The age of digitally mastered music recorded on our computers is definitely upon us, and as this age progresses, companies compete to produce the best quality, yet easiest to use players and encoders on the market. QDesign is one of the latest companies to jump on this bandwagon. Their MVP 1.0 not only plays and encodes MP3 files, it also plays and encodes QDesign music files, a type of QuickTime movie file that yields smaller file sizes than MP3’s. Unfortunately, QDesign falls short in a number of areas, preventing its good features from fully shining through.
QDesign’s interface is attractively designed, and at first glance appears extremely straightforward. Once you start working with it, however, you begin to notice a few pitfalls. For example, I couldn’t get drag-and-drop to work for the life of me. Any MP3 file I tried to drag-and-drop resulted in an obscure error, while attempting to drag-and-drop CDs into the CD window did nothing whatsoever. With an interface that purports to embrace the Macintosh’s ease-of-use, you would think that MVP would fully support this standard feature for Macintosh applications.
Playing MP3 files also yields problems with the interface. While the quality of playback is quite good, navigating through a song using the slider bar is quite an adventure! Whenever you try to drag the slider bar, it attempts to “pull” itself back, forcing you to keep running the mouse off the mouse pad to navigate the song! I tested this on a variety of machines, ranging from PowerBook G3s to B/W G3 450s, and all had the same result.
Playing your Music
Once I was able to master the interface, I attempted to play my MP3 files in MVP to test quality. Oddly enough, whenever I dragged an MP3 file into MVP, it would either tell me that an unexpected error has occurred or that the file needed to be converted. Converted? Excuse me, but I thought MP3 was an Internet-wide, cross-platform standard! Even more disturbing is the fact that MVP would not even open (or “convert”) a CD I had recently encoded with the popular N2MP3 encoder. None of the 12 tracks would even show up in MVP’s open dialog box, and dragging-and-dropping, well, we’ve already covered that.
Additionally, I learned that many of my other MP3s were the same way. I at first suspected that they were encoded in VBR (variable bit rate), so I went back to encode with N2MP3 making sure VBR was turned off. Same problem. I’m baffled here, and I suspect any beginning or intermediate user would be just as confused.
Once again, after I bypassed the interface problems by quitting MVP, inserting my CD, and then re-opening the application, I was finally able to get my CD to appear in MVP’s CD window. MVP was nice enough to grab all the information on the CD from the CDDB database. MVP’s encoding speed was quite impressive, and playback worked with the MVP files. However, I found that MVP only allows you to encode in 64, 80, 128, and 192 kbits/sec. 128 is ok, but I prefer to encode all my files in 160 kbits/sec. I find that 160 is the best mix of quality and quantity. It’s a shame that I can’t encode in my preferred speed in MVP.
Encoding into QDesign’s music format was a completely different story. It was slightly more sluggish, but yielded superb quality, no playback problems, and smaller file sizes than MP3s encoded at the same bit rate. QuickTime 4.0 also had no problem playing these files. It looks to me like more time was spent on a feature that is less likely to be used by most users, as most users have already embraced the MP3 standard.
QDesign MVP requires a PowerPC Macintosh with at least a 100MHz 603 processor, System Software (Mac OS) 7.5.3, and QuickTime 4.0. Both a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive and an Internet connection are recommended.
QDesign MVP is available for a free 30-day trial period at http://www.mvpsite.com. Once your 30-day trial period is over, MVP costs $19.95 to register for unlimited use.
QDesign MVP is clearly a 1.0 release. Its lack of drag-and-drop support is a real failing, and the obscure errors and playback problems I encountered were enough for me to pack MVP away, at least for now. QDesign MVP shows a great deal of potential, and some fine tuning to its already well designed interface and encoding capabilities would give similarly priced player/encoder combinations some serious competition. But for now, QDesign should be back in beta and not in users’ hands. I’ll keep an eye out for future releases, but version 1.0 just doesn’t cut it.
MacMice Rating: 2.5