I reviewed the Music Giants HD digital music service a year ago (here) and concluded that although it was intriguing, it just wasn't ready for prime time from an overall user experience. Now the company has launched version #2, in conjunction with Windows Media Player 11 - unfortunately, the short answer is that I still can't recommend the service. To recap, MG provides a lossless Windows Media music service which should produce a higher quality experience than the lower fidelity iTunes and Rhapsody music services. The downloads are about 10X the size of an MP3, but still download quickly, with most albums arriving in less than 10 minutes on my office connection.
So what has changed in the last 12 months? The first positive attribute is that there is no longer a 30MB separate MG client - now it's a relatively simple plug-in to WMP 11, and it's listed as a store in WMP 11. The 2nd good thing is that the catalog has expanded a great deal - most major artists seem to have the bulk of their albums in MG, a big change from the previous year, and MG is making some moves in providing HD video downloads as well, primarily through HD Net. The 3rd positive change is that MG has worked diligently with over 500 high end audio dealers, as well as high end stereo suppliers (e.g. Onkyo) to integrate into the very expensive music systems which would most benefit from a lossless HD audio experience. Finally, the company has eliminated the $50 requirement to purchase any music, which should open up the experience to more users looking to experiment with high fidelity music downloads.
So why can't I recommend the MG music service? The primary reason is because the consumer search and discovery experience simply sucks. I rarely use that juvenile term, but you spend enough time with this user interface, and you would think time stopped over 10 years ago from a consumer experience - it's mind boggling. There is NO concept of an editorial experience here - you can filter only alphabetically by album, artist or genre, and there is a limited selection of albums listed as New or Featured Releases on the first screen of a limited set of top level genres (20 genres vs 500+ in Rhapsody), in addition to some AMG album reviews buried deep in the album information where most people will never find them. The search experience is mediocre, and there is no idea of "Related" or "recommended" albums, special playlists, popularity charts, user ratings or basically anything that would help a user filter the wide range of content.
Other issues are:
- The service doesn't work at all with Firefox, even on the basic web site
- You can only purchase music by the album, not by the track, thus defeating one of the true joys of digital music
- The video selection is terrible and overpriced - why are there no HD concert videos?
- There is an incredibly confusing experience between the WMP11 side and the MG side - I keep being told to upgrade my WMP on the MG web site, but if I call up the site through WMP, it works just fine.
- There is no concept of saving a user name/password, so you need to remember your information every time you log in, and the auto-remember function has been disabled.
Finally, the worst problem is that I have tested it over and over, and I still can't tell the difference between the HD downloads and the same Rhapsody or iTunes files. This may change on a much higher end audio system than what I use (or with a more sophisticated end user than myself), but I've been A/B testing them today, it doesn't make a difference to me, although I could see why it might make a big marketing difference to folks buying a $10K+ audio system.
So I can't really recommend the Music Giants service, although I think there is definitely a good opportunity to address a higher end audience if MG can fix these issues before others enter the marketplace.