Taking your entire music collection with you wherever you go makes perfect sense. Any spare moment can be filled with the soundtrack to your life. But iPods have already been invented – so what’s next? Some people think a video iPod is the inevitable Next Big Thing. The DVX-Pod is an attempt to be that device, a device that plays and even records video in a handheld format. It isn’t the sort of thing you’ll be slipping into your top pocket, but it does sport a generous 7-inch screen.
The DVX-Pod is a pretty clever box of tricks: it plays movies from its 20GB hard drive, it plays music, it plays slideshows from digital pics, and it can even record movies with a built-in MPEG-4 encoder. The size is a manageable 192-x-115-x-28mm, about the size of a paperback book. The battery life is 2.5-3 hours, enough for the average movie.
Almost as important as what features it has are the features that it doesn’t have. There’s no DVD drive – the movies it plays back must be in MPEG-4, Windows Media, QuickTime 6 or DivX formats. You need to copy these files across from your Mac using USB 2.0. What this means in practical terms is that you can watch things that were recorded straight to the DVX-Pod, movie files you have on your Mac, and ripped DVDs. Ripped DVDs, however, cause problems. Ripping content from a DVD is now pretty easy to do, but unlike ripping CDs, it’s technically illegal. I’m not really going to dwell in the legal issue – it’s a can of worms I don’t really want to open – but more immediately important is the fact that it’s a pain in the rump. It isn’t simply a matter of launching iTunes and popping the disc in the drive. It’s more like the days before iTunes when you had to hand-label every track, using shareware to convert the files. Frankly, it’s a mess, and a million miles from the elegant solution that is the iPod.
Having said that, actually watching a movie on the DVX-Pod is a pleasure. It can be held in the hand or it can sit on its little stand. There are no built-in speakers, so you need to use headphones – but other people on the bus will be grateful for that.
The DVX-Pod is a few years before its time. There needs to be a legal, simple, consumer-friendly way to buy movies to watch digitally in the same way as the iPod does with audio. In the meantime, the DVX-Pod does a fine job with the technology available – but not everything is in place yet. It can’t play music from the iTunes Music Store, for instance – although it would be a bulky replacement for an iPod. Only when everything else is in place will we be able to tell if watching movies on a train or bus is even something we’d want to do.
There will be some early adopters that will buy this because it exists. There might even be some legitimate business uses for it – showing demos, show-reels, or slide shows of photography. So if you’re rich, need a tax-deductible gadget, and want to watch movies and show off to your friends, you’re in luck.
If it wasn’t for the fact you can pick up a portable DVD player for well under £200 now, this would be a much more attractive deal. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot you can do with this device, it just isn’t very convenient to do it. The interface is clunky, the process of getting media onto it is convoluted (at least compared to iTunes), and there’s no legal way to watch the latest movies. It does work as a hard disk as well, so there are some things that will come in handy. But for now this is strictly a product for early adopters, of which I’m sure there are plenty.