Since the invention and proliferation of the MP3 compressed audio format and many audio, video and photo formats, the market for portable media players has simply exploded. Today’s state of the art personal media player (PMP) is a product of the latest Flash, touchscreen and chip technologies available as these continue to evolve.
In order to compare the PLaya™’s capabilities to other PMPs currently on the market, we have pulled together key features and data points for these and compiled in Table 1. As the table illustrates, we believe the PLaya™ provides great functionality for a great price.
|PLaya 8GB||Creative Labs Zen X-Fi 8GB||Cowon S9 8GB||Apple iTouch 8GB||Microsoft Zune 16GB|
|AV Cables Included||Y||N||N||N||N|
|Wall Charger Included||Y||N||N||N||N|
Table 1. A Comparison of 8GB Touch Screen Personal Media Players
Following is a list of some of the more significant features that are offered in a personal media player.
Touch Screen – The screen is sensitive to the touch of either a finger or a stylus. Higher quality touch screens respond to subtle touch commands such as the swipe of a finger and allow finer control of the player. In a higher quality touch screen the user can control for example the zoom level or position of a photo image by touching a part of the screen and dragging. Similarly volume can be controlled by touching and dragging it toward increased or decreased volume. Other similar touch and slide capabilities are offered. Lower quality touch screens will not exhibit the same sensitivity as high quality screens and may show decreased sensitivity over time. Some models use an accompanying stylus to reach a level of consistent touchscreen performance than might otherwise be had with finger touch. Some require calibration (and recalibration) to get them to perform. The PLaya™’s touchscreen requires no calibration.
Screen Resolution and Image Quality – Most higher-end players will have a screen with high clarity and image quality. Some of the lower end players are less expensive because lower quality components have been used. If you are going to spend the money to have video capability, you may as well spend enough to get a decent picture that you’re going to want to look at. Higher-end players will likely list the screen resolution in pixel count (400×240 pixels for example). It will probably be difficult to obtain specs for lower-end players.
Compatibility – There are some proprietary formats that will only play on certain players. These formats are intended to limit sharing of files for the protection of copyrighted material. There are many formats out there nowadays but if your player can play a few of the most common formats, or at least those that you work with the most, you’ll be happy.
FM Radio Functions – Many players come with an FM radio which allows you to select an FM station through touch control of a tuner or by selection of a number of presets that are programmable by the user. In some models you have the ability of recording the received radio signal. A small number of players offer the ability to transmit audio through an antenna to another radio (see FM Transmitter).
FM Transmitter – FM transmit capability is usually offered as an accessory that connects to the player and transmits whatever would otherwise be heard in the earphones to an antenna similar to a radio broadcasting station. A small number of players offer this capability built in to the device. This handy feature lets you stream audio to any radio in the near vicinity. For example, you can start your player playing some songs, select an FM frequency to transmit on, and then tune your car radio to pick up the signal at the same frequency and play the songs over your car audio system. You can do the same thing with your clock radio, your home entertainment or theater system, and any other radio. We call this out separately because it is our opinion that this is a great feature that is not included any of the other listed players.
Transferring files from your computer – USB is the connection of choice for PMPs. Most devices connect to the computer and appear as a mass storage device to which media files can be dragged and dropped, content can be organized into folders, and older content can be replaced with new in the same manner as if the device were another drive-letter-accessible USB drive. Some common media management and playback software such as Windows Media Player from Microsoft will recognize USB attached media players and allow browsing, syncing, playback and other functions from the software user interface.
In the case of the iTouch and Zune a major part of the Apple and Microsoft business model is the sales of DRM protected content1 that is playable only on the respective player. Although this content, when purchased and downloaded, is DRM protected, unless archived to CD or converted through some other means to a non-protected format.
In an effort to simplify the transfer of media files, and possibly to bolster a DRM scheme, some players present a different synchronization model where the user moves files to one of a few key folders on the computer which the player, when connected to the computer, will monitor and sync with. It is our opinion that the more flexible and intuitive drive-letter access method of dragging, dropping and organizing directly on the device from the computer, as is provided on the PLaya™ and other models, is easier to use and more flexible.
Wi-Fi – This capability is offered only in the very high end models such as the iTouch from Apple and Zune HD from Microsoft where the device really is a PDA (personal digital assistant) as much as it is a media player. If you are in the proximity of a Wi-Fi ‘hot spot’ that is either not secure (not password protected) or which is secure and for which you know the password, you will be able to connect to the internet to check e-mail or do some small-screen internet browsing. Unsecure wireless internet can sometimes be found in convention centers, airports, and some neighborhoods (but ask your neighbor before you jump on his wireless network…). For password protected internet you can obtain the password if you are a hotel guest, convention attendee, etc.
TV-Out – Because a PMP by definition can play video files, a capability that a few years ago required a state of the art computer, having the ability of bringing the signal out of the small screen and displaying it on the big screen is a nice feature. Some players provide this capability by including or selling separately a cable that will connect from the player to the television’s composite video input. If you want to bring a few videos to a party without the hassle of keeping track of DVD disks and cases, this is the way to do it.
Record functionality – many players now offer the capability of recording from a microphone. This enables you to record your own dictation (or vocals) for later reference or other event such as lectures, musical performances (your 8 year-old’s piano recital). Some models also include the capability of recording from the FM radio station (if provided in the player) or from a line-in connection (electrical connection from another device such as a CD player).
Portability – A 2.8” to 3.3” screen is about as big as can reasonably fit in your front pants pocket and not protrude to where it is at risk of getting bumped or stressed or just looking funny. Media players with 4” screens certainly produce a larger picture but these are more miniature movie viewers that you would keep in a briefcase, backpack or bag rather than in a pocket. These fit in the shirt pocket until you lean over to tie your shoe and then – whoops – your player’s on the floor with a dent in the corner or worse.
A word about ‘cheap’ players – If you search on major shopping websites you will see a wide variety of players that have a similar look to the design and which are offered at a price that can be significantly lower than brand-name players. Our understanding is that these players achieve low cost through the use of ‘B’ or ‘C’ grade components which may exhibit reduced functionality or which may wear out prematurely. Customer reviews on these products reflect this – describing poor touch screen sensitivity, slow user interface response, poor screen image quality and other limitations – although some customers appear happy to put up with these drawbacks in exchange for a low cost of ownership.
Table 1 lists some of the more important features in a touchscreen personal media player. These all play audio, video, and photo.
DRM, or Digital Rights Management protected content is content that has been encrypted for purposes of preventing illegal copying. Such content, in its protected from, can only be played on an authorized player unless converted to a more standard format (MP3 etc.)