If you don't own a Media Center PC and instead plan to purchase most content for the device, the news is mixed. The good news is that there are tons of digital audio content from which to choose. Aside from regular WMAs and MP3s, you can use any online music store that supports DRM-protected WMA files. This includes the new Napster To Go service that lets you transfer an unlimited amount of music to your device for monthly subscription fee. The bad news is that video content is more limited. You can rent movies from CinemaNow, get highlights from MLB.com, or download a limited selection of clips from the recently launched MSN Video, but for now there's still no iTunes for TV and movies.
The Start menu has five basic options: My TV, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, and Settings. Once you drill down into a main menu option, you'll be able to instantly categorize your content without much fuss, thanks to the interface's innovative x/y-axis design, which Microsoft has coined twist navigation. For example, within My Music, a horizontal list appears with the items Artist, Album, Songs, Genres, Playlists, or New. As you navigate left or right, the contents of each item spills down below it, including a Play All option. Once you select a track or any other item, it appears along with all the other tracks in the horizontal list. It's difficult to understand without using it, but it makes playing music or adding songs to a playlist a breeze.
Likewise, you can sort videos by New, Name, or Date, and all videos include an automatic resume feature. You can have 10 movies bookmarked and watch them from where you left off. The same goes for My TV; you could have five recorded shows, then watch and bookmark all of them independently--and on your clock. Also, you can move forward in commercial-skipping 24-second intervals and rewind in 10-second intervals. In My Photos, you can set parameters for slide shows and even listen to music while you're viewing photos.
The Settings section includes the equalizer, with seven presets that can be monitored in real time; brightness; audio and video effects; and information on the device and its contents.With its relatively beefy specs (a 400MHz processor and 64MB of RAM), the Samsung YEPP YH-999 Portable Media Center generally moved easily between tasks. The PMC's animated screen effects, such as text and graphics morphing and sliding, were a nice touch and gave the interface a more responsive feel. As with the Creative Zen PMC, we noticed some delay when skipping between songs and playlists, but this wasn't a major concern. The YEPP YH-999 powered on in a few seconds, and when we turned it off and back on again, it resumed right where we left off.
Images, album art, and videos all look reasonably sharp and vibrant on the backlit, 3.5-inch display. It's no match for the Sony PSP's wide screen, but it still looks great compared to most portable devices such as cell phones and MP3 players. Like the majority of devices with reflective LCDs, the YEPP YH-999's screen images appear dim in outdoor light.
The YEPP YH-999's audio quality is merely average. The device's 85dB signal-to-noise ratio falls short of many top MP3 players'. We tried it with basic earbuds, in-ear noise-canceling headphones, and over-the-ear headphones and were unimpressed each time. The sound quality of the external speaker is quite thin, but that's not too surprising in a device this size. Overall, the sound quality is adequate. It's no match for the best MP3 players, but for casual listening, as well as for recorded TV and the occasional movie, it gets the job done.
The Achilles' heel of the YEPP YH-999 is its battery life. Don't bother lining up a few movies for a cross-country flight. Based on CNET Labs tests, you can expect to get 11.7 hours with audio and only 3.2 hours of continuous video. By comparison, the much larger Creative Zen PMC lasted 22 hours with continuous audio and nearly 8 hours with continuous video. To add insult to injury, the YEPP YH-999's rechargeable lithium-ion battery isn't swappable either, so you can't even bring a spare along.
Whether this is a fair trade-off for a smaller device depends on your intended use. If you plan to use it largely for listening to music and viewing photos, you may be willing to live with the battery life. If you want to use the video features regularly, and especially if you have a lot of recorded TV on a Media Center PC, the battery life will be an issue.
On a more positive note, the YEPP YH-999 posted an excellent transfer rate of 8.2MB per second over USB 2.0 on our tests.
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