Diamond Multimedia Rio 500: The Trouble With Goodbye is Hello

Sorting out my tech stuff in the attic for spring cleaning, I was surprised to discover a cache of old MP3 players.  Among them were five (5) Rio 500s made by Diamond Multimedia in the late 1990s.  They all came complete with odd-looking (smaller than a standard 5-pin Mini B) USB cables together with some old batteries.

Why I had 5 of them I had totally forgotten. Excitedly, I put on a fresh Duracell AA battery into one of them and slid the switch on. The unit’s small, rectangular (1.5″ x 0.57″) screen glowed a warm blue hue and the first track in the playlist appeared.  This thing still works!

The unit has 64MB of memory built-in and a SmartMedia card slot for more songs
The Diamond Rio 500 MP3 Player and its unusual USB cable

The Diamond Rio 500 Digital Audio Player was one of the early MP3 players that tried vainly to simplify the intricate and sometimes confusing domain of digital music transfer and rights management until Apple’s iTunes hit the jackpot in 2001.

Released in 1999 for about US$270, the sleek 3.5″ x 2.75″ x 0.6″ gizmo (just slightly thicker than a deck of playing cards) came with 64MB of memory built-in, a SmartMedia card slot for expansion, a minimalistic design, RioPort Audio Manager software and, most importantly, a USB interface.

Note that RioPort Audio Manager was a Windows-only interface when it was released.  It would take three (3) ex-Apple software engineers to port it for the Mac (worked well under Mac OS 7.x to 9.x) that same year and called it SoundJam MP

SoundJam, the company, was eventually bought out by Apple in 2000 and whose codes would eventually result in – you guessed it correctlyiTunes 1.0.

Today, there are still a slew of digital audio players that eschew iTunes yet are still so easy to use because of the USB cable plus the fact that computer OSes had become so much betterjust drag and drop your audio files!

So, the Rio 500 has a USB interface and I have the original USB cable, so transferring a few MP3s using the latest versions of Windows, Mac OS, Linux or even Chrome should be easy, right?

The trouble with goodbye is hello. Or, should that be, “hello again”?

The trouble with trying to use old technologies using modern tools are the accompanying hassles that naturally comes with them.

No, the Rio 500 won’t simply come up as just another USB device after I connected the unique USB cable on any one of my latest computers.

It only worked -transferred a few more MP3s- after I was able to get hold of an ancient Dell Latitude (with a vintage Pentium 233 MMX CPU) laptop -luckily, with a solitary USB port–  that operated under Windows ME (Millennium Edition).

Fortunately, the laptop has a single USB port for the unusual cable
An ancient Dell Latitude CPi (with a Pentium MMX processor) laptop running Windows ME

And, thanks to a software called RIOsitude (v3.12) that was provided by the open-source community, I was able to transfer a few MP3s to the vintage player via USB.  Back in 1999, an MP3 player holding about 20 songs (at 128 Kbps bit rate) in its internal memory was impressive enough.

RIOsitude 3.12 delivered the 'goodies' to the Rio 500 audio player!
The Open Source community delivered once more to make this MP3 player usable; the player runs on one (1) AA battery!

Today, most portable gadgets are designed for ‘planned obsolescence‘ and that is why it’s always nice and fun to rediscover technologies of yesteryears.

While my 6th-generation iPod nano -released 2010-had been out of service for almost 3 years now after the tiny built-in lithium ion battery inside gave up & trying to open it up required the skill set of a world-class surgeon, this 20 year old music player still works.

As long as you have the right tools, there’s a good chance that those gadgets that were made 20-30 years ago- or, even older- would still be operational today.

Besides, what MP3 or high-resolution audio player today uses an AA battery as its power source?

 

Notes: You can download the English version of RIOsitude (v 3.12) as well as the USB drivers for Diamond RIO 500 MP3 player as a zipped package here. Please note that these would work only under Windows 98, ME & Windows 2000.

Fire TV Cube = Logitech Harmony + Amazon Echo

Today, I received my Amazon Fire TV Cube right at my doorsteps and was able to set it up in about half an hour including the installation of all my apps — mostly to watch TV shows and movies all over the web.

I would admit it’s a fascinating yet cheap -got it at the pre-sale price of $89– device but only if these factors are present in your setup:

  • Very fast internet connection – the unit has dual-band WiFi ac built-in but an Ethernet (10/100) adapter is included  with the set
  • A Smart 4K (UHD) TV (recommended) or any TV that uses an HDMI input
  • And, if you have an AV system, the receiver(s) -the TV provider box and/or the home theater receiver- must be compatible

It was only a few years back -January 2015 to be exact- when Amazon launched their very first salvo in the home automation market with the Amazon Echo.

The Fire TV Cube
Amazon’s latest play in the very lucrative “smart home” market

They had since integrated the core Alexa ‘far-field voice control and recognition’ technology from the Echo into almost all their line-up of devices including the cheapest Fire TV Stick.

Now with the Fire TV Cube, Amazon had one-upped again the competition by  crossing-over an Echo with the capabilities of today’s web-connected TVs and audio systems.

While the Echo was such a ground-breaking gadget in itself that led Apple and Google to release their own incarnations in the HomePod & Google Home respectively, the Fire TV Cube clearly targets a market segment dominated by the Lausanne, Switzerland/Newark, California-based Logitech: the smart-universal remote control.

Fire TV Cube has buttons for volume control, microphone muting as well as an ‘action’ button

Although the Fire TV Cube set includes the similar remote that comes with any Alexa-built-in Fire TV devices (note: the first 2 generations of the Fire TV devices didn’t have Alexa), its main use is for inputting information like usernames & passwords to services like Hulu, Sling, Netflix, YouTube, etc., as well as to install and to operate open-source apps.

Amazon advertises the Fire TV Cube as a device to “control your TV hands free from across the room” but the applications and possible uses are so much more than that — all in a very, very small package.

Update:  Sometime in October of 2018, Amazon came up with a new version of the Alexa Voice Remote (2nd generation) with TV control for the Fire TV series and now comes bundled with the latest Fire TV Stick (4K) and the Fire TV Cube.  By itself, the new remote costs $30.

It now has dedicated buttons for power, mute & volume (up/down) –  to control some TV functions.

However, the new remote is compatible only with newer versions of the Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick (4K), Fire TV (3rd gen – pendant style) and the Fire TV Cube.

Amazon had also discontinued the original, square Fire TV with built-in Ethernet series as well as the Fire TV (3rd-gen, pendant style).

The 2nd Generation Alexa Voice Remote for Fire TV with TV Control