Creative Zen Vision:M Takes on Video iPod

Creative Technology has taken the wraps off its Zen Vision:M video-capable portable media player, featuring a 30 GB hard disk and a 2.5-inch, 320 by 240 pixel color LCD screen capable of displayed over a quarter million colors that the company hopes will finally tilt the portable player market in its direction.

The Vision:M sports a 30 GB hard disk the company says will store up to 120 hours of video; of course, actual playback time may vary because the Vision:M supports a wide variety of video formats, including MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG4-SP, WMV9, Motion-JPEG, plus DivX 4 & 5, and XviD. And what portable device with a color screen doesn’t handle photos? The Vision:M can display BMP, JPEG, GIF, and TIFF images on its high-quality 320 by 240 built-in screen (with details available via a zoom and pan function), or you can connect the Vision:M to a TV or projector to share your images or slideshows. There’s also a composite output, so you can pump audio from the Vision:M into a stereo system or other external amplifier.

And music? But of course! Creative boasts the Vision:M can store up to 15,000 songs in MP3, WAV, or WMA format, and juice them up through 8 EQ presets or a customized 5-band equalizer. The unit displays album art or other images with songs as they’re played back. If your stored music isn’t satisfactory, you can also tune in to (and record) FM broadcasts: the Vision:M supports 32 station presets. Featuring PlaysForSure support, the Vision:M is also compatible with a variety of online music services, including Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, MSN Music, AOL Music Now, and the new Napster.

The Vision:M also sports some PIM-like capabilities, including an integrated calendar, to-do list, contact management: it even syncs with Microsoft Outlook, and you can edit information with the Vision:M using Creative’s bundled Media Explorer.

Users load up the Vision:M via USB 2.0, and can recharge the built-in lithium-ion battery in 6 hours via USB, or in 2.5 hours via a supplied AC adapter. The battery offers up to 14 hours of music or FM playing time (lower for WMA playback), and up to four hours of video playback per battery charge: that’s almost twice as long as Apple’s video-capable iPods.

Does all this come at a price? Yes: the Vision:M will be priced at $329.99 and be available later this month in five high-gloss colors (black, pink, white, green, and blue). While the Vision:M is twice as thick as Apple’s video iPod, it does pack in extra features: perhaps the main thing missing is what the Vision:M cannot tap into: iTunes. The Vision:M does not support Apple’s FairPlay digital rights management (or the AAC audio format), so it cannot play back music or video purchased through Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Creative positions the Vision:M as offering more choices and fewer restrictions than Apple’s wildly popular iPod+iTunes combination; however, it also means the Vision:M doesn’t even get to play on the biggest field in town. Not surprisingly, the Vision:M is also Windows-only (XP Service Pack 1 or better): Mac and Linux users need not apply.

Meanwhile, Creative’s patent claims against Apple Computer and other portable media makers continues to simmer, with Creative declining to speak about any ongoing negotiations. In August, Creative revealed it had been granted a U.S. patent covering the organization and navigation of music tracks in portable music players; the company has indicated it would pursue (potentially very lucrative) licensing terms with Apple and other manufacturers that the company believes infringe on Creative’s intellectual property.

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