Buying a portable media player

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PC Connectivity

Both Media Players and Media Centers are connected to your PC via a USB 2.0 cable, which allows a maximum of 480Mbit/s bandwidth. This means that you can transfer 1GB of data in roughly 17 seconds, although real-time speeds are usually considerably lower. If your computer only has a USB 1.1 port, speed is considerably slower at 12Mbit/s. In this case, you may wish to transfer files overnight or add a USB 2.0 card to your computer.

With a PMC, uploading media files to your player is done via Media Player 10 or higher. Depending on how you set up Windows Media Player, it can automatically synchronize all the files from specific folders on your PC, or you may wish to manually select which files you want uploaded to your player. If it comes across a file type that your PMC does not support, Windows Media Player will automatically re-encode the file to something the PMC can play (assuming that the original file can be played on your PC).

With PMPs, transferring files may vary depending on which player it is, although it's generally quite simple as well. It may be as easy as dragging and dropping files over to the device via Windows Explorer, much like copying files from one drive to another, although you may have to place them in special folders. It may also come with additional software that will automatically synchronize your media library to the player, much like with Windows Media Player.

Home Theatre Connectivity

If you want to watch a stored movie or TV program on your TV or someone else's TV, you can easily hook it up. Appropriate cables are usually included so that you can add your PMC or PMP to your home theatre system. Connect the cables from the player's line out jack to your television's inputs like you would a VCR or DVD player and watch the show on the big screen. Note that if you plan on watching video on a television screen that the video file has been encoded in high quality. Otherwise, you will notice pixelization and artifacts that would normally go unnoticed on the player's smaller screen. If you only want to listen to audio, of course you an always hook up the player to your stereo amplifier.

Like many hard drive-based music players, some PMP and PMC models allow you to record video in addition to recording audio. If you are often on the go and do not have time to watch all your favourite TV programs, you can hook up your device via S-Video or composite RCA cables and audio cable to record your favourite programs much like a VCR or DVD Recorder. You can either record from a live station via your television or cable/satellite box, or you can record videos from your VCR or DVD player. Some models even have built-in TV tuners. Keep in mind, however, that you cannot record from copy protected sources such as those found in most commercial DVDs that you buy or rent from a store. If you have any home video footage recorded to DVD-R, such as from your digital camcorder, these will not be copy protected and will be okay to record to your media player.

Battery Life

An important consideration when choosing a player is battery life. Most of the portable media devices incorporate a custom lithium ion or lithium polymer battery which can be recharged. Polymer batteries are lighter but they cannot be recharged as often before having to be replaced. Playing time for audio range from 10-20 hours whereas for video, due to additional processing and screen power requirements, is limited to roughly 5-7 hours, which is enough time to get through 1 or 2 of your favourite movies. Recharging the battery consists of plugging in the included power adapter to your player. As well, the player can recharge via your PC's USB connection.

Other Features

With the constant advancements in technology, there are already some new features added to cutting edge models. Some portable media devices have included network ports to make it even easier to transfer data between player and computer, and others go even further by incorporating wireless networking. A few have accessories available such as a wireless remote or a docking cradle.

While neither a Portable Media Center nor a Portable Media Player is a device you want to take with you when jogging, it may be ideal for those on a long bus or airplane rides. You can take it with you on vacations, and when you get back you can use it to show off your photos taken with your digital camera. If you're a movie or TV buff you can keep up with all the new releases while soaking up the sun. Think of it as a theatre system with your DVD and CD library all in the palm of your hand.
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