigabeat player. Initial impressions in the office were positive – a super high-res, nicely saturated colour screen, a cradle for syncing and stunning sound quality and all for less than an iPod. Game, set and match surely?

Well no. I felt like a broken record writing the verdict but once again, a potentially great product was let down by poor accompanying software. Or rather two pieces of software. The Gigabeat comes with its own, quite awful, software called Gigaroom but can also be used with Windows Media Player 10. While the latter is definitely better than previous versions there’s no way it can be a perfect match for every hardware device, as each has its own particular requirements. The software supplied should make it easy to make the most of the product but neither Media Player 10 nor Gigaroom do that.

Inevitably, I’m using iTunes as my reference point simply because it’s been designed with the iPod in mind - and it shows. Toshiba’s Gigaroom seems to have been designed with a looming deadline in mind. It’s from the ‘oh no, our player supports pictures but we can’t transfer them with Media Player, what shall we do”, school of thinking. And that’s not a very good school. Its just one of many indicators of a lack of focus during the development of the product. So inevitably, with the sheer pain of having to deal with the interaction between the player and my PC, my enthusiasm for the product waned quite dramatically.

Unfortunately this is all too common. Check out every review of every Sony audio player - ever. It’s the same story every time, from its first NetMD Minidisc products to its latest NW-HD5, with every reviewer’s summary being something like– “nice player, but what the heck is this SonicStage all about”?

If you Google for SonicStage it won’t be too hard to find forum posts from many years ago from users complaining about how bad SonicStage was; for its interface and for its draconian DRM ‘features’. I was hopeful this would improve after Sony announced during a press briefing I attended in Marbella earlier this year that SonicStage was going to get a lot better. Well judging from the latest version it has slightly, but if I can lift a couple of quotes from forums this month it’s clear that it's still got work to do. “Sonic stage makes me want to punch a hole through my laptop screen every time I use it”, and… “{what’s this} buggy software that came on a disc? {I’m} not convinced Sony wrote it - some eight year old with his first ZX spectrum did!!” A bit more work to do then by the looks of things then, Sony.

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