An Introduction To Ovi Music And Ovi Music Unlimited
A brainwavez.org Tech Feature

South Africa By: Mandy J Watson on 23 November 2010
Category: Tech > Features
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The Nokia Music Store, which is now called Ovi Music, and the Nokia Comes With Music service, which is now called Ovi Music Unlimited, have gone through some huge changes since their launch in 2009. Here's a look at what's on offer and what to expect if you are interested in either of the services.

In April 2009 Nokia launched the Nokia Music Store and the Nokia Comes With Music service in South Africa. I attended the launch in Johannesburg (Prime Circle was the guest artist - here's some video that I shot that day while testing a Sony camera) where we were introduced to the music team and the basics of the services.

I installed the PC application on my Windows netbook at the function and had a look at the store, which, at the time, could only be accessed via a PC, and played around with it some more once I was back in Cape Town. I was completely underwhelmed by the entire experience. The fact that there was no Mac support was a huge negative - in fact, you couldn't even go to the web site using a web browser on a Mac; instead you got a message informing you that you don't meet the technical requirements.

On the PC side, I found the music player very intrusive and odd. I have quite strict firewall settings and I was finding that it wanted to access the Internet the minute I booted the netbook - nevermind the fact that I hadn't launched the application - as well as services that talk to the screen and other background items. If I don't have a program running I don't want it alive at all. This was a problem. When I actually wanted to use the application, I found the user interface confusing and the usability experience sluggish and unpleasant. When I tried to download a track, I had problems. I didn't know what they were. I never got my download and it was never even listed in my account. If I wanted to visit the site to look around, I had to use Internet Explorer.

I eventually gave up on the whole thing when two months later, upon trying to download another test track, a free Flash Republic teaser track, twice, and finding no 15 MB file at the end of it, either time, I gave up. I could see that the computer was logging the data being downloading, which was eating into my bandwidth allocation, but there was no file. Meanwhile, the files had DRM (Microsoft Windows Media Digital Rights Management) with file-movement and use restrictions, I had to manage everything via software installed on a specific machine and not via a web browser in any convenient location, I couldn't do this on a Mac, the files were in WMA format only, I couldn't get downloads to work... frankly, it was just easier to utilise other methods, if I had to, and stop fighting. I disabled (though I did not uninstall) the software and left it at that.

Fast forward a year and a bit, and Nokia announces some rebranding: Ovi Music (the old music store) and Ovi Music Unlimited (the Comes With Music service that's offered for certain handsets), along with some exciting news: DRM-free MP3s for paying customers of Ovi Music.

I decided that it was time to look at the Ovi Music platform again.


Ovi Music
To browse the web site, just visit http://music.ovi.com/ (which will redirect to your local store, which may or may not be the South African site) or http://music.nokia.co.za/ (which will direct you to http://music.ovi.com/za/en/pc, the local South African site).

There are no more restrictions and the site is now a pleasure to use. You can visit (and download) using a Mac or a PC, you can use almost any browser you want, and you don't have to be logged in to look around, search the catalogue, and check prices. To check out a track or album, click the relevant link and more detailed information will be displayed. Here you will also be able to hit a "play" button, which will stream a 30-second preview of the track.

If you want to shop (or download the free tracks), just set up an Ovi account and log in. You'll need to purchase credit before you can buy tracks and albums. Look for the "Buy credit" link on every page and follow the process, which requires Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners Club or JCB. The more you spend up front, the more "bonus" credit you will receive - for example, if you spend R500 [?] you will be credited with R600 [?] to spend on the site. (If you're still a bit nervous about spending money after you've set up an account, give the site a spin by going to the home page and looking for the "free song" offers in the "featured" section. That way you can experience the downloading process without fear of making a mistake and wasting your money.)

Ovi Music album listing

Downloading a track is really easy. Select the one that you want, then look for the pink button with the price on it. Click, wait for the "confirm download" dialog box, confirm, and the download process will start. If you've bought a track you'll notice that the price will automatically be deducted from your remaining credit, which is highlighted at the top of each page while you are logged in.

One of my favourite features of Ovi Music is the download history (or account library). Here, everything you've ever downloaded is listed. If you have a computer meltdown and lose all the music you've bought (or downloaded for free) through Ovi Music, you can just log into your account, find your download history, and download the tracks all over again for free. If you have an Ovi Music Unlimited account all those tracks will also be listed, under a separate tab.

Investigating Ovi Music
Nokia gave me a R250 [?] voucher to test the service, so I logged in using my old Nokia Music Store account details, redeemed the voucher, and set about investigating my options, starting with looking at my account information. When the store was converted a few months ago my account was converted from a Nokia Music Store to an Ovi Music account so I wanted to see what data was still available. Amazingly, I found the Flash Republic track that I'd had huge problems with a year ago listed in my history, so I clicked the link and it downloaded smoothly this time.

After that, I began investigating the catalogue. My first experiment was to download an album, so I chose Rocking the Daisies And Gardens 2010, since it was right after the festival [read all about it here] and I wanted to see how well the album, which was compiled beforehand, captured the event. Next I tried singles. The catalogue contains album listings, all broken into songs, and singles. Artist home pages are divided into albums, singles, and songs. If you just want one song from an album you can just purchase that one song and it'll be listed as an individual track in your download history. I tried a few that I was interested in and they all downloaded easily.

As mentioned, the file format is MP3, so you won't have problems with devices that can't support the audio format, as you might experience with WMA. All the files I downloaded had a bit rate of 256 kbps, which is not quite as high as I would like but you're not going to notice the difference except with high-quality audio equipment.

The catalogue is quite extensive, which a vast collection of both local and international releases. I ran through brainwavez.org's entire music history, focussing on any reviews of singles, albums, or concerts by professional musicians we have posted over the past four years, and almost everyone was listed as an artist in the catalogue (the exceptions were South Africa's Hot Water and the US's Debra Fotheringham). A number of them were listed but either there was nothing available to download, or the selection was minimal, but this is due to licensing problems - the fact that they are listed is an acknowledgement by the local team that they are aware of the artist.

Speaking of which, the local team, which I met a few weeks ago, is very passionate about music (and a number of them have been drawn from music circles, they aren't tech people, so they're experts in their fields). If you're looking for something and you can't find it in the catalogue, that's a challenge they want to meet - just send a message via Twitter to @NokiaRSA or post a comment in the Nokia Ringaz blog to let them know what you're looking for and they'll do their best to track it down. If they can secure the rights, they will, and the music will be added to the local store.

There are a few problems in the catalogue, such as a guest artist on another artist's album sometimes appearing as a separate artist entry rather than as a single or song under that guest artist's profile. An example is Holly Brook, who has an artist page and a separate Duncan Sheik featuring Holly Brook artist page. I've seen that with more than one artist so I don't know if it's on purpose but from a usability perspective it's nonsensical - you want all an artist's tracks listed under one artist page.

There are also occasional pricing problems, an example being Missy Higgins' Where I Stood EP (see the screenshot further up), which is four tracks priced at R8 [?] each, or a full-album price of R100 [?].

Finally there are additional "filing" problems. The Missy Higgins album mentioned and illustratedabove, for example, is listed under "singles" on her artist-profile page, and not under "albums" (which does contain at least one other EP).

(I imagine that some of these issues may be fixed after this article is published.)

There also a few features that I'd like to see implemented, though none of them are crucial. The album-cover illustrationare far too small and although you can share a link attached to any song via its "social share" button, which sends it to services such as MySpace and FaceBook, you can't bookmark an album or single within the service, which you might want to do if you want to keep a list of items to buy at a later stage. It also doesn't seem as if you can buy credit (or a voucher) for a friend's account, which would be a great gift option for someone who is a huge music fan.

Ovi Music download history

The local music store consistently ranks in the top five (in terms of usage and downloads) of all the localised Ovi Music stores around the world. This is most likely because we don't have access to Apple's iTunes Music Store (officially), and this has given Nokia free reign to innovate and dominate in the music-download space in South Africa. Add to this a new, improved interface that is accessible on more platforms, and the result is a great shopping experience. If you're not particularly concerned with owning physical products or you often just want the one good track from an otherwise terrible album, I recommend trying out the service.

Key Facts
Prices:
Prices vary and there are special exceptions but you can expect to pay:
Single Tracks: R6, R8, R10 [?]
EPs: R25, R40 [?]
Albums: R60, R80, R100 [?]
Technical Info:
Format: MP3 (albums are individual MP3s)
Quality: 44 100 Hz, 256 kbps
Restrictions: None - you can copy, write to disc, transfer between devices, play in any program or on any device that supports MP3s

Key Links
Download History (you need an account to view this)



Ovi Music Unlimited
Ovi Music Unlimited is the "download as much as you want for free" service that is attached to certain handsets. It's a great way to explore music without incurring costs beyond data-download charges. When you buy a compatible phone you will receive a voucher that will allow you to access the service and set it up on your handset and a Windows computer. Macs are, unfortunately, still not supported, but you don't have to use a computer to use Ovi Music Unlimited. Computers come in handy with regards to data plans - for example you may be on an unlimited ADSL setup on your PC but have an expensive data plan on your phone, so it's easier to download to your computer and use the software to transfer the files to your handset. However, you can download directly to the handset as well.

Ovi Player, the software that you will install on your PC, also allows you to rip your CD collection and have it catalogued in the software, and it will scan your computer for all your MP3s and add them to your library as well - basically, it's a media-management program.

At the moment the Ovi Music Unlimited service is offered for six months for free when you buy a new handset that offers it, but both new and existing subscribers have the option to renew their account for a three-, six-, or twelve-month period. (Costs range from R149 for three months to R499 for a year.) You really can download as much as you want while your subscription is active, and the files that you download are yours to keep, but they have DRM attached and are WMA files (you still won't be downloading MP3s), and therefore the files will be bonded to certain devices only (such as your handset and computer) and other restrictions may apply, such as an inability to make copies to write the files to CD.

Once every three months you have the option to deregister a device and register a new device, so if you upgrade your Nokia phone or buy a new computer you can move your Ovi Music Unlimited account to the new device and you don't have to worry about your stuff being "stuck" on an old device that you don't have access to anymore. You can only choose one device, however (a phone or a computer) - if you need to switch more than one device you will have to wait another three months for your next switching window.

Key Links





On The Internet Share
Ovi Music: Official Site



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