By Richard Menta 5/29/04
Archos' success with its line of MPEG 4/mp3 players was not something that would go unoticed by other manufacturers of digital portables. The release of the Archos Jukebox Multimedia in 2002 invented a new digital niche that has seen growth among those who trade video files on the Net. Until RCA released its competing media portable several months back, Archos had this whole market pretty much to itself.
Now that Archos has proved there is a market other are jumping in. Several manufacturers already have flash-based portable MPEG-4 units like Sony, but these players only come with 128MB of memory and thus can't hold an entire movie at any reasonable quality compression rate. Jukebox video units with 20GB of memory are the draw and Creative Labs is the latest to enter with a player.
The Creative Zen Portable Multimedia Center was unveiled last January at CeBIT and is due to ship this fall. The unit's stats plays off favorable to the excellent Archos AV300 series.
The Zen Portable Multimedia Center comes with a 20 GB hard drive. Utilizing the Windows® Media Center Edition interface the player uses Microsoft's implementation of MPEG-4. As of this writing, the player only operates with Windows XP (which has Microsoft's full DRM capabilities), a sign of capitulation to the movie industry that wishes to put locks on how users view digital movies. The unit plays Windows Media Video 7, 8 and 9 and Windows Media Audio 8, along with MP3 files. The unit can also display still photographs in the JPEG and TIFF formats.
Like the Archos AV300 series the Zen Portable Multimedia Center can record video directly from the VCR's tuner, A boon to commuters who want to catch the previous nights shows while on the train or bus into work. Sporting a 3.8" video display like the Archos AV 300 line, the player itself is slightly larger in dimensions. Creative has not released the weight of the unit, but hopefully it will be lighter that the relatively heavy Archos despite the bigger face.
Weight is the biggest concern for such players. With the success of iPod audio units Apple has sucked up almost all of the tiny Toshiba hard drives and Hitachi Microdrives that those manufacturers can produce. Rumors from last summer have an iPod Video in the works. If the iPod Video appears before this Christmas and the Zen Portable Multimedia Center weighs near that of the Archos it will be at a significant disadvantage, especially since the iPod name has been elevated to the new status toy of the early-mid 00's.
Of course, the iPod Video is just a rumor. What counts is a hard product and Archos is no longer alone. We will have a full product review when a unit becomes available.
Also, look for jukebox video units to be announced soon from Sony who are trying to re-capture the lost opportunity from its failed first line of digital flash music portables. The revitalized Rio brand is also next in line for such a product announcement.
The 256MB Rio Cali is available on Amazon
Other MP3 stories:
StationRipper: Ripping from the Radio
Apple and Real - A Few Thoughts