Introduction to Media Players
The portable media player (PMP), also sometimes know as personal video player (PVP), is the next logical step in the digital revolution - a portable, digital device, offering capabilities for both audio and video - a step up from the standard MP3 player that has become so popular. As with any emerging technology, there are a number of important factors to consider, when weighing up one make or model against another, and examining these will help you to make an informed purchasing decision.
Size and Weight
The concept a portable, video device requires a screen large to allow clear viewing, but small enough to permit comfortable portability. Portable media players, therefore, involve a trade-off between the two requirements. In addition, video playback requires more battery power than audio playback of the same duration, so more, or larger, batteries are required. These necessary additions mean that portable media players are, on average, roughly twice the physical size, and twice the weight of standard MP3 players.
Screen sizes vary, from roughly two inches (measured diagonally) for the smaller models, to roughly four inches for the larger, more advanced models. Examples include the Archos 404CAM and Archos 604 WiFi, 30Gb models, the former with a bright, 3.5 inch, LCD screen, with 16 million colours, and the latter with a 4.3 inch, colour, touchscreen of the same type.
Digital storage comes in two basic forms, flash memory and hard disk - although there are different types of hard disk - categorised by the size of the disk itself. Flash-based portable media players usually have a storage capacity 1 Gb, or perhaps 2 Gb, and, in some models, this can be extended further by, adding an extra memory card.
Hard disk based players generally start at much a higher capacity, of 20 Gb, or so. This level of capacity allows over 300 hours of high-quality music, or over 30 hours of video, to be stored on a single device.
The Archos 504 80 Gb model is a fine example of this type, with the capability of storing 20,000 indiviudal music tracks, or over 200 feature length movies.
In choosing a portable device, battery life is obviously important - now matter how good your media player is in all other respects, if the battery life is poor, the object of the exercise is defeated.
Many portable media players feature either lithium ion, or lithium polymer, rechargeable batteries. Some models include the facility to charge the player via a USB 2.0 cable. Remember that the available playing time will be significantly reduced for video, when compared to audio, because of its extra power requirements.
The Archos 504 80 Gb model, as an example, offers a rechargeable battery life of up to 17 hours for music, and over 5 hours for video. The Archos 604 30 Gb model, on the other hand, also allows charging via a USB 2.0 interface, or DVR station for even faster charging.
File Formats and Software
Most portable media players support the common formats for audio (e.g. MP3, WAV, WMA) and video (e.g. MPEG-1, MPEG-2), but be aware that there is a whole multitude of other formats available.
Re-encoding unsupported file formats may be a possibility, but this is usually time-consuming and sometimes unsatisfactory - it's better to check, beforehand, that your chosen player supports the formats that you want to use.
The Archos 604 30GB Digital Media Player, for example is compatible with a large variety of video files, including MPEG-41, WMV2 and protected WMV2 .
Portable media players from some manufacturers, for example, Apple, or Sony, come equipped with the manufacturer's own, proprietary software - some of this can be an "acquired taste", shall we say - and may not support all of your desired file formats. Some other models allow synchronisation with, for example, Windows Media Player, or simple "drag and drop" functions using Windows Explorer. The Archos 504 40 Gb model, for example, will synchronise its content with Windows Media Player 10 each time it is connected to your PC.
Transferring data, in the form of audio or video files, to a portable media player from a computer, is usually achieved via a USB 2.0 cable. Beware that transfer speeds, in reality, may be significantly slower than those quoted in any literature.
A portable media player can also be incorporated into your home theatre system, and many models include options of recording directly from your TV receiver, or other external video sources, either instantly, or on a scheduled basis, along with many other advanced functions.
The Archos 604 Wifi 30 Gb and Archos 504 40Gb models, for example, include all this functionality, plus the facility to convert your portable media player, itself, into a camcorder.
There are many different makes and models of portable media player on the market, and a number are fairly similar in design and price. There are, however, significant differences in the more important features, namely the quality of the audio and video playback, the screen size and resolution and the life of the batteries.
Determine, also, which formats you want to use regularly, make sure that these are supported by your chosen player. Be aware that increased storage capacity has implications for the size of the player itself, and its cost.
Reputable suppliers have competent sales staff, who should be able to assist you in your purchasing decision, and, if at all possible, test your chosen player, to confirm that it does both what the manufacturer claims that is does, and what you want it to do. Customer reviews are another good source of information, particularly regarding the less favourable features of any given player - the sort of information that a manufacturer, or retailer is unlikely to share with the average customer.
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Media Players Buyers Guide
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