So Long, MP3; Hello, PVP?

Imagine watching your own videos for an entire Los Angeles-to-London flight. PC Magazine's Bill Howard looks forward to another consumer content market enabled by portable hard drives.

The MP3 player market is thoroughly fleshed out, even if many of the players are still somewhat clunky: Try to name all the insanely great players besides the iPod. Its time to declare victory for the iPod and move on to the next big thing in personal entertainment. That may well be the personal video player (PVP), which adds a color LCD to the hard drive MP3 player concept for video as well as audio playback. If youre in the market for a hard drive–based personal audio player, consider an audio/video player.

Several personal video players are reaching the market this year—nearly a dozen, if you broaden the definition to include Palm OS PDAs and Pocket PCs with color screens. The two most intriguing mainstream personal video players Ive seen so far are the Archos Video AV 320 and the Thomson RD2780 RCA Lyra Audio/Video Jukebox. Theres also the SmartDisk FlashTrax, which has fewer recording options than the others. And by years end, you may see PVPs based on an Intel reference design using Microsoft Windows CE.

A typical PVP costs around $500 and has a 3- to 4-inch color display capable of 320-by-240 resolution, a 20GB to 40GB hard drive, the ability to record audio (MP3 and maybe WMA) and video (MPEG-4), and 4 hours of battery life. It also has a USB 2.0 interface and, when connected, appears to your PC or notebook as a hard drive, meaning youll have an outside chance of bluffing your boss that this is the road-warrior backup hard drive you really need. (An on-the-ball boss will stamp the request "rejected" and point you instead in the direction of a 120GB Maxtor Personal Storage 3000LE USB 2.0 drive at half the price.)

A PVP may also have a CompactFlash slot (with adapters for Secure Digital and Memory Stick formats) to lure photographers on location or vacation who need to off-load photos from their memory cards. A PVP is a bit big to take jogging, but not impossible; it weighs just under a pound and fits in an overcoat pocket. You wouldnt want to clip it to a belt unless the belt normally can support a personal sidearm and a canteen.

How would you use it? Imagine watching your own videos for an entire Los Angeles–to–London flight, or keeping the backseat rats occupied on the Pittsburgh-to-Charleston vacation drive. The $500 price compares very favorably with that of a backseat DVD entertainment system, even if you were to add an outboard LCD screen for a second passenger.

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