How do you support a device?
In the root of each device is a file called "Settings.dat" (i.e. path something like E:\Settings.dat).
This, somewhat tedious, process is repeated for each thing to examine, and for each different option. What does EQ value = 4 mean? How high/low can the display contrast go? And so on.
It is a slightly different game with the MP-906. For now, I know the offset of the next song and that is what is available in TechnikaTweak. However, seeing as the hardware is capable of equalising, playlist, etc - I am wondering if these features are available in the firmware (i.e. one fairly generic firmware) just are not accessible using the three-button user interface. For this, I will need to work the process in reverse - change one byte of the Settings.dat file and see if the player behaves any differently. Sadly, you'll see the ML-2 file is around 400-odd bytes long and only ten or so bytes have been identified as having a specific function. I'm not yet willing to subject myself (or my new MP3 player) to that sort of experimentation. But it work be really cool to be able to set Rock EQ (sounds better on the headphones) and Shuffle All as a play mode. And, perhaps, a 3 minute auto-off timeout as I find the 1 minute to be a little too short if I pause for a quick conversation.
What are the offsets to each thing?
If you can read the source, you'll find them in frmMain.LoadOffsets.
Wasn't this project "abandoned"?
Yes. When my ML-2 stopped operating as an MP3 player, I abandoned the project and released the source codes. Now that I have an MP-906, I have done some extra work to TechnikaTweak, and the project is still officially abandoned - only so as you are aware that it may or may not receive any further updates.
Is there an official website?
The packaging on my MP-906 says: http://www.tesco.com/technika
What's so good about Technika MP3 players?
Having the resources of the Tesco supermarket behind them, they can offer a range of MP3 players at an affordable price. I believe in Christmas 2005, the ML-2 was finally shifting for £5-£10 - at that sort of price you'd be mad not to be tempted!
I cannot make comparisons with other MP3 players, so I will talk specifically about the two that I have. Criticisms first, get them out of the way...
That said, there are plenty of good points. You cannot get any simpler than the Technika MP-906 which offers three buttons - on/play/pause/off, prev/vol-, and next/vol+. In addition, it appears if you press the prev/next button and, when the current song stops playing and before the next song starts, you press it quickly more times, it will do a directory-skip allowing fairly rapid traversal of the songs present. This is not mentioned in the user guide, so treat it as an 'undocumented feature'.
Where the MP3 players really excel is in convenience. I might be in a rock frame of mind, so I can rip my favourite Meatloaf, Evanescence, and Linkin Park songs to MP3 and install them on my player. I can twiddle the filenames to play in a specific order (it appears to be alphabetical). Better than a CD, I can omit the crappy songs; better than a CD, I can mix and match artists and albums as I see fit.
For sure this is all possible with other technologies. We can instantly rule out tapes as the longest useful type is C90 which is only an hour and a half. We can rule out standard audio CDs as they only go for around 75 minutes - and the average CD player will play two on a set of batteries. An MP3 CD player offers around 640Mb of storage and if you drop the encoding bitrate you can easily get 12-15 hours onto one CD. This has drawbacks in being swamped - if you have a CD with 120 songs on it, let's hope it has good navigation to allow you to select the song you want. And what happens if you hear an awesong must-have song on TV/radio? Can you record it into your computer, MP3 it, and put it on CD? Of course you can! But to add one song (~3.5Mb), you can expect to lose ~20Mb in multisession overheads. I use multisessions like that because I access the Internet at the local library - so I need two sessions per weekly visit. On a 'full' CD-R, I actually have more space devoted to lead-in/lead-out between sessions than is used by actual data. So, yes, it is perfectly possible... but it isn't really practical.
It doesn't end there. These devices appear to Windows (MacOS/RISC OS/Linux/netbsd/etc) as a removable disc of some sort. So you can put all sorts of garbage on there that is not MP3, and it will simply be ignored by the playback. Fancy printing out some photos on one of those machines appearing in supermarkets? It's only €0,25 a print - and dropping the JPGs onto your MP3 player is as easy as it gets. Simply push the player into the front of the machine, select the photos you want printed, and insert the requested amount of money. Note: Most of these machines are highly clueless and will not recognise .jpeg files - if you download any, you'll need to break the file extension to a DOS-compatible .jpg form before you leave your computer; and don't bother with anything fancy like EXIF, PNG, or TIFF! Most machines will recognise BMP images, but probably nothing fruity like CYMK BMPs!
...continuing, and a soapbox rant...
If you download music from the Internet (legally, of course!), the ML-2 offers support for DRM with WMA files (PDDRM). The MP-906 is supposed to support the later WMDRM/10 MTP as well.
I strongly support the French government in their ideas of having all music work on all players. If I purchase the 'right' to listen to an artist - let's say the lovely Hayley - then why do I have to listen to her songs on the CD supplied? It plays for only an hour or so, and as it is constantly spinning it will go through the batteries. So what if it is more convenient to me to take those songs of hers that I like and install them on my MP3 player? Perhaps with my favourites from other albums, or performers in the same general genre (Il Divo, All Angels, Angelis, Amy Nuttall, etc etc - whoever I purchase on CD).
There are other benefits to downloads: Downloads offer unknowns a way to get themselves into the arena (Sandi Thom), they offer those who rebel against the big labels a way to get exposure, they offer a resurgence of long-forgotten songs, and best of all, they offer a mix-and-match approach to music so we can assemble our own compilations without paying for the crap that the record companies 'fill' albums with so they can split the good songs across two CDs which are to be sold separately. I think the most blatant example was a group which offered a spoken interview (Boyzone? Something of that genre/era) which was broken across two albums, the albums having some songs duplicated. The Linkin Park CD has a lot of not-so-interesting video material to get around the fact that there's only about half an hour of actual music on the disc - I guess it's a good thing that it wasn't the pricey end of the market, and I really like the song 'Numb'.
Breaking news: According to BBCi (Sci-Tech news, 2007/01/08) Steve Jobs (the CEO of Apple) has urged record companies to begin selling songs without copy protection - Copyright protection had failed to tackle piracy, he argued.
[of course, a lot of this is devil's advocate - I don't do peer-to-peer as I don't even have dial-up access, never mind broadband, and one or two CDs a year isn't going to put me into a category they'll be interested in; however if I do get broadband in the future, and the prices of my favourite songs are reasonable, and they're not tied up in DRM garbage...]
If you have used a Techika MP3 player (any type) and no longer have a need of it due to upgrading to a better model - would you consider posting it to me? (email me for my address)
Also, if anybody happens to have an actual datasheet for the STMP35xx devices - instead of the information-light advertising "product briefs" available on the Sigmatel website...
What's with the squiggles?
It's called Japanese. ☺ Why? Because I felt like it! No, I don't speak Japanese, but given the amount of Japanese stuff I've seen on FilmFour, perhaps I should learn something other than arigatō?
If you can't see the 'squiggles', then sorry - you'll need to install Japanese/Chinese support (for Windows, you'll need the IME); or perhaps your operating system just doesn't support oriental languages, or your browser doesn't support glyphs in that range.
じやまた (zja mata "(see you) later!")
What's inside one of these devices?
A Sigmatel audio processor, STMP3503 (ML-2) or STMP3510 (MP-906). This chip contains the control processor, USB interface, FlashROM interface, and a 24bit DSP for hardware MP3 decoding, to a sigma/delta audio output (aka a 1 bit DAC). The only other part of note is the FlashROM.
This is a block diagram of the MP3 player hardware, taken from the solution brief. Note that not all functions are available on all versions (does this thing have an IDE interface?!?).
According to the advert sheet (MP3 Flash Player solution brief, May 2005), the devices offer:
In the picture below, the FlashROM is on the left, the MP3 audio processor (STMP3510) is on the right. Actual size, from tip of USB plug to end of plastic case on the other end is 83mm. The other side of the circuit is bare except for the 2.5mm audio socket and the battery contacts.
The white 'starburst' is how the scanner saw the bright red 'on' indicator.
And this is a picture of the inside of an ML-2 player. It is scaled differently, both players are roughly the same size, the ML-2 being slightly fatter to accomodate the display.
As before, FlashROM on the left and the MP3 audio processor (STMP3503) on the right. You can see there are more components - the other side of the upper board contains numerous components as well, including the 3.5mm audio socket, microphone, 24Mhz crystal, three-way switch, battery contacts, and numerous surface-mount parts. There is space for something with ten pins, a little over 1cm square, which is not fitted - component U5.
In order to demonstrate the display, the device was connected to my computer during this scan.
Both players are 256Mb.