Report: iPod chip can play WMA by default; turned off in shipping models

“Chip manufacture Portal Player in San Diego US build the embedded PB5502B-C chip in Apple’s iPod. This is the chip that allows the playing of AAC and MP3 – However what is interesting is that the chip firmware by default also allows the playing of WMA,” DanceFrontDoor reports.

“It looks like for some reason this is locked by Apple. The Portal Player chip is used in other Mobile Media Players and by default allows all three formats,” DFD reports.

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: First, Apple can do whatever they wish with their product. Now, we wonder if someone will figure out how to do a firmware hack to turn the WMA feature on? (Would you apply an unsupported third-party firmware hack to your iPod?) If this hack existed, would it allow iPod and iPod mini to play protected WMA files purchased from the likes of Napster, BuyMusic.com, etc. (if they remain in business long enough)? If the report is true, Apple could turn on WMA support to all existing iPods with a simple firmware update if they so desired.

53 Comments

  1. Although I hate the wma format, this does offer an interesting option for apple. As long as itunes leads music stores in sales, keep wma turned off. But if they ever have strong competition with wma, just turn it on and shove it down all the critics’ throats. Unfortunately, however, they might have to turn it on sooner than later, just because people don’t realize the ipod and itunes still work with mp3’s just like any other player and service.

  2. “It looks like for some reason this is locked by Apple. The Portal Player chip is used in other Mobile Media Players and by default allows all three formats,”

    This means all the other players using the same chip locked out AAC! I wonder if M$ told the other companies they must lock out AAC?

    In either case, playing DRM AAC or WMA would require paying licensing fees to Apple & M$, respectively.

  3. Why would anyone in their right mind encode thier music in WMA? Using a sound format developed by a software company instead of people who know something about sound like Dolby Labs AAC is just ludicrous.

  4. Not only that, when it comes to sound, you want to trust Dolby than Microsoft. When it comes to Animation, people from now on will turn to Pixar than Disney. Some people are “known” for certain things and you go for it.

    Ofcourse, Microsoft is a big shark and you don’t want to be dependent on it. Its just a matter of time before they swallow you.

  5. Is the LAME encoder worse than Fraunhoffer’s because it has no major audio company’s official support or involvement behind it?

    It’s all about freedom of choice. Apple’s lock is no better than Microsoft’s (it could be argued it is worse long term).

  6. Continuing along that line, a common man thinks that a PC means (by default) a Pentium running Microsoft and they do not even realize that PC just means “Personal Computer”. So, its always PC versus Mac. Wonder why?

  7. Juanxer, it is not to say whether it is worse or better.. a standard developed by a combination of folks involved in audio for years versus another product developed behind closed doors has a lot of difference. What is the guarantee that Microsoft will not do something different with WMA once the standard is out. It will be like MS-Java. Some of the stuff that you write with Visual J++ will not work with any other system running Java due to MS-specific features.

  8. I know one friend that encoded his CDs in WMA … he just used the rip function built in windows through windowsmediaplayer .. when he found out that it will not play on his CD mp3 player he was really pissed. … he thought that it would encode in mp3 by default ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”grin” style=”border:0;” /> … so he had to reencode everything in mp3

    this is how WMA is dangerous .. people who don’t understand the format differences, do not care or simply do not notice .. they encode in WMA by default ..

  9. Questions this raises:

    1) is the licensing fee for wma paid by the chip maker, the manufacturer, or both. If Apple is not paying the fee, how did it have to certify that it disabled wma in order to avoid paying a licencing fee?

    2) when the article says AAC does it mean AAC+Fairplay? Is Fairplay on the chip, or on a separate chip, or based in firmware?

    3) if Fairplay is on the chip, who was Fairplay licensed from?

    All in all, the article raises far more questions than it answers.

  10. If you look at buymusic.com, you find WMA with about 9 different variations in your DRM rights. At least, ACC with Fairplay lets you know where you stand. Now, WMA doesn’t need such a confusing variation in rights, walmart.com uses only a single policy, similar to Fairplay, for all its songs. My biggest complaint, is the restriction to a single download, instead of a lifetime download. You kow how totally reliable digital storage is. I have songs I apparently bought just before a hard disk crash, which iTMS says I’ve already bought, and I don’t remember buying them, probably because the HD crash wiped my mind too.

  11. If Portal Player is like other companies, then it is possible that Apple is only paying them for the right to enable the AAC format decoder, and Apple would have to pay additional to enable the WMA format decoder.

    It is a common practice. It allows Portal player to have one product design and one inventory instead of two.

    It also means that Portal Player doesn’t have to pay WMA royalties to sell chips with WMA disabled, or AAC royalties to sell chips with AAC disabled.

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