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Exclusive UK high street music retailer HMV has begun to sell Apple's iPod portable music player via its website.

No great surprise there, given the device's popularity, nor that it is being sold through the music downloads section of HMV's site. What is odd, however, is that the iPod will not play songs downloaded through HMV.

HMV's current download partner is On-Demand Distribution (OD2). The music retailer resells OD2's 50-songs-a-month subscription package for a monthly £5 fee.

OD2 offers tracks encoded using Microsoft's WMA format. Apple's iPod, however, supports MPEG 4 sub-format AAC. While Apple's iTunes software will convert WMA files to AAC, it will only do so with DRM-free tracks, which of course OD2's are not.

Anyone who buys an iPod through HMV's website and hopes to stock it using downloads from the same source is going to be disappointed.

Unless, of course, either Apple is planning to add WMA support before then, or HMV is intending to form an alliance with the Mac maker's iTunes Music Store, which launched in the UK this week.

Certainly, the company is planning to "upgrade its download offer very significantly" in the "near future", a spokesman told The Register.

The new version will be "in keeping with our brand heritage as an authoritative music supplier", he added, which suggests the company is looking to widen the range of repertoire its download store can provide. That could come through further alliances with digital music providers, or through a big boost to OD2's track catalogue, which currently stands at around 300,000 songs to iTunes and Napster's 700,000 apiece.

That still leaves the incompatibility issue, however.

"This is early days in the inline market and there are bound to be inconsistencies and contradictions," HMV's spokesman said. "We are confident these will be reduced as technology continues to evolve."

Incidentally, the site has begun taking orders for the iPod Mini, which it lists with a ship date of 1 August. When Apple officially announced in April that it was delaying the UK introduction of the slimline player, it said the device would ship in July. If HMV's date is accurate, it suggests that buyers will have to wait until the very end of July before receiving their iPod Minis.

HMV is charging £200 for the junior iPod, Apple's anticipated street price for the device. Both regular and Mini iPods will also be sold through HMV's larger stores, the retailer said. ®

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