[Take Control of your OS/2 System]
CD Players for OS/2- by Chris Wenham

For me, to work is to listen to music. Words just don't want to come out of my fingers unless I have a pair of headphones warming my ears and pumping rich tunes into my brain.

OS/2 has a broad range of CD player applets that'll suit any desk jockey with a stockpile of the shiny discs to play. Most try to mimic the front panels of traditional CD players that come with stereo systems you buy in stores. In this review I've rated each player on a 1-10 (1 worst, 10 best) point scale.

Warp's Own Compact Disc Player

The bundled CD player (GIF, 26k) that comes with Warp 4 is excellent to begin with. It's not short on features and even comes with a cool "brushed aluminum" texture finish. The problem with this texture is that it can take a while for the player to repaint itself when restored from a minimized state.

Nearly all the on-screen elements of the player can be switched off individually to conserve screen space. Switching off the menu bar will place a small icon in the title bar that gives you a drop-down menu with all the same choices. I found that you could literally reduce the player down to nothing but a title bar, or just a title bar with controls, or whatever configuration pleases you. Another point I liked was that the player would identify the name of each track in the information bar as your mouse hovered over the numbered buttons.

Warp's CD player can be programmed with CD and track titles for all your favorite discs, always identifying which CD you've inserted by the unique UPC code on the disc itself. It can also be set to automatically play a disc when inserted or when the CD player is opened with a disc already in the drive. Plus, the CD player can be set to resume a CD from where it left off, the next time the player is started.

Rating: 9

Creative Labs CD Player

Packaged with a suite that also includes a .wav, .midi, movie and other utility programs, Creative Lab's CD Player (GIF, 3k) is a direct port of the Windows version that comes standard with most Sound Blaster sound card and CD-ROM drive bundles. Cosmetically it's one of the best looking in this review, and surprise, surprise, it doesn't need a Creative Labs brand CD-ROM drive to work. Although I have a Sound Blaster audio card I tested this player after I had chucked the old Creative Labs 4X CD-ROM and replaced it with an 8X Mitsumi drive. It still worked flawlessly.

While not very configurable, you can still add your album info and enter a program for playing favorite tracks. The display is touch sensitive too, with controls for changing the volume, playback behavior, or to toggle between the three views; graphical view (an animated mock of your CD-ROM's front panel, showing if a disc is inserted or not), CD and track title view, and track time view.

Rating: 7

CD in a Box 1.66

CD in a Box (GIF, 13k) looks, walks and talks like an extension of the Workplace Shell folder class, but it isn't. A CD can be opened in any of the familiar folder views (icon, details, plus name and text view) with icons for each track on the disc. Right clicking on any track icon or on a blank space of the folder brings up a context sensitive menu with which you can configure the CD or track properties, mark favorite or not-so-favorite songs and more.

I found this to be the easiest and most intuitive way of entering a custom program for playing CDs. You name each track using the standard Alt-click on the icons, but you can also right click on each track icon and pick "favorite", "ordinary", or "horrible" status as your choice for that particular song. Then when you play the CD you can tell CD in a Box which kind you want to play; favorite, ordinary, ordinary and favorite, horrible, all, or selected. Pretty darn point-n-click easy, making CD in a Box one of the best in this review.

As I mentioned, CD in a Box appears at first to be a WPS class, but it's just an .EXE and doesn't need to register any classes. Besides its folder-metaphor it also comes with a more "CD-player looking" control panel, complete with the play/fast-forward/rewind buttons we're accustomed to. The control panel can be displayed in 3 different sizes (small, medium and large), depending on how much Desktop space you have and what features you need immediately available. Once the control panel is open you can close the folder view without closing the whole player.

CD in a Box is extensively configurable. Not only can you display the disc contents with any of six folder views but you can change the icons used to represent each type of track, or even change the specific phrases it uses to describe "favorite" and "horrible" tracks and whether it's "playing" or "paused" or "stopped" or whatever (perhaps this can be used for simple multilingual support?). Plus, with configurable auto-play and auto-eject features, you can minimize the player completely and just play disc after disc after disc... or just leave it in repeat mode to keep playing your favorite tracks over and over and over and over...

Rating: 9

CD Audio

CD Audio's unique feature is that it doesn't require MMPM to be installed in order to play audio CDs, it talks directly to the CD-ROM driver. CD Audio will also not stop playback if you close the program while a disc is still playing (one wonders if that's a feature or a bug, even though it's documented). CD Audio also seems to have a problem detecting new discs inserted after the program has been launched, recognizing them only if the disc was already in the drive when you started the program.

The interface (GIF, 4k) is compact but pretty simplistic. With the disc stopped you can enter a program by dialing the track numbers on the keypad and hitting the "Memory" button after each track. You can click on the Recall button to show a list of all the tracks entered into memory. CD Audio does not currently allow you to enter the titles of your CDs or their tracks (robbing me of another chance to impress you with my taste in music) but the author has planned it for future versions.

Rating: 6

PlayBoy 1.2

PlayBoy has a very plain and simple interface (GIF, 12k), the main panel has only six buttons in all and takes up barely a couple inches of screen space. You can enter album information through a dialog that annoyingly only uses icons for its buttons and no text. Most of their purposes seem obvious, but some of them aren't. There are some potentially teeth-grinding bugs in it too; after entering the tracks of my album I curiously clicked on the button with the icon of the paper on fire, sure enough it came up with a dialog asking if I really wanted to delete the album. I clicked "No". It deleted it anyway.

PlayBoy does have an auto-play as well as an auto-eject feature, making it simple to keep the window minimized at all times and just feed discs in and out without having to restore it each and every time you change a disc. Other than that, PlayBoy's quirks and bugs, coupled with its relative lack of features, don't make it a worthwhile choice compared to the others.

Rating: 6

DB CD Player 0.21

This freeware CD player hasn't got the prettiest interface (GIF, 7k) in the world, but it does allow you to enter all your album titles and tracks and gives you plenty of keyboard shortcuts so you don't always have to use the mouse like the other players demand.

DB CD Player doesn't offer any online help. The author seems to think that the program is self-explanatory enough and I tend to agree. To configure the program you click on a button marked "Setup" and to enter album titles you click on a button marked "Titles". The rest of the player's controls are the standard VCR/Tape-deck/CD-Player buttons we're all familiar with by now. The slider bar shows what track the player is on at any given moment, but unlike the Warp CD player it does not show where in the track is currently being played. The program also features its own "one-click-zapper" in the title bar. Handy, but a bit redundant now thanks to Warp 4, Object Desktop, X it and other utilities that do the same thing.

Rating: 7

Compact Disc Explorer 2.4

This one is a more complex CD player that has most of its configuration switches located on the main window (GIF, 6k) itself, which unfortunately looks a bit messy due to the bitmaps and lines not being positioned correctly on the screen resolution I was using at the time (800x600).

CD Explorer has features that most people won't have use for, but may prove valuable for other purposes such as study or teaching. For example when the disc is stopped you can enter the cue position in the song, with up-to-the-second accuracy, and CD Explorer will start playing at that exact spot when you click the Play button again. Second is the segment repeat feature; mark the beginning of the segment, then the end (within the same song) and when you click on the repeat button it'll play that segment of music over and over until you stop it. One guesses that this might be useful for studying a guitar riff, drum solo, or maybe figuring out what the heck the lyrics are in a Michael Jackson song.

One last feature of note, which can actually be found in Warp's own CD player too, is the output through audio-card switch. If your CD-ROM drive supports DA streaming data you can direct the sound through the drive's IDE/SCSI interface and into the sound card as digital information rather than across the jumper-cable -- which only carries the analog music signal. It is not always advisable to use this; for one reason, most sound cards can't handle the huge flow of data without sounding crackly.

I do recommend that you check out the program information dialog though and see the author's sense of humor at work.

Rating: 7

Albatros CD Player 2.0 (beta)

While this is still in Beta I decided to look at it anyway. Albatros CD Player (GIF, 4k) visibly tries to mimic the cosmetics of Creative Lab's CD player with its curved buttons and LED style display. At my 800x600 resolution the bitmaps for the buttons weren't very easy to read though and I had to click-n-guess to figure out most of the interface. When you eject a disc, the black display rectangle turns into a mock picture of your CD-ROM drive's front panel, similar to the one in the Creative Labs player.

But this player also has features for recording your CD tracks directly to .wav files (if your drive supports DA streaming), and unlike the Creative Labs player, it has more features with a greater depth of configurability.

Rating: 8

Summary

Unlike the MOD players covered elsewhere in this issue, each of these CD players will reproduce your songs exactly the same way. Plus, it doesn't take an awful lot of CPU power to tell a CD-ROM drive to skip to the next track. Therefore user interface was of primary importance here.

After reviewing all these players I have come away with one wish: That they'd all use a universal database format for storing CD titles and track info. When making a decision you're undoubtedly going to try more than one player; it would be useful if you could carry the title database over from one player to another as you go. With this feature would come the possibility of running a web-based album repository, saving us all the chore of entering our huge and ever growing CD collections.


 * Creative Labs CD Player
by Creative Labs
download from Hobbes (ZIP, 481k)
Registration: Freeware/Part of Sound Blaster Audio/Visual bundle.

 * CD in a Box v1.66
by Lyndsay Roger
download from CD-in-a-box Home Page
Registration: Cardware

 * CD Audio
by Allen Regal
download from Hobbes (ZIP, 13k)
Registration: Freeware

 * PlayBoy v1.2
by Igor Divjak
download from Hobbes (ZIP, 38k)
Registration: US$20

 * DB CD Player v0.21
by Frank Carlsson
download from Hobbes (ZIP, 600k)
Registration: Freeware

 * Compact Disc Explorer v2.4
by David C. Thomas
download from Hobbes (ZIP, 58k)
Registration: IBM EWS

 * Albatros CD Player v2.0 (beta)
by Norbert Heller
download from Walnut Creek (ZIP, 249k)
Registration: US$25


Chris Wenham is a Team OS/2er in Binghamton, NY with a catchy-titled company -- Wenham's Web Works. He has written comedy, sci-fi, HTML, Pascal, C++ and now writes software reviews.

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