MP3 and portable video player preview
Invasion of the video players
By Jasmine France
December 15, 2006
Last year marked the first year that MP3 players edged out digital cameras and plasma TVs on Americans' consumer electronics wish lists. And according to a recent CEA
study, the digital audio device has managed to stay on top for the second year running. I can't say that I'm surprised: music is a central part of life for many, and MP3 players continue to get sleeker and more user friendly. At the 2006 CES, an MP3 player won CNET's coveted Best in Show
award, and another music device, the XM-capable Pioneer Inno
, took the People's Voice award. Digital audio products will continue to be a force to be reckoned with at CES 2007, with innovative accessories, video-capable devices, and wireless technology taking center stage. MP3? PVP? MP3...?
Throughout the year, we've seen the line between MP3 players and portable video players (PVPs) blur. Even here at CNET, we had trouble distinguishing which devices should be placed in which category. To help in our selection, we enacted a provisional rule: video-capable devices with screens larger than 2.5 inches were considered PVPs, while smaller-screened players remained in the MP3 section. This past year, we've seen a fair amount of videoless players, but CES 2007 stands to change all that, as nearly every "MP3 player" will also support video. We're also hoping to see an iTunes-like solution for Windows Media-based video content (read: easy and affordable). Cutting cords can be so liberating
As seen recently with all the Zune buzz, Wi-Fi is hot right now. Integrated wireless capability isn't exactly new--we saw it in the original SoniqCast Aireo back in 2004 (talk about being ahead of the curve)--but the technology and its application have been imperfect so far. Even now, the Zune allows only wireless transfer between two Zunes, not between the player and the PC. Will Microsoft announce the latter feature at CES? Not likely. But it's quite probable that a handful of other companies will release some Wi-Fi-enabled players. And, of course, we can't forget about portable wireless headphones, which generally operate on Bluetooth and which will certainly make a strong showing at CES this January. Let's accessorize
In recent months, there's been a flood of new MP3 player accessories--and not just for the iPod. The Zune, several Samsung players, and SanDisk's Sansa line have all commanded the attention of third-party accessory companies. CES 2007 promises to reveal many more MP3 add-ons, including some rather innovative ones for the iPod. Expect to see more accessories that capitalize on the iPod's video display capability, as well as plenty more extras for other popular devices. Cases, speakers systems, and car integration kits will abound. Music discovery: Instant and painless
Last year saw the influx of on-the-go music subscription services, and though such services haven't entered the mainstream, they don't show any signs of giving up. Both RealNetworks (Rhapsody) and MTV (Urge) recently added features to help users quickly and easily discover new music, Rhapsody with its auto-updating Channels and DNA platform integration with the Sansa e200R, and Urge with a graphically pleasing, slider-based music filter. Other music services will need to play catch-up at CES or fade away--for busy (or lazy) users who don't have the time to constantly create and update playlists, these tools will prove invaluable. And here's hoping that even Sony will get its act together on the music software and service front this year.
Where are they now?
In 2006 the Creative Zen Vision:M not only took home a Best of CES award in the MP3 category, it also won Best in Show. This multifunctional player features a fun design, a user-friendly interface, and excellent sound quality--a winner if ever there was one!
Our initial impression: iPod killer? With a brighter screen, better battery life, and more features, the Creative Zen Vision:M certainly has the goods to give the iPod a run for its money. In addition to a voice recorder and an FM tuner, the Zen Vision:M supports a wide range of video formats, works with a growing number of online stores, and is compatible with subscription services. Cementing it as our Best in Show pick is its winning design; any product that cares to take on the stylish iPod must be able to turn heads.
Our hands-on verdict: The dazzling, DRM-friendly Creative Zen Vision:M gives the iPod a run for the money as the current high-capacity WMA champ. Creative has wooed us with this stylish player, a decidedly iPod-like device with a better screen, more features, and even more choices of colors. Music fans will find it particularly appealing, as it plays nice with most online stores and subscription services. And audio quality is top notch.