An iPod for Your Eyes

Portable video looks great, and in a couple of years it may be affordable

Q. What's your take on portable video players? I've got this brutal A-train commute to deal with, and being able to watch last night'sElimidate episode would make it pass that much quicker. But it's not like I'm willing to go into hock to make that happen, dig?

A. Then you might want to wait a while, until the market has a few more competitors and prices fall back from the stratosphere. Shouldn't be long, as Microsoft's video-on-the-go efforts are about to bear fruit. Two years from now, you should have plenty of Elimidate-watching company on the A.

For right now, though, the portable video options are limited, at least outside the realm of handheld DVD players. The industry leader is Archos (archos.com), perhaps better known for its hard-disk MP3 players, which Mr. Roboto considers on par with the iPod. The company's already on its second generation of pocket video recorders with the AV400 series. The bottom-of-the-line offering is the 20 GB AV420, which works a lot like a 10-ounce TiVo. Pop it into the cradle, hook it to your TV, and it'll record 80 hours' worth of programming.

As for picture quality, well, damn—it impresses the heck out of Mr. Roboto, especially considering that the 262,000-color LCD screen measures only 3.5 inches diagonally. If there's a downside, it's battery life; if you're commuting from, say, Far Rockaway to Times Square, you're gonna have to charge up the AV420 every night. Oh, yeah, and there's also the muy hefty price tag of $549. Sure, the AV420 plays MP3s and displays JPEGs, too, but c'mon—$549's still a grind.

Prices should relax a bit in the next six months or so, as competitors flood in. Lots of 'em are byproducts of Microsoft's Media2Go PVP project, which developed pocket-video software and recruited hardware partners to incorporate it into products. Creative (creative.com) is already accepting pre-orders on its Zen Portable Media Center ($499), Samsung is scheduled to release the YH-999 ($499) as early as next month, and the iRiver PMC-140 should be on shelves sometime this autumn. Mr. Roboto has yet to sample the Media2Go software, but word is it's not too terribly different from Windows CE, which powers Pocket PCs and the like. If that skeeves you out, keep an eye peeled for iRiver's Linux-powered upcoming PMP-120.

Another model to watch is Sony's Vaio Pocket Video player. No word on when this monster's gonna hit, but the rumor is that it'll include Wi-Fi so you can wirelessly stream recordings to a TV screen. The company will also be offering movie downloads through its Connect music service (connect.com)—a video version of iTunes, if you will.

Apple's staying out of the portable-video fray for the moment, so don't expect any video iPods under the 2005 Christmas tree. Steve Jobs just doesn't foresee the day when pedestrians are gonna tool around while watching Elimidate. Makes sense, given how many accidents would ensue. Mr. Roboto's guessing that it'll always be best to ingest your video Soma while seated.


Band of brothers

Music snobs are a dime a dozen, and Mr. Roboto will admit to being one: He once ruined a relationship with a certain Ms. Roboto by constantly disparaging her affection for—gag!—the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies. Glad to know the mastermind behind YouHaveBadTasteInMusic.com has the gumption to do what all music snobs dream of doing—stand outside a Staind concert and harangue the queued fans for their atrocious taste. The video of his lecture at a recent Adema gig alone is worth five minutes of your life.

Vonage's fine, fine print

Here's yet another read-your-contract lesson: A slashdot.org discussion last week pointed out that voice-over IP provider Vonage foists unsavory terms on subscribers. The contract's fine print states if Vonage doesn't like the content of your phone conversations, it can and will forward "your personally identifiable information to the appropriate authorities for investigation and prosecution." Um, folks? Is playing Big Brother really the best way to build consumer loyalty?


bkoerner@villagevoice.com

 
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