Ahh, toys… the latest one to enter the fold is the Creative Zen Vision W personal media player. This device does just about everything.
But is it any good? Well, read on to find out.
- 4.3″ WQVGA high-resolution LCD screen – View 480 x 272 resolution in a wide aspect screen at up to 262,144 colors or output video and photos to an external display at a maximum of 720×480.
- Holds up to 240 hours of movies – ZEN support formats such as AVI, DivX 4 & 53, XviD4, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG4-SP, WMV9 and Motion-JPEG, which simply means more choices and fewer restrictions.
- Store up to tens of thousands of photos – Complete with a thumbnail gallery and zoom capabilities.
- Up to 15,000 songs – With 5-band EQ or 8 preset EQ settings and 96dB signal-to-noise ratio.
- TV output – Connect the ZEN to a projector or TV with the bundled AV cable for everyone to see.
- FM radio – Listen to more music with the integrated FM radio with 32 station presets.
- Personal organizer – Syncs your contacts, calendar, and tasks with Microsoft Outlook.
- Voice recorder – Record meetings, lectures, even voice memos.
- Long lasting battery – Enjoy up to 13 hours of music, or 4.5 hours of movies.
- Offload digital photos – Transfer pictures from your camera to ZEN without a computer.
The device was packaged with accessories including earbud headphones, a wall power adapter, a USB cable, a software disc, A/V-out cables, and a felt case.
After unpacking the device I noticed that it is hefty, but not heavy. It weighs 10.5 ounces and though it looks a little plain you can tell that the screen is quality even before you turn it on.
The software installed just fine on my heavily abused XP system and is very simple to use. It includes functions to load songs, video and photos on the device as well as the ability to rip audio CDs. One thing notably missing however was the ability to rip DVDs.
This to me was a glaring omission. How does Creative expect people to get their DVDs into this PMP device? In order to perform this task I had to use some other software. I’ve documented the process of ripping DVDs to your hard drive for transfer to the Zen here. I’ve got two options, one fairly simple but not free, one free but a little more complicated.
Back to the review at hand…
I found Creative’s transfer software to be very simple to use and after loading up some MP3s and videos I immediately plugged in my Bose QuietComfort 2 headphones to take a listen. With these headphones I initially felt the sound quality was a little flat, but then I changed the EQ settings to suit my preference and it sounded fantastic.
I then threw on a movie and was impressed with the sharpness and clarity of the video. I never forgot that I was watching a tiny screen, but I was very, very happy that I hadn’t picked up an iPod. The Zen W’s screen is at least 200% larger and I wouldn’t want it any smaller.
The only thing that I immediately missed is some sort of built in stand for the unit. If you want to set it down to watch it you’ll have to lean it against something, and then it wants to slip. I’m considering making a stand for it myself on my PlasmCAM.
The Good and Bad
Things I Like:
- The screen is beautiful. It is very sharp and clear and has a good refresh rate.
- The user interface is very intuitive. I didn’t read a single page of the manual, but everything was extremely easy to figure out.
- The built in speaker is adequate. I wish it could go a little louder but hey, at least it has one, (unlike the iPod and other units).
- The player remembers exactly where each movie stopped, and resumes playing from that spot, even if you watch several different movies at at time.
- The fast forward and rewind functions work awesome! They start out slow and then speed up exponentially. It feels just right – very unlike Ipod.
- The non-bloated, functional and simple software.
- Although I haven’t tested it yet, I’m looking forward to syncing the device with TiVo as the box says “…transfer them to your player using TiVoToGo…”.
- Creative built in a ton of extras such as Outlook contact, calendar and task syncing; and excellent FM radio and a microphone for recording.
- CNet claims 18 hours and 28 minutes of MP3 battery life, with 5 hours 6 minutes of juice when playing video, which is far more than Creative’s claims. In addition, it’s removable so you could get an extra one if you wanted to keep going after that.
Things I don’t like:
- You must install the Creative software in order to transfer files. Although you can easily partition up to 16GB to act as USB Mass Storage, it doesn’t allow you to just see the whole 60GB and drop files where you want them. Still, this is a reasonable compromise.
- Although the size is fine, I wish it was just a little thinner. Its .9″ thick and it would be ideal if it could be more like .3 – .5″ thick. I realize the technology isn’t there yet.
- The buttons are a little too small for my fingers. I’m 6’1″ with fairly large hands.
- It doesn’t stand up by it’s self. If you set it down it needs to lean on something.
In order to test the widest range of encoded information I downloaded a bunch of bootlegged movies from the Internet (and then deleted them immediately afterwards of course :-) ). I did this because I can’t possibly create test formats for the wide variety of choices out there.
- I checked out a version of Employee of the Month, encoded with TMPGEnc, 352×240, at 30fps, and it worked well until about 1/2 way through when the voice got out of sync with the video. This is normally associated with the quality of the software used to encode the video.
- An Inconvenient Truth encoded with TMPGEnc, 352×240, at 30fps worked flawlessly.
- I tried to install Bowling for Columbine which was encoded with MPEG4, 560×304, 24fps, but the Creative MediaSource software failed to convert it and therefore it did not transfer to the device. The software did not explain why it couldn’t convert it, it just failed.
- While watching a video of Half Baked (encoded with XVID, 624×336, 24fps) the video played back choppy. Approximately every 10-20 seconds there would be about a .5 second pause.
- Barnyard, encoded in MPEG1 Layer 2, 352×240, 30fps worked just fine.
- The Ant Bully, encoded with DivX 6.2.2, 352×240 at 30fps worked perfectly.
- Casino Royale, which incidentally is the greatest Bond movie ever made!!!, encoded in MPEG1 Layer 2, 352×240, 30fps worked fine as well.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I’d say that approximately 90% of the movies downloaded at least worked. A few of them had a glitch or two. The ones that I ripped from my own DVDs, using this method, worked flawlessly.
I had considered every personal media player on the market before picking up the Zen Vision W. Money was truly no object, I just wanted to get one that had a fantastic screen, long battery life and excellent compatibility with a wide range of encoding and formats.
For any amount of money I don’t think you can do better than this media player, and given that you can pick one up for $350-400 it makes the perfect A/V travel companion.
- The Creative Zen Web site
- There is also a short video of CNet editor James Kim’s (recently deceased) review here.
- Zen Vision M Microsite
As always, questions and comments are welcome, and if you found this article useful please do me the favor of DIGGing it, bookmarking it with Del.icio.us, or any of your favorite sites from up by the article title.
EDIT: 1/8/2007 I also just added a complete teardown of this device for those that might be interested in upgrading the hard drive.
EDIT: 7/12/2007 Thanks to Michael we have this picture of the SF Planet Zen W Case w/stand. As he described it:
The kickstand is built separate as a flap in the back. The top cover just throws back and hangs there to keep the weight pulling backwards onto the kickstand.
And when you’re done, the kickstand is magnetic, so it will snap back to the case and not stick out.