By day it behaves like a portable hard disk in a regular casing. Connect it to your computer via a USB cable to drag-and-drop your business documents, spreadsheets, and much more. Business done, head home and connect it to your TV via a neat A/V port using the included cable. You wonder how is it different from an Apple Video iPod. Well, think of it as a do-it-yourself iPod.
Freedom of formats
Video: You can freely rip-and-burn films, VCDs, DVDs, and even broadcast-quality or high-definition videos from your computer, and play them back at full quality. The hard disk player can faithfully reproduce 5.1 surround sound, DVD menus and extra features, so you’d never need those discs again. You could transfer videos from your mobile phone in MPEG4 or the popular Divx or AVI format, or download and playback high-quality classic films. Apple has yet to provide support in iPods for such a comprehensive and diverse list of file formats.
IOGEAR (Click here to see the picture)
Audio: As an audio player, it supports several file formats such as MP3, AAC, ASF, WMA and the WAV. Unlike the others, WAV file format is ideal for archival and high-fidelity playback, even though the file size could be 5-10 times bigger. Finally, you can even connect a microphone directly to the hard disk, and sing along with karaoke files.
Photos: You can transfer photos from your digital camera or mobile and view them as slide-shows with a choice of several transition effects straight on your television.
USB 2.0: All models ship with a standard USB 2.0 port for high-speed data transfer with your computer. This port also supplies the needed power, freeing you from using a power adapter.
On-the-go: In some units, you can directly plug in any other USB device, with automatic playback of videos and music from the hosted device.
La Cinema (Click here to see the picture)
Audio-video: The most basic models ship with a single A/V port. A cable connects it to your TV or the stereo, or even a 5.1 surround sound system. Some models ship with a VGA port. Thus, you may hook it up directly to a computer’s LCD screen when you don’t have access to a TV. While at it, you can directly plug in your computer’s multimedia speakers for sound. You could even connect the multimedia player to an overhead projector for larger audiences or to a pair of headphones. Be careful though to select audio settings, as it can compress audio for TV speakers, as well as deliver hi-fi sound for 5.1 surround sound.
Pro audio-video: Some other models, such as the IOGEAR or the LaCinema Premier from LaCie, provide component video connections to plug into plasma screens and high-definition progressive-scan displays, as well as optical-fibre connections for professional-quality sound reproduction.
Card-reader: Some unbranded Chinese models come with slots for card-readers so you could slip in memory cards from your digital camera, MP3 player, or cellphone for instant transfer and playback.
Compatible: Just plug-and-play with Mac, Windows, and especially Gnu/Linux. It requires no software driver on modern computers.
Freedom from digital rights management: Unlike Apple’s iPod, you are not forced into using their iTunes software. Or have insidious software silently monitoring every file you transfer and play.
Street shopping (Click here to see the picture)
Power adapter: None of the models so far have built-in batteries. A few unbranded Chinese models do ship with a clunky external battery-adapter kit. I’m sure the next iteration will address this issue.
No built-in screen: Without one, you have to rely on a television or a computer monitor to browse through your collection just to play music.
Scroll, scroll, scroll: All you get are “up” and “down” arrows to tediously scroll through a gigantic list of alphabetically-sorted files.
Twelve characters: On some Chinese units, file names are truncated to 12 characters. It could be sloppy if your files are similarly named.
RIP your audio and video: You need to rip and burn your collection of DVDs and audio CDs using any software of your choice on your computer. If you don’t know how, just search on the Web on how to get started.
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