I spent the day playing with the new high fidelity music service from MusicGiants.com, a company in Incline Village, Nevada, close to our house in Tahoe. There was a recent article in the local paper about them and I was interested in trying it since their primary focus, lossless WMA 800-1100K bit rate songs from all 4 major labels, was at least a different approach than banging ones head against iTunes along with everyone else.
The short answer is that the concept is interesting, but the current implementation still needs a lot of work before I'd recommend it to anyone You must download a 30MB client to access their service, which is strange since everyone else is going to web clients - I can't imagine what the other 20 megs of that client actually do. You then must pay an annual $50 fee to use the service, all of which is credited to you the first year in music credits at $1.29 a track. I'm actually OK with that fee concept if the quality is much higher since I think there is a small but valuable audience which will pay for higher fidelity.
However, the editorial approach to the service is simply horrible - it's essentially a long listing of artists by genre, or just alphabetically by last/first name (they list by both, which is strange). There are no popularity charts, no timely playlists/editorial or community features, and the search algorithm is close to useless unless you spell the name exactly right. They use AMG content for editorial, which is always good, but the sole result within the product is a long bio of the artist, with no hot links to the genres or similar artists listed within the biography. And I received an error message every time I started up, presumably related to the screen resolution ("unsupported DPI"), which meant that there were some minor graphical issues through out the product. The overall player interface is clean, with some decent graphics, but is pretty confusing about what is actually in your library since there is no button or link to Your Music or Your Library, which is a tough interface problem for most users.
On the catalog side, it's fairly sparse, even if you just limit it to major labels since they say that they haven't gotten to the indies yet. For example, there is no Bruce Springsteen, only one Chicago album (#17, which means they may have done some before that), only 2 Alan Jackson out of 11 on Rhapsody, only one Britney Spears album, and only 4 recent U2 albums (out of 14), etc., to randomly choose some big name artists. So ignore the tag line about having all 4 major labels until they can significantly increase the catalog.
On the fidelity side, the player use a clever gauge to show the fidelity/bit rate of the songs you're playing. The player automatically imported all of my MP3's (nice, but would be good if it told me that anywhere in the service) and listed them as "low fidelity" since they're either 128K or 192K, depending on where I acquired them. I bought a couple of songs (Angels by Robbie Williams and Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses by U2) which was a reasonable process, but only after I was forced to download an additional security upgrade from Microsoft - not quite sure why that extra step was needed, especially after it failed the first time. Each song download took about 2 minutes on a DSL connection, which isn't horrible for a file 5x the size of a standard iTunes download. The problem I had was when I switched rapidly between the Rhapsody file and the MusicGiants file, I couldn't tell the difference, even with nice noise-cancelling headphones. I may not be a total audiophile, but I've spent a reasonable amount of time in the sector, and these mainstream songs are not worth paying to have at full fidelity, at least not with the recordings I was consuming - maybe Classical music or other types of genres make sense, but the thrust of this company is not in that direction.
So I'm now stuck with $47 worth of credit on a conceptually cool service which simply doesn't fit the needs of the vast majority of digital consumers without a large set of improvements. MusicGiants needs to radically improve the catalog and overall interface, as well as work closely to integrate it with connected-stereo companies such as Sonos and Olive to make it available to those users with very high end audio systems, as well as with higher end WMA-compatible portable players to help them differentiate from iPods. And at the end of the day, the problem is that as the majors look to increase overall digital music prices, MusicGiants will have to increase their prices, and without a signficantly better product, I'm not sure how big a market exists for them. That having been said, if they can improve the product and conclusively show that their lossless approach is the right one, they may be able to carve out a profitable niche, but my guess is that others will soon enter that category and just having higher fidelity is not a long term advantage vs larger established players.