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Can Apple do for portable video what it did for portable music with its iPod player and iTunes service?
While waiting to see whether a video version of the iPod can sweep all before it, you could do worse than while away the hours enjoying music, movies, TV, radio, podcasts and your favourite photos on the Zen Vision portable media player, shipped last month by Creative.
Creative’s Nomad MP3 music player was quickly overtaken in sales after Apple introduced the original iPod and the Vision could suffer an equal fate if Steve Jobs’ video version gets the same reception.
In the meantime, the Zen Vision is the best thing out there able to handle all the media that a snap-happy, music-junkie, TV addict cares to upload to it.
Available in black or iPod white, the Vision is only 5in long has a richly detailed 3.7in colour screen and weighs just 8.4 oz.
There is a slot to plug in and view photos on compact flash cards from a digital camera, a built-in microphone to record meetings, an FM tuner and a 30 Gb hard drive to store thousands of songs and photos and dozens of hours of video.
Not everyone has a Tivo, Windows Media Center PC, a digital camera, or subscribes to a music or movie service such as Napster or CinemaNow that would fully justify paying $400 for the Vision. But for those gadget-mad consumers who don’t have time to watch TV at night and need entertainment on their flights or daily commute, the Vision is a godsend.
It does not play games, surf the net, collect e-mail, record programmes, other than radio shows, and offers rudimentary synch-ing with Outlook appointments.
Those who want more of the above extras should look at the Sony PSP and other devices.any number of PDAs, the Cowon A2, iStation i2, iRiver PMC 140 and the heavier duty and priced Archos AV 700.
Instead, the Vision simply concentrates on being the best portable media player and appears to have made the right compromises to achieve that.
Loading the device with video that will play can be a relatively slow process and potentially tricky, given the welter of formats and bit-rates out there, but the Vision coped with almost everything I threw at it, from xVids to Avis.
It connects to a PC with a USB 2.0 connection and the bundled Creative software allows easy transfers and conversions. A trial copy of Video Vault software is also included, allowing users to rip their favourite DVDs to the Vision.
Essential accessories are a docking station that acts as a stand and a wireless remote.
Using a supplied cable, the Vision can then be hooked up to a hotel-room or home television, transforming idle TV watching in bed into a flick through your personal video, photo and music collection.