Review: Panasonic SD Audio Player – AAC, WMA and MP3 (SV-SD300 / SV-SD350V), with SD-Jukebox Version 5

Panasonic SD MP3 PlayerThis is a review of the Panasonic SD Audio Player SV-SD300. The title mentions the SV-SD350V, which is a similar product, but includes a radio and the ability to record voice memos. I have included it here as it uses the same software, and I believe the review will apply to that model the same. The model number SV-SD300EB-W is I believe the UK model number, which is branded as the SV-SD300. The player is part of the Panasonic D-snap Audio range.

This is an SD based Audio Player. It does not have any internal memory or hard disk for storing tracks, but instead uses an SD card (not supplied) to store the music on. The advantage of this is that you can add more memory by buying relatively cheap SD cards. I also thought this would mean being able to swap cards with my Akai 256MB MP3 Player with SD Slot, this turns out to not be the case, which I’ll come to later. The player will take SD cards up to 2GB in size. It is now possible to get SD cards up to 4GB, and no doubt in future even bigger SD cards will be available, the maximum size supported by the player is 2GB. By having multiple cards, the capacity is effectively unlimited.

When getting the player out of the box it looks good. The combination of silver and white works well, it’s also small, thin and light. With no harddisk to add weight and put a large drain on the battery, the player is extremely light.

Once I’d charged the battery (3 hour charge time), I first tried to use the SD card from my Akai MP3 Player, which was already loaded with MP3 files. It was not able to see any of the tracks. The Panasonic player implements Digital Rights Management (DRM), but the way that this is implemented means that you are not able to play MP3 files without first converting them to a Panasonic format. Although the product had stated it was for Windows only, if it allowed you to play MP3 file directly like the Akai MP3 Player, then it would have worked with any operating system that could write to SD cards, including Linux. This is unfortunately not the case.

The DRM implementation and accompanying software ties this player to Windows only, and will not work on a Mac or under Linux.

I have my home PC setup as a dual boot, Windows XP and Linux (Fedora FC5) computer, so the fact that it doesn’t work with Linux was not such a big show stopper. I have my music files stored as MP3 files on a FAT32 partition which allows it to be accessed from both Windows as my E: drive, and mounted as VFAT under /media/music. I therefore booted into Windows XP and installed the software. The supplied software is “SD-Jukebox Version 5.0 Light Edition”. The software requirements are Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP Home Edition or Windows XP Professional. The System Requirements were fully met (and exceeded), however in some small print is: “Even if the system requirements mentioned are fulfilled, some personal computers cannot be used. This software cannot be used on a Macintosh. Operating is not guaranteed when used on Windows OSs except those above. Operation on an upgraded OS is not guaranteed. Operation on a OS other than the one pre-installed is not guaranteed. Multi-boot environment is not supported. Only available when the user is logged in as the system administrator. This software may not run properly on user build computers. This software can not be used on a 64-bit OS. … This[sic] system requirements are not guarenteed in the case that any other application runs. Depending upon your computer system, you may experience problems such as being unable to record or use recoded music data.”
Reading this is quite scary. The purchase was of a hardware player, which doesn’t work without the supplied software, which has got a long list of circumstances where this might not work.

In the case that you decide to multi-boot with Linux then the software may not work under Windows, in the case that you upgrade the OS it may not work, it won’t work if you upgrade to a 64 bit computer and OS, if you upgrade to Windows Vista then it probably won’t work (even if the software is compatible you should not be running Vista as an administrator), if you have to reinstall Windows (and so it isn’t pre-installed) then they don’t guarantee the software. If the software doesn’t run then the expensive hardware player is completely useless as you can’t load music onto the SD card without it.

Not only all this but all music that it loads is digitally encrypted and if you upgrade your operating system, processor, hard disk or other hardware then any music you have loaded into the software may not play anymore. If that is the only place you have that music then you could lose all your legitimate music.

If you do use the SD-Jukebox player then don’t rely on it for storing your music files as with the restrictions imposed by the DRM, you could end up with unplayable music files.

I hadn’t noticed the bit about multi-boot, and can’t see why that should really effect installing the application (although it may affect the DRM encoding), so I installed it into Windows XP.

Installing the Panasonic SD-Jukebox Player software on Windows XP was a big mistake. It completely messed up my PC causing Blue Screens of Death (BSOD), and even preventing the OS from booting.

I tried to find some support information for Panasonic, but the only details I found was a reference to the Japanese Panasonic Web Site. I therefore booted into safe mode and uninstalled the software. I contacted my supplier who gave me a UK phone number for Panasonic Support: 01344 853501. I phoned this number and the person said that there is no new version of the software, but after going off and speaking to someone else said that they are aware of the music familiar option causing blue screens, and advised I turned that off. I thought I would give this a try, and so tried reinstalling the software, which crashed during the install leaving my Windows PC in a mess. The computer would boot up sometimes, but not others. I tried a rollback, and tried disabling startup services, but still the computer was unstable. I did eventually manage to get my Windows XP computer working again, by booting into safe mode and installing the software, then immediately removing the software before rebooting. I never did get to try turning off the “Music Familiar” feature, but I wasn’t going to risk ruining my entire Windows and application setup for this unstable software.

I believe I have been able to rescue my Windows XP setup, although I did think I was going to have to reinstall the entire operating system.

Even if I did manage to get the software running its DRM implementation is very wasteful of disk space, and inconvenient. I keep all my files as MP3 files on my computer so that I can play them using iTunes under Windows, and through an audio player on Linux. If I wanted to have these available for the SD player then they need to be imported into the SD Jukebox software. As this won’t use native MP3 files (they have to be imported first), then it means that there would have to be two copies of the songs on the computer. If I wanted access to all my MP3 files, then this would mean that I would use twice as much disk space, so instead of having to give 15GB-20GB of disk space I would have to set aside 30GB-40GB of disk space.

Panasonic SD Audio Player with supplied white headphonesThese software problems are a real shame, as I really liked the look, feel and sound (I managed to transfer one song to the player before the blue screens started) of the player. Even if the software does run on your setup then the implementation of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) code means that this is a wasteful application.

The biggest problem is that if your player outlives the life of your computer, or you install some software that does not run alongside the SD Juke box software or you upgrade your computer and end up with a computer for which it doesn’t work e.g. “some personal computers cannot be used”, or “in the case that any other application runs”, then the player will become little more than a stylish paperweight.

I am returning the player to my supplier and I will not be buying a MP3 / Audio player from Panasonic again. I think I’ll save up and get myself an iPod instead, but that’s not going to happen soon, so I’m sticking with my Akai SD MP3 player.