After having spent the last year learning everything about the Sony Playstation Portable (PSP), is there really a better device for watching movies away from your television? To find out, we bought a Creative Labs Zen Vision:W video player and were surprised and pleased to find out that it’s a far, far superior portable media player than the PSP in just about every way.
What first attracted me to the Zen Vision:W was the frustration I was having trying to pour a DVD onto my Sony PSP, actually. I’ve written extensively about PSP video, knew that the process I was using worked, and yet still had problems with the PSP refusing to recognize three of the four movies I’d copied onto the unit. I was fed up, and it was time to get a new device that I could use to watch movies.
I’d already seen some of the Creative devices in action and was impressed with them, but what particularly appealed to me about the Zen Vision W was that it could play both MP4 and AVI format video files. Perfect. I have dozens of AVI movies on my system, and being able to just drop them on a portable device without conversion sounded great.
Even better, the device comes with either a 30GB or 60GB hard drive and a bright 4.3″ LCD screen, a screen that’s exactly the same size as the one on the Sony PSP. But the PSP, as every owner knows and complains about, it only works with SD memory cards and unless you want to pay lots and lots of money, the max reasonably priced memory card is only 2GB. I don’t know about you, but my movies are typically 700-800MB in size, which means that I get two movies on a card and I constantly have to manage all the files.
The Vision W made all of that hassle obsolete and wonderfully so. We got the unit with the 30GB drive and with 20 movies and about 100 photographs copied onto it, there’s still plenty of space for additional content. If you haven’t juggled files on a small device, you won’t understand the existential pleasure of finally gaining some serious disk space, but it’s a very good thing.
Oh, and at only $269 for the 30GB device, and $359 for the 60GB unit at Amazon.com, I found the pricing quite reasonable for the capabilities and featureset.
There are two additional characteristics of the Zen Vision W that are worth highlighting too: it has terrific battery life and it has A/V out, so it’s both easy to hook up the player to a TV and quite watchable too. Battery life is actually quite impressive: The first time out of the box, I watched a 2 hour movie on a plane flight, then we hooked up the unit to the TV in a hotel room and watched another 2 hour movie. At the end of this the Vision W showed that its battery had over half a charge remaining. Very impressive!
Being able to hook the Vision W up to a TV was cool too, because the lack of any sort of video out signal on the Sony PSP has long hampered its widespread adoption. But not only did the Vision W easily hook up to a 32″ TV with the included cable, it also produced a movie that was really quite comparable in quality to cable TV and definitely quite watchable! In fact, we watched and enjoyed Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow while kicking up our feet at the Consumer Electronics Show, compliments of the Vision W.
BUT WAIT, THERE IS A CAVEAT
To be fair, I did have one huge problem with this unit: it did not interact properly with my Macintosh computer. Creative Labs has zero support for Macs and the software included with the Zen Vision was Windows-only. While an enterprising chap wrote a Mac program called XNJB that let me interact with my Zen Vision, it copied the AVI movies onto the device but the audio on those files didn’t work properly.
Once I moved onto the PC and used Creative’s file management tool, I was pleased to find that not only did all the AVI and MP4 files work just fine, but it actually scanned them and analyzed their formats before copying them across. Some just copied as is, but others had a necessary conversion applied automatically. The end result? One happy video player and one happy owner.
While I’m talking about things that could be improved, however, let me say that like all personal media players, the Creative Labs Zen Vision W really needs a built-in stand so you can place it on a table and have it angled properly. Instead, I’ve been using a little stand we received with the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, but it’s not quite right. It’d also be very cool to have a tiny remote that fit into the back of the device too, even one the size of a coin.
Finally, if you can live with the limitations of having to use Creative’s PC-only software with the device, I heartily recommend the Zen Vision W widescreen personal media player. At under $275 for a slim device with a gorgeous screen, lots of disk space, video out and great battery life, it’s one of the best gadgets on the market today.
It’s the perfect use for those Christmas gift certificates and it’s darn cool. Go on, take the plunge! Buy yourself a Zen Vision W at Amazon.com and support our efforts here at AskDaveTaylor too. Thanks!