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Rockbox vs Basic ipod firmware

Geoffrey Taucer

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I use Rockbox (on a Toshiba Gigabeat) and I've been generally satisfied with it. From what I saw of the original Gigabeat firmware, Rockbox is better. I like how it allows you to just move stuff to the player from Windows Explorer without having to bother with going through a media player, and you can also browse on the player in folder view. It supports a bunch of filetypes including ogg vorbis and FLAC. And you can play Doom.

Downsides: It's ugly (although you can skin it, which helps), it doesn't support any type of DRM-protected files, and I find playlist management slightly confusing (although I'm not sure if it's actually more confusing than non-Rockbox players -- I may just be inept). I think you need to download a special build to support album art. Also, I'm not sure if the iPod version supports realtime decoding of AAC files, so if that's a big deal to you, you should check on that.

I think Apple's official stance may be that Rockbox voids the warranty, but you should be able to reset the iPod to the factory firmware and wipe out all evidence that Rockbox was ever on it if you need to.

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You can have both RockBox and the iPod stuff installed at the same time. You don't even have to format your iPod to install RockBox. I had both installed for awhile, but RockBox eats battery and doesn't support album art very well (which I put a lot of time into making sure I have). I plays way more formats, which is nice, but I didn't like the library listing as much either.

Both have their advantages, but like I said, you don't have to really COMMIT to either.

Note: One day my iPod quit noticing anything in my library all together. My songs were there but neither RockBox nor the iPod OS recognized them, all I could play were the MPCs I had on there through RockBox. When I plugged it back into my computer my computer recognized there was nothing in my iPod library, and cleared the space.

I don't know if that's because of Rockbox, but I didn't reinstall.

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Rockbox is nice if you want to listen to NSF files. I like how it's more customizable, and it has some cool games and apps on it. It runs through batteries like no other, though. I would recommend doing a dual-OS system like I have. Use the Apple software for listening to regular music and stuff, but use rockbox for the more attention-intensive things.

Also rockbox is butt-ugly.

Apple has an annoying habit of making you go through like 500 menus in order to change one option, which isn't something I always want to on my music player. When you have it set to repeat one track, pressing next and previous just plays that track again, forcing you to go back out, find the playlist you're using, scroll all the way down to whatever track you want. You know, instead of doing something practical like CHANGING THE DAMN TRACK WHEN YOU PRESS NEXT.

Apple doesn't have very good customer support I'm told, so whatever you choose to do, it's probably not going to matter. If you break a screen or need to replace batteries, I would recommend replacing them yourself. I used Kokopelli Music, which seems to be a family-run business. Great service there (as far as I've use it).

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It sucks battery like a hooker sucks... lollipops. Which is to say a LOT.

The nice thing about Rockbox is that it's completely reversible. It's really easy to get rid of if you decide you hate it. There's pros and cons to using Rockbox, and I don't know if they carry across all the iPods. For reference, I'm using a grayscale 4g iPod, the last type made before they moved to color screens.

Basically, Rockbox is for advanced users, period. I assume you know your way around a computer, you're a kickass remixer at any rate. But if you wanna squeeze your iPod for everything it's worth, I really recommend it.

One notable issue it has sometimes is that it will get confused when you try to push the next button to skip a song. Sometimes it works great, but I've had it get confused about how many songs I've skipped, refuse to skip a song, display wrong ID3 info, etc. It's easily fixed by doing a standard iPod reset (switch hold on and off once, then hold menu and center buttons until it restarts), but you shouldn't have to deal with that issue in the first place.

By FAR the nicest thing about Rockbox is that it allows you to drag and drop folders to your iPod rather than using iTunes for updates. You can view audio on your iPod just like it's organized in the folders, and Rockbox ALSO has a datatbase browser, so you can still look up music on the iPod by artist, album, etc. It's the best of both worlds as far as getting at music on your player. Also, if you have soundtracks with a large, deep folder structure, it's great, and it's as simple as using your iPod like a flash drive.

The flipside of that coin is that if you use iTunes to meticulously organize your audio anyways, you can't just plug it in and have iTunes autosync it if Rockbox is installed. You can even fix this by getting hold of a folder sync program that will match up your audio folder on your computer with the one on your iPod. One other issue is that if you buy a lot of songs off iTunes, they won't be automatically added to your iPod. You may want to change things up a bit so purchased songs get dumped directly into a folder where you can actually find them and drag them to your iPod.

Rockbox allows for much deeper customization of basic iPod functions, like a detailed EQ, separately adjustable bass and treble levels, as well as a bunch of different themes which can display huge amounts of info on your now playing screen, such as bitrates, file types, folder paths, even a peak meter.

There's a bit of a learning curve with Rockbox, but it isn't terribly difficult, the button functions just change from the default firmware.

In summary, I really like Rockbox, even if it does have some visible issues. It allows me to do MUCH more than the default iPod firmware, even if it does have some irritating quirks. That's great as far as organization, because I have 4300 songs. Plus, with Rockbox, if you report a bug or ask for something from the Rockbox developers, they rebuild the software daily. So it's much more likely your issues will be fixed than if you ask Apple to change their firmware. For what it lets me do, I'm willing to sacrifice auto-updates and reset it occasionally.

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