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The Empeg Car is the first in-dash MP3 player developed. In 1998 a British company called Empeg was formed to build the unit , which shipped the following year.
The Empeg Car was a Linux-based unit that transferred MP3 tracks from the user's computer to the player via USB, Ethernet, or a serial port connection. Prices started at $1,100 US for the 4GB version and went all the way up to a $2,400 28GB unit that utilized two laptop drives (to accommodate what was then considered huge capacity). The Empeg Car garnered quite a following and became beloved among the small group of users who bought one.
Initial production was less than 400 units, after which it was redesigned to make production cheaper and easier.
SONICblue - the former S3 company that had already acquired both the Rio line of MP3 portables by purchasing Diamond and the Rave-MP line by purchasing Sensory Science - took notice of the unit and decided the Empeg Car would fit into its plans. On November 1st 2000 Empeg was acquired by SONICblue Incorporated and the unit was renamed the Rio Car. The original British development team was rolled into the company and eventually took responsibility for all audio software development at SONICblue.
Unfortunately, SONICblue did not have a clear game plan with how to promote the Rio Car. Rio did little to market it and soon left it to languish. Despite their owners' strong devotion to the product, sales of new units were modest and on September 24, 2001 SONICblue discontinued the line. Fewer than 6000 players were ever produced.
Most of the resources, including people, code, and design work, behind the Empeg Car went into the following products:
Rio Receiver - Network enabled client for streaming music off a computer to anywhere in the home
Rio Central - A home stereo component that ripped CDs to MP3s and stored them on an internal hard drive. Supported Rio Receivers as clients.
Rio Karma - Portable 20gb music player
SONICblue went bankrupt in 2003, but the Rio division was purchased by D&M Holdings. The former Empeg employees still with Rio went on to produce the Rio Karma, the Rio Carbon, and several recent flash memory players. In 2005, D&M sold all of their audio player technology to SigmaTel, including all of the Empeg technology, and all of the patents, source code, and designs related to the Rio audio players. The former Empeg employees as well as other Rio technical employees are now employed by SigmaTel at their Austin, TX offices.
^ Peter Clarke. "Engineers drive craze for MP3 audio players", EETimes 02/05/1999
Diamond Rio Buys Car MP3 Player Company - October 2000 MP3 Newswire article
empeg home page
unofficial empeg discussion boards
Riocar.org - Home of the empeg FAQ, and other empeg information
MP3Mobile - Hugo Fiennes's first in car MP3 player
Hugo Fiennes home page - (rather out of date)
Three Years in Embedded Linux: A Talk with Hugo Fiennes and Marc Merlin - About the empeg and Rio Car (from 2001)
From Warwick University to Apple Inc California - Article about Hugo Fiennes's Career (from 2009)
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