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January 18, 2007
CES: oPi! A Karaoke Interface for Your Video MP4 Player - Not So Dopey!
 

By Linda "Brasse" Carlson

I saw a number of interesting hardware advancements at CES that I decided to introduce to you. I know darn well that a great many gamers secretly like to Karaoke. Yes, you do, may as well admit it; I'll not tell!

Once upon a time, Karaoke was a pastime that could only be indulged in at pubs and coffee houses. Some guy would set up a massive machine and you'd sign up with a dozen strangers for the privilege of making a fool of yourself in public. At least everyone was in the same boat, and there was a certain "feel-good" aura about the karaoke experience. Even lousy singers were applauded, and we all had a great time, didn't we?

Still, many of us wanted to stay in the safety and security of our own homes, and no amount of beer could convince many to sing in public. Enter the home karaoke player.

After a somewhat spotty success with tape technology (which could not display text), and hard-coded karaoke drives (which had a static library that you could not add to), the first big revolution in personal karaoke players came about with the widespread adoption of the CD in the mid to late nineties. Several companies began to adapt music and lyrics for Karaoke, and special karaoke players were developed to playback this media.

Now we can, in theory, carry our karaoke players and cd collections around with us, but let's face it, they are still bulky. Heavy. We wouldn't want to pack it on a plane trip, that's for sure. Whatever shall we do? How shall we spread our love of singing and share it with all our far-flung friends?

Click to view full image

Enter doPi.
Kevin Vander Vliet recognized the potential for the next evolution of karaoke with the recent development of video MP4 players. About a year ago, he came up with the design for a very compact interface device that would allow you to connect your video MP4 player to any television, via standard RCA cables. If you can see red, yellow and white, you are technologically advanced enough to operate this simple converter. Although the product was in fact designed for the video iPod MP4 player, any device capable of supporting video MP4 will work.

Only someone as foolish as I would ask, "Why doPi?" So I did, because the word carried connotations most would not want for their brand new enterprise. The answer is simple, as Kevin replied, "Spell it backwards." Duh, now who's dopey?

Once the converter was designed, the next hurdle was that there were no karaoke songs available to play in video MP4 format. No problem for the enterprising Vander Vliet… he set about negotiating with one of the best known karaoke music developers, Sound Choice, to come up with downloadable content. New songs are added every month, and the collection already offers a very respectable 1200 songs. Just like iTunes and other downloadable music sites, they offer 30-second previews, and may be purchased for $1.99 (with streaming lyrics) or $0.99 (without lyrics). You get three free songs to try out when you create a no-obligation account on the site. I found the website to be clean, fast to navigate and easy to search. Unfortunately, not all songs are available for download with lyrics yet, so I'll be waiting to see those. Otherwise I'd be forced to mumble along unintelligibly to the tune.

The site offers a very helpful instruction page on setting up your iPod's backlight (for viewing lyrics on the player) as well as output (for hooking up to your tv via the doPi interface).

Click to view full image

Now you can download songs to your player, and carry them with you anywhere. If you wish to practice, simply play the karaoke on your portable video MP4 device with headphones on. They lyrics will appear on your screen. Then, pack along the interface and take your entire doPi music collection on your player to your friend's house, down the road or halfway around the world. Once hooked up, play the songs from your video MP4 player; the music and lyrics will be transferred to the television.

While I respectfully declined the offer to sing along at the CES tradeshow (for fear of driving away all of their business), I brought the doPi home. It works flawlessly. Best of all, it will fit in my carryon bag. Three cheers for portability!

Free trivia: the word "karaoke" is a Japanese construct, derived from kara (empty) and oke (from okesutora, orchestra). You're welcome.

As sold, the doPi converter includes one microphone, AC adapter and the cables needed to hook up your player and a tv. As a bonus, your purchase includes 3 free music downloads from the doPikaraoke site, to get you started. The price? An affordable $59.99, direct from http://www.dopikaraoke.com/ (also available through Amazon.com and select retailers) An extra microphone is available for $19.99

Now go forth and SING!

 
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