Perception Digital PDHercules

Perception Digital is a Chinese company formed by graduates from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which during its two-year existence has created some innovative new products.

The first of these to land on our shores is the PDHercules digital jukebox, which can rip MP3s directly from CD, without the need for a computer. With its internal 20GB hard drive, the PDHercules is claimed to be capable of storing about 330 hours of music, the equivalent of almost 5000 four-minute songs.

Not only can the unit create, store and play thousands of MP3s, but its sophisticated indexing system can organise and search them, and even import information from CDDB, the Internet music database (this requires connection to the Internet through a computer). If that's not enough, the wireless remote control opens up to reveal a tiny keyboard with which you can enter artist and track names manually. The PDHercules also has a built-in database of popular albums of the last 10 years, enabling it to index some music after you record it.

Using its onboard CD drive and a digital signal processor, the unit claims to read, compress and store music at six times the standard play rate. It proved capable of recording at this speed, and even though the manual warns that encoding and compression of the music may take extra time, this is automatically done during "stand-by" time. In practice, we were able to play uncompressed recordings straight away.

This is not a portable player, and is designed to be part of a mains-powered audio system. The PDHercules comes with a rather unusual Chinese power plug and adapter, with no evident earth connection. If you can afford to buy the system, it would probably be a good idea to spend a few more dollars having the power lead modified to Australian standards by a licensed electrician.

The unit has standard RCA input and output plugs for connecting to audio components, and can record from a line-in connector as well as directly from a CD. It also has an optical digital output, as well as a SmartMedia card slot for supplying music to compatible portable MP3 units.

The front of the case swings down to reveal some controls, plus a parallel interface for connecting to a computer. By downloading PDHercules Jockey software from the manufacturer, you can access music databases, or download MP3s from your computer into the player's local storage.

The PDHercules was easy to use, and its sound quality was excellent, with an MP3 bitrate of 128Kbps. This is so close to CD quality that only a very picky listener would worry about the difference - however, due to the inherent limitations of the MP3 format, some quality is inevitably lost. In exchange, you can maintain a vast, searchable music collection in one simple box.Perception Digital PDHercules
Price: $2995
Distributor: HD Digital
Phone: (07) 5455 4744

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