[This is the second part of a series of high tech buyer’s guides we’re releasing here at Ask Dave Taylor to help address many of the questions that we receive about confusing new technologies and gadgets. The first article addressed a core HD question: HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. This second article looks at the rapidly evolving world of personal media players and other ways you can enjoy video on the go. We hope you find this valuable!]
Much the same way the iPod changed the landscape in portable audio, videos frontier has forever been expanded thanks to these tiny devices.
It seems everything in technology is about getting smaller, however some industry expects didn’t believe there was a future for a mini-video player. Boy they were wrong. Portable Video has exploded in a big way in the last year, apparently small is just right.
Sony’s Playstation Portable (PSP) was the first video capable device to hit the market in Japan in December of 2004. While its primary function was a gaming medium, the PSP set the market as far as movies on mini go. Sony’s UMD format was, and still is a big hit with consumers.
Because of the maturity of the PSP in the marketplace, its compatibility is the best of the available players. Several Mp4 codecs play at a solid resolution (320×240) and bit rate (500kb). Most feature films can fit on a 256 MB memory stick. There are many add-on devices specifically designed to work with the PSP media applications.
The PSP is available in 3 colors: black (worldwide), white (Europe, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) and pink (Europe and Japan). The retail is about $199USD.
In October of 2004, Apple’s Steve Jobs was dead against a Video version of the iPod. “There’s no content”, “wrong direction to go”, “the screens are too small”. What a difference a year or two makes.
Launched on October 12 2005, the 5th generation (G5) iPod featured lyrics support, slimmer design, black color, oh and surprise, surprise a larger screen with Video player.
The current version features a brighter display (2.5″/320×240) and longer battery life so you watch up to 6.5 hours of video without charging.
The biggest hook for Apple in video is the iPod’s seamless integration with its iTunes store. Once limited to music, you can now buy movies and sync them to your iPod, making anywhere in the world, your theater. Apple has also been able to cozy up to Hollywood and has struck a lot of content deals with publishers. Normally you can download TV’s shows right after they air on television. The multi-faceted iPod retails around $249.
When it comes to Microsoft four things always accompany a product launch decision. One, they want to be involved in every big trend. Two, they are never the first one in the market. Thirdly, they like to “mimic” the best feature of an existing product. And lastly, expect their first version to be buggy. The portable video market proved to be no different for Big M.
Microsoft’s Zune hit the ground running for $249 on November 14 2006, a full year after Apple’s Video iPod hit the street. Even with the late start, it took only one week for the Zune to scoop up the number two slot in mobile player market share.
The launch Zune features a 30 GB hard drive, WiFi, FM tuner, 3″ screen (320×240), and is available in 3 colors (white, black, brown). It only supports WMV format, so you will most likely need to convert movies to be able to watch them on this player… ugh.
Microsoft’s response to the iTunes stores comes in the form of the Zune Marketplace. While the store is packed with music, for some bizarre reason it currently has no video available to download. Personally I’m surprised MS didn’t have content deals in place at the time of launch. You can bet there will be something available in the near future.
The last player in the race is actually a familiar name to computer electronic veterans. The Creative Zen Vision is a slick looking device with some nice features. For starters this player sports an impressive 4.3″ 16:9 high resolution LCD screen.
The 60 GB Hard Drive (30 GB also available) supports a high number of video formats: WMV9, MPEG1-4SP, AVI, DivX and Xvid. A Flash memory card reader, calendar and FM radio comes standard. The 30 GB unit retails for $299 (60GB/$399)
So what does the future hold in this market? Most likely a lot. There have been strong rumors (where there’s smoke there’s fire) about a new version of the Video iPod coming from Apple. This one will feature a navigation system within the screen (which will be widescreen) itself.
We’ll also likely continue to see more hybrid devices featuring phone, music and video all in the same device. One thing you can count on is that these devices will continue to get better and smaller, just like your wallet.