Transfer Protocol Rundown

mscmtp Transfer Protocol Rundown

Transferring music to your player can be a pain in the rear bumper sometimes, especially if you require special software to do so. There are currently three methods used by various companies to transfer content, and a lot of people are unaware of the differences between them and what the pros and cons of each are. The MTP vs MSC debate is pretty heated in the forums where most here prefer MSC for its simplicity, but there are still legitimate reasons to use MTP or software. This article explains the different methods of transferring media and the features of each protocol.

MSC/UMS

MSC (Mass Storage Class) and UMS (Universal Mass Storage) are two different names for the exact same thing, and is basically just a fancy way of saying “flashdrive mode”. A player that connects using this method will show up on your computer as an external drive, complete with drive letter if your OS uses such things and without any bells or whistles. This is the old fashioned way of transferring content, and the method that some people still swear to. When using MSC, you can basically use the device with anything that supports USB drives, be it a Windows computer, a Linux computer, a USB enabled car stereo or a USB enabled portable DVD player for that matter. This means excellent compatibility with everything, and you never have to find yourself in a situation where you can’t connect the device to the computer you have at hand. This has lead people to mistakenly believe MSC devices don’t need drivers, which isn’t true as everything connected to a computer needs drivers, but the drivers are already on the computer to begin with and so you don’t need to install anything.

On the downside, MSC’s simplicity also means it doesn’t do anything media-specific. It pretends to be a removable drive, and that’s it. All the fancy stuff you get with MTP (see below) you won’t get with MSC because the computer has no idea the MSC device connected is a media player and so doesn’t treat it as one. MSC is a transfer protocol that will let you transfer data, nothing else.

MTP

MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) is a transfer system that is predominantly used by Windows, though can be used on other OSes if you manage to find drivers or software to recognize the connected device properly. The MTP drivers in Windows are part of the WMP install, which means you should update WMP to version 11 or 12 before using a MTP device, but you don’t actually have to run WMP to connect a MTP device. This means that as with MSC you do need drivers, and those drivers are already in place on most computers running Windows XP or later, but in order to make sure everything works properly and all new features have been implemented you should make sure your WMP installation is up to date.

MTP is often thought to mean that you have to use Windows Media Player to transfer content, which is wrong. You can either use Explorer, where you’ll find the device listed under “devices” with a picture of it and the name instead of a drive letter, or use any MTP compatible music software such as those applications I’ve reviewed on this site over the past few months.

While MTP isn’t as universally compatible as MSC, generally speaking requiring Windows to work, it has a lot more to show for itself in terms of functionality. MTP devices will let the computer know what file formats it support, and pop up a warning if you try to transfer files that aren’t supported. Granted this feature is flaky when used on devices with support for “exotic” formats (such as the Archos 5 Android which can read just about any video file, yet transferring said formats pops up messages at will), but it’s still useful as it will et less advanced users get past manually converting AAC (or other) files when buying a new player. MTP also has much better playlist support as it will let you create playlists directly in Explorer (requires WMP11 or above) or using software. You can still create playlists for (most) MSC players, but it’s a less automated process as the software doesn’t know that “flash drive” over there can read playlist files.

Furthermore, MTP is required for PlaysForSure files, which is a DRM technology. This is less critical these days as most major digital music providers sell DRM-free files, but for services like Rhapsody you still need to be able to use MTP. Amazon Unboxed also uses PlaysForSure for its video offerings, so it’s not a dead system quite yet. MTP also has more interaction with the computer, beyond just a picture and a name in the device list. In Windows 7, most players will have a device page which can list a variety of things from battery status and links for making playlists, transferring content etc to user manuals online or accessory links etc. You could of course put files on a MSC device and use autorun to accomplish something like the same thing, but it would be clumsy and vulnerable to formats. Again it’s about the computer knowing it’s a media player, not a random flash drive.

Proprietary software

Beside the iPod, only the Zune uses mandatory proprietary software these days, which says a lot about how far we’ve come. Sony was one of the last to go, leaving its Sonicstage in favor of transfer protocols that are more universal. Still, many companies produce proprietary software and bundle it as an option rather than a requirement for many players, though that misleads a lot of people into thinking that you need to use that software to manage your player. While it may not be necessary to load media onto the player it may be required for additional functionality. For instance, in order to sync your contacts with a Creative X-Fi, you will need to use Creative’s software but can still sync your media with any MTP based media player. Similarly, Samsung players need Samsung’s software to sync RSS feeds to the player.

The rule of thumb is that if your player isn’t from Microsoft or Apple, the included software is optional. It can be a full software package completely with playback features, audio and video converters and so on or as simple as the tiny pop-up content transfer window that Sony is currently using for their players, but in any case it isn’t absolutely required to use the player’s basic features.

While many people hate proprietary software, it’s not all bad- especially not for advanced players like the iPod touch or Zune HD. MTP can handle a lot or things that might come it’s way, but features such as apps, play count scrobbling, player backup, calendar/notes/etc sync, video tags and so on aren’t standardized and so can’t be done using any software. Giving people the option to severely limit the abilities of their media content manager is a good thing in theory, but it would lead to massive confusion among those who aren’t all that tech savvy and would definitely lead to a call or two to tech support when Mrs. Wonderbaum from Tennessee can’t find out how to put a Facebook app on her Zune HD using Winamp. I’d still prefer the option to choose for myself, even if I had to dig up the option from a hidden menu or something, but the manufacturers that still use mandatory proprietary software both have massive control freak issues. Either way, the point is that some players can never drop proprietary software completely as the standards that exist today simply can’t handle some of the features on more advanced players on the market. This also goes for some players with optional proprietary software, as such software often contains firmware updaters, video convertors etc that need to be included with the package so that those who don’t know anything about video formats and video conversion have an easy option to get it working out of the box. Until the day when a truly universal transfer protocol exists, proprietary software is a necessary evil whether we want it or not.

Bottom line

There will always be people who swear to MSC; who hate proprietary software, or who can’t get over the fact that MTP isn’t all that straight forward outside Windows. However, it’s important to try to see beyond one’s own usage patterns and acknowledge the fact that some people have other priorities. The bottom line is that while three different methods for content transfer isn’t ideal, none of the three methods can fully replace any of the other two. Be aware of the differences between
them, and the strengths and weaknesses of each method, so that you don’t run into any unnecessary problems. A lot of players today can run in either MSC or MTP mode, and many of them come with proprietary (yet not mandatory) software as well. This gives you the ability to choose based on your own need for features and your own preferences, and this is definitely the most diplomatic approach to the transfer protocol issue.




21 Comments

Mike on January 25, 2010 2:20 PM

Excellent article. Having lived through the Sonicstage era (I was one of the 5 people that bought a Minidisc player…), I have a strong aversion towards proprietary software. MSC for me thanks!

Mr. Manager on January 25, 2010 3:23 PM

After a couple of years of fairly glitchy MTP experiences with the Zen, I’ve come to embrace proprietary software on my new Zune. Album tags and artwork show up on the Zune precisely the same way they do in the software, and I’ve yet to have any glitches or crossed wires — a pretty common occurrence with the Zen. Anyway, I can certainly understand why some people don’t like it, but I’ve come to really appreciate the seamless experience. It doesn’t hurt that I actually really like the Zune software.

Niko on January 25, 2010 3:58 PM

When I bought the first generation ipod shuffle I noticed something nice. I had to download iTunes to get music into it. That sucked.

Adam on January 25, 2010 4:24 PM

I would take MSC over any other type of tranfertype anyday. Its easy and fast to use, and it does, what you tell it to: tranfer files fom A to B.

HulkSmashNow on January 25, 2010 8:13 PM

When I finally decided to switch to MSC with my Clip+, I was glad to do so, especially now, with knowledge on how to make playlists that actually work. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to MTP.

Matt on January 26, 2010 12:31 AM

Oh god, I also bought a minidisc player… worst choice ever, EASILY the most horrible software ever

Hirudin on January 26, 2010 3:08 AM

I’m a fan of MTP, mostly because it allows me to transfer song ratings between my player and music management software.

Fara on January 26, 2010 7:33 AM

Oh,the horror that was SonicStage. I didn’t have a minidisc, but I did have Sony Network walkman. I still have it lying around somewhere.And if I recall correctly, SonicStage was good in comparison to OpenMG Jukebox, which preced SonicStage, and came bundled with the Sony NW-MS7.

ickster on January 26, 2010 10:11 AM

Hi I’d just like to know why the previous post about the Archos 5 internet teablet is closed to comments? I wanted to counter your clearly obvious slanted review with a reply, but looks like you don’t want anyone else commenting on that post……WHY is that?Looks to me like that is the ONLY post closed to further comments……Why is that?

Andreas Ødegård on January 26, 2010 12:55 PM

@ickster: Someone was spamming the thread with personal insults, which isn’t tolerated. I have other things to do than moderate comments from people with no life all day, so I closed them. Commenting on this site is a privilege not a right, and if they are abused they will be closed – that goes for other articles as well. I’m sorry, but if you have any comments about the Archos 5 you’ll have to wait until the actual review is out (that wasn’t a review….) and hope people can stay civilized for long enough for you to post what I take is constructive criticism. This article however is not the place for such discussions.

cPT.cAPSLOCK on January 26, 2010 3:30 PM

MSC all the way.Battery status? Whoop-dee-fucking-doo.Playlists? Mediamonkey will sync them anyway.Apps? It’s an mp3 player, not a PDA.Really, in my eyes the only thing non-MSC adds is just another process running in the background and less compatibility.I guess some people do like having a picture of their device, but I just don’t see the point.Functionality > Design.

DrTeeth on January 26, 2010 7:34 PM

Either way, it drives me nuts that some players will not list files according to my folder structure; the Creative Zen VisionM being an example. I thought that it has something to do with the method of file transfer. I’m with MSC all the way. From now any player I buy has to be able to follow MY sorting preferences.

JeniSkunk on January 26, 2010 9:12 PM

I’ve used all three file transfer methods over the years, and Andreas is right on the money in saying that all three system STILL have a place. It’d be nice to be able to completely ditch the proprietary software from the mix. But making Proprietary software; in the main; be optional, and making players support both MSC and MTP is a Good Thing as it gives the end user the choice as to how they will use their PMP.As for Bad Evil proprietary software, has anyone had the misfortune to encounter the Nokia MP3 conversion/trasnfer app for the Nokia 5510 cellphone/MP3 player? That software was utter bugware both with the file conversion and the file transfer, and was a mandatory install as it was the only way to install the phone’s USB drivers in Win9x.Jenifur Charne

Andreas Ødegård on January 26, 2010 11:51 PM

DrTeeth: While the few players remaining that still use ONLY msc do tend to have file/folder browsing, it’s technically not related. Take the Sony Walkman players for example, they are MTP but still have file/folder. The Sansa Clip+ is msc/mtp user selectable and has file/folder browsing for both. Same with Cowon players, Archos players and a whole lot of other devices as well, so going by transfer protocol alone isn’t sufficient to see what browsing system there is

Don on January 27, 2010 9:02 AM

For people having problems, the advice to switch to MSC (for players that can) is as universal as rebooting for problems with Windows computers.The only reason I’d use it is if I needed “Plays for kinda sure”

zdiggler on January 27, 2010 7:17 PM

MSC/UMS anytime! Just show up as a drive and I’ll take care of the rest.

zdiggler on January 27, 2010 7:20 PM

Along with MSC/UMS type transfer I also like standard mini USB on my player as well.

coruscadragon on January 28, 2010 12:02 AM

While i understand the appeal of MTP for the less tech-savvy, it’s MTP/UMS all the way for me. I exert the same level of control-freakishness in regards to my files as the aforementioned corporate entities attempt to force upon their victims -er, i mean- customers…

PowerTorsk on February 1, 2010 3:25 AM

Thanks a LOT for the rundown :) Been wondering about this for a while.I’m sorry to say it, but I want a streamlined experience. Why can’t the software just fix everything for me?This is why I wanna use Zune. Phone that are focused on Apps don’t seem to cut it for me (Android).Device centric > App centricFor me; one media device, one phone device.

Brent212 on February 11, 2010 4:45 PM

MSC/UMS all the way. I like having the ability to choose which software I use to sync or transfer files between my device and my computer. Just because it acts like a simple flash drive doesn’t mean you don’t have a plethora of options for syncing. You just also have the option of manually copying files if you want.I do have an ipod, and I’ve been using Winamp to sync rather than itunes. While I do wish ipods supported MSC/UMS, using Winamp is probably as painless as a “syncing experience” can be, especially since I already used Winamp regularly before getting the ipod. I used itunes briefly before I discovered the Winamp ipod plugin, and it’s 10X better than itunes. There were even some files that for an unknown reason just wouldn’t make it onto the ipod with itunes but got on there fine with Winamp.

Eric Gisin on January 23, 2011 7:19 PM

MTP para 1 is confusing. Only XP needs WMP 11 (or just the runtime) installed, later versions have 11. The link to other MTP software is kaput.

Linux and OS X must have MTP drivers by now?

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