With portable video increasing in popularity, more people are looking at portable video players, sometimes called PVPs. They may also be referred to as a portable media players or PMP's. This review is about the iRiver PMP-100 series, which includes the PMP-100, PMP-120 and the PMP-140.
Like a lot of hardware from Korean companies, this product has great hardware but terrible user navigation, atrocious support and extremely poor software. The PMP-120, which is the unit I reviewed, definitely earns two big thumbs down for a number of reasons. First off, the unit exhibits many limitations that simply shouldn't be present in a portable video player. For example, you can't use the fast-forward function in any movie longer than about 650 megabytes, which is maybe a 35- or 40-minute video. If you try to fast-forward any video longer than that, the unit just ignores you.
Speaking of buttons, the PM-100 has a maddening button interface that serves more as a brainteaser than actual video navigation. You have to randomly press buttons until you find your way out of the video in order to get into a different video that you might want to watch. I'm not sure what kind of psychotropic drugs the creator of the PMP was on when they decided to put these buttons in this particular arrangement, but I hope that person has since gone through a serious detox program.
The software that comes with the PMP-100 series from iRiver is about the worst video conversion software I've ever seen. It's extremely slow and renames all your files with a pre-pended word "converted" so that your original file names aren't conserved. Also, the video conversion software has a unique feature I haven't seen anywhere else: The longer the video plays, the more the audio and video get out of sync. So, if you picked up a copy of, say, "Oceans 12" and converted it to play on your iRiver device, you might see Brad Pitt's mouth moving and then, four or five seconds later, you'll hear his voice.
The iRiver PMP series also boasts that it is firmware upgradeable. This is loudly proclaimed in the manual and in various marketing materials. However, nearly two years after its original release in the United States, guess what? There is absolutely no firmware available for the PMP series. The company has done nothing to improve the product in 24 months. In fact, the best firmware is developed by open-source developers who don't even work for the company, like the Rock Box project that you can see at RockBox.org. Chances are, the Rock Box firmware will be far better than anything iRiver will develop.
Is there anything good about the iRiver PM-100 series? Yes, the battery life is much longer than that of the current iPods that play video, for example. You can get several hours of video out of these units, which gives you more opportunities to watch Brad Pitt's mouth move. The screen has excellent display qualities, but as I've said before, Korean companies are very good at hardware while falling flat when it comes to software navigation drivers. The PMP-120 or 100 series also has a blazing fast USB 2.0 interface, so the videos are copied to the unit's internal hard drive very quickly. This speed is indeed quite impressive, and the storage capacity on the unit is also tremendous. The units come with 40 Gigabytes of storage on an internal hard drive, which gives you plenty of space for several movies so that you can take them with you and watch them on the go.
Getting back to some of the downsides of the unit, it doesn't sync with Windows Media Player, and it doesn't play any videos unless they go through this lousy converter that ships with the unit. It seems like the unit doesn't really have a broad compatibility with anything else. It's pretty much a stand-alone, proprietary video player, and you have to suffer through the iRiver software to get videos onto the device. The iRiver support team responds to emails after approximately three weeks, with very short sentences offering no real help. Almost two years after the unit's introduction, the frequently asked questions page is no longer than a single page.
The bottom line on this unit is that it confirms what I've been saying about technology from Korea. Avoid it at all costs. Don't go with any products made in Korea until quality control measures are significantly upgraded from that country. I've seen one device after another made in Korea -- sold in the United States -- fail the quality control tests. These products somehow manage to combine great hardware with atrocious software and user navigation.
At this time, I can't recommend a better video player because I think the market is just shaping up right now. The Sony PlayStation portable, or PSP, is in many ways a better video player, although it has its own limitations, which will be covered in another review. For now, keep your eyes open for new products. Personally, I would stick with products made in Japan, including products from Apple, Creative or other companies that have a good reputation for quality control. For the time being, I recommend that everyone avoid any products made by iRiver, other than their IFP 700, 800, and 900 series MP3 players and recorders, which are, as I've said many times before, outstanding MP3 devices.
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