For the wired audiophile, the ultimate Christmas gift this year is Diamond Multimedia's $199 Rio PMP300 portable MP3 player--a cigarette-pack-size device that allows users to take their digitized music files on the road.
MP3 is an audio compression format that has recently swept the Internet. It can take a 50-megabyte sound file--about average for a five-minute song--and compress it to about 5 megabytes.
Thousands of sites now have MP3 music files, some of them illegally posting copyrighted songs, while others, such as MP3.com (http://www.mp3.com) and GoodNoise (http://www.goodnoise.com) sell songs and albums for a fee (about $1 per song).
Until now, the only way to play MP3 files was through a computer with the proper software. Diamond Multimedia's Rio player is the first portable device to appear in retail stores. It allows users to download MP3 files from their computer or compress standard audio files off their CDs.
The Rio comes with 32 megabytes of memory--enough to hold about half an hour of high-quality sound. With a higher compression rate, the device can hold up to an hour of music with relatively little loss of sound quality or up to eight hours of voice-quality audio. A single AA battery can run the Rio for up to 12 hours.