Old stuff from the 20th century

When I was an engineering student at ESME Sudria, my final year project was to build an MP3 player. This was a group project with my classmates JC Lebreton and J René-Corail. Funny thing is, when we started our project, there was no MP3 player on the market, and we finished it, the first MP3 players were available! This was 1999.

The goal was to take advantage of two somehow novel technologies at the time, ie the flash memory, and MPEG data compression.

At the time, audio player were mainly CD player or Walkman. Many advantages come from the use of flash memory. Indeed, it eliminates any mechanical component that would control a physical medium such as a tape or a disc. Mechanics are the source of many problems, such as increasing the size of devices, weakening the system, generating noise (due to motors), and imposing a limited lifespan. This new non-volatile media is electrically erasable and reprogrammable at will, without any loss of quality.

About flash memory, in our report we wrote:

« The main problem with flash memories is their price. Today, a SanDisk flash memory card in PCMCIA format with a capacity of 60 Mb costs 4,990 francs [760euros]. Flash memories seems have a promising future, perhaps we will see the prices drop similarly to hard disks. In 1993 an IBM hard disk of 120 MB cost 2,000 F [300euros], today for this price you can have a hard drive of 6.5 Gb, meaning the price of a Megabyte was divided by 55 in 6 years! »

Today I can see a 32Gb compact flash memory for 40euros…

The project was based on 2 steps:

step 1: recording the MP3 file in the CompactFlash memory card. A wav file was converted to MP3, and then sent through the parallel port of the PC to a controller based on the DALLAS 80C320, and then stored on the CompactFlash memory card.

screenshot of the simulation software

Step 2: implementation of an MPEG decoder in a DSP to read and play the MP3 file. MPEG 1 Layer 3 decoding was implemented on a Digital Signal Processor 3507D by Micronas Intermetall

Our references (isn’t this cute):

Sadly, I don’t have any photo of the device – which was quite large, actually 🙂

I remember enjoying coding in assembly language. It seemed to me we would take every bit by the hand and guide it through the electronic circuitry. So great to be able to understand and control everything from A to Z. Not like today with d**p l**g. Ah, those were the good old days…

The first MP3 player was the Rio PMP300 by Diamond Multimedia.