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SonicStage CP 4.3 showing the Sony Connect store view
|Stable release||4.3 / 2007|
|Preview release||5.2 / 2009 (Japan only)|
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows|
SonicStage is the name for Sony software that is used for managing portable devices when they are plugged into a computer running Microsoft Windows. It comprises a music player and library manager, similar to iTunes, Windows Media Player and RealPlayer. It is used to manage the library of ATRAC OMG/OMA and MP3 recordings on a PC. It was first used in VAIO PCs put on the Japanese market in October 2001, and superseded OpenMG Jukebox. Version 2 was found on 2004 model products, and Version 3 on 2005 model products (Sony introduced native mp3 support on its music players in 2005).
The Sony Connect service was formerly used to purchase recordings online, and could be accessed from within the SonicStage program. However, Sony announced that on the 31st March 2008, its CONNECT download site would be going offline, therefore affecting SonicStage users.
However in late 2008, Sony launched a new online music store called "Bandit.fm" on a trial basis in Australia and New Zealand. Bandit.fm has been considerably more successful and although unconfirmed, it is widely expected that Sony will launch Bandit.fm globally in the medium-term future, pending the results of the Australian/New Zealand trial.
SonicStage is closely tied to a requirement that the program guard against copyright infractions. Sony music players have a write-only design. Somewhat similar to an Apple iPod, it is not generally possible to move tracks from the music player to the PC hard drive, and thereby from one music player to another. Some earlier models (such as some of the Net-MD line) could not even transfer voice recordings made by the user (with the player's microphone input) to their PC.
Copy restriction is provided not by any one feature, but by a group of design features and software limitations. The main features being:
As of version 3.4, an intermediate update mostly for Hi-MD users, some of the above restrictions have been relaxed. SonicStage 3.4 allows tracks recorded via digital/analogue inputs on Hi-MD devices to be transferred back in WAV format. Also, files in Sony's proprietary ATRAC format can now be converted to WAV.
Support for mp3 files in both SonicStage and 2005 model devices is problematic. A 2005 model device may not be able to play some tracks. For example, it may not be able to play low bit rate mp3 tracks, (the ones that may be produced by an internet radio station, or in a podcast).
SonicStage will play ATRAC3 files directly from a digital music device when the latter is connected to the computer and detected by the software. SonicStage 3 does not play DRM-wrapped MP3 files directly from the device. Many bugs, however, are corrected and addressed.
Version 1.5 adds the native support for ATRAC3plus and Windows Media Audio (WMA). And addition, MP3 encoding plug-in was sold on Sony's on-line stores (SonyStyle Japan: ¥1,590), for their Palm device: CLIÉ. But those encoding function for WMA/MP3 was removed in SonicStage Version 2.0 (SS2.0 supports only the decoding function).
This is the last version of SonicStage before native mp3 devices were introduced by Sony. MP3 is supported by converting the mp3 file to ATRAC format and downloading that file to the device.
The V2 library manager is "benign" in that it sits on top of what is already on the hard drive, and doesn't change what is already there (It will change a file name if you have it set to do so in the Options). With V2, you can tell it that you have an album in a directory, and import that group of files as an album without having the program change the header information in the tracks.
Version 3 uses the header information in the tracks to get album, artist and track name information. The tracks are placed in the database according to what is in the tracks. When the header fields in a track are blank, the program imports the track into the unnamed album ( No name, no artist, no album ). As a consequence, when importing tracks, many albums are placed into the album called "Unnamed".
Tracks under digital rights management cannot be changed, and neither can tracks with a missing source link.
As noted above, Version 3 lacks an "Import Album" feature. SonicStage V3 classifies tracks according to the album-related information present in their headers.
2 GB memory sticks are not supported.
Sony have added the option to drop DRM on ripped files in SonicStage V3.3.
SonicStage 3.4 includes an option to de-DRM an entire library (the larger it is, the longer it takes) allowing as many copies of files as you like, on as many players and PCs as you want. You can even share non-DRM files with other people.
The option to de-DRM files does not however work on unplayable OMA files.
SonicStage 3.4 does not operate on Windows Vista.
The main downside is that a number of features, such as the ability to recover from corrupt track lists, are still missing. It also disallows Limited User Accounts from having any privileges except for listening to music on the program.
Version 4.3 adds Windows Vista compatibility (Vista 64-bit and Windows 7 64-bit not officially supported but will run). As of October 2008, this is the latest version of the English (and other non-Japanese language) SonicStage.
Version 4.4, released on January 10, 2008 (only in Japan), added HE-AAC transfer function for new walkmans.
SonicStage V is the latest version of the Japanese SonicStage, and features a new user interface like SonicStage for LISMO. Version 5.0 released on October 9, 2008 in Japan. On 9 Feb 2009, version 5.1 was released.
SonicStage V does not work with the Hi-MD/Net MD Walkmans, MP3-CD/ATRAC-CD players (such as CD Walkmans) and other old devices.
SonicStage for LISMO is a stripped-down version of Japanese SonicStage CP, and is a part of the "LISMO Port" suite. Version 1.0 was released on February 1, 2008. SonicStage for LISMO developed for a new ATRAC service (LISMOオーディオ機器連携) of LISMO, the online music store provided by a Japanese mobile phone operator KDDI (au). There are some useful functions to using LISMO, but little value for non-LISMO users. The playable codecs are same as SonicStage Version 4.x, but encoding functions are only available for the ATRAC codecs.
Sony offers the MP3 File Manager for Network Walkmans as a very limited alternative to SonicStage. It only provides a simple drag-and-drop interface and is lacking many of the newer, more advanced features of SonicStage (such as the ability to transfer files back to your computer).
The application is intended to be installed on the Network Walkman itself. Although it can be run directly on the device, it is not truly a portable application because it requires that the driver be installed on the computer.
As mentioned in this forum,[dead link] the VAIO Music Transfer software allows files to be dragged and dropped onto the player. It may still require SonicStage to be installed. It works with the NW-A700-series, NW-E00XF-series players as well as the NW-HD1 and NW-HD3.
For MiniDisc Walkman, the linux-minidisc project is working continuously to develop a free transfer software for all HiMD- and NetMD-Walkman. The software features a library libhimd for accessing HiMD-devices and a Qt-based GUI (QHiMDTransfer) which both can be ported to many platforms, current versions are available for Linux, Windows and Macintosh computers. Currently, upload (i.e. transfer from the Walkman to the PC) of MP3s and PCM/ATRAC3/ATRAC3+-recordings (all HiMD Walkman) is possible, more functionality (downloads to the device, deleting, renaming tracks etc.) is being worked on. NetMD is supported as well (through a collection of Python scripts) in the form of downloads (all NetMD) and uploads (MZ-RH1 only). Especially the sophisticated debugging and reverse-engineering protection of OpenMG/AVLib made development tedious but linux-minidisc is the only software to provide this functionality to date. The project homepage can be found here.
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