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Sony US music service an 'embarrassment'

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Sony's US online music service, Connect, has been slammed as an "embarrassment" by the Washington Post.

The review (registration required) criticises the online service - which is coming to Europe on 7 June - for its poor catalogue, its format and hardware limitations and its "bloated, bug-ridden" download software.

The WP likes Sony's pricing - 99 cents for most songs; $1.99 for longer ones; $9.99 for albums - and we join it in welcoming the way Connect lets you re-download free of charge songs you've already purchased and downloaded. That's handy if you lose your data at some point. Other services should follow Sony's lead in this respect.

The paper also likes Connect's support for ATRAC data CDs. Creating discs containing encoded digital music tracks is not new, but rather more cheap CD players support Sony's digital music format than Apple's choice, AAC, or DRM-protected WMA files.

But Sony's choice for format restricts consumers to its own hardware - a complaint the paper also makes about Apple, though at least iTunes does permit you to rip CDs to MP3 for transfer to other brands of player. Sony's SonicStage software does not support MP3 and "it defaults to storing music in an invisible, deeply buried sub-directory", the paper warns.

But what songs can you transfer to your ATRAC data discs or "overpriced" Sony digital music players? Not too many from big-name artists, it seems. Connect's catalogue may stretch to 500,000 songs, but the WP reckons its not a great selection.

"Connect permits an unlimited number of transfers to portable players - except for songs from Warner Music Group's labels, which are restricted to three transfers. Ever," the paper reveals.

"Similar control-freak behaviour ensues when you move purchased songs to the other two PCs you're allotted at any one time: those copies lose all their transfer and CD-burning permissions. Sony says an upcoming software update will restore transfer rights, but not disc burning, to those copies."

To sum up: "This service is an embarrassment to the company that gave the world the Walkman... has years of experience selling records, consumer electronics and personal computers - and it's had plenty of time to study earlier digital-music ventures." ®

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