Keen to ride the success of digital music players such as Apple’s iPod, Taiwanese electronics manufacturers are promoting multimedia players that include video functions.
Numerous hard-disk drive-based portable music and video players were on show at the recent Computex 2004 trade fair and almost without exception, the manufacturers were telling potential customers that they would be ready to start production during the next three months.
Eager as the companies are to capitalise on what they think is a natural progression from digital music players, the prototypes contained a dizzying list of specifications, and there was little consensus on which features and formats should be supported, or on the preferred physical size or storage capacity.
The players can be divided into three broad categories based on hard-disk drive size: either 2.5-inch, 1.8-inch or 1-inch drives. The size of the drive helps determine the overall physical size of the product and also the storage capacity. A lot of the players on display were based on 1.8-inch drives, which are manufactured by companies such as Toshiba and currently available in capacities up to 40GB.
In terms of functions, playback of digital audio and video was common across all devices with some also offering a photo album function, but there was a big difference when it comes to the formats supported.
While digital music in MP3 format is widespread among PCs users, digital video appears to be much less common and so a dominate or widespread format has yet to appear. In the meantime, some of the players support a few formats while others attempt to cover all the bases.
For example, the JoyToGo player from AnexTek supports MPEG4 and Motion jpeg video while the mPack from Power Quotient International supports those formats as well as MPEG 1, MPEG 2, DivX, Xvid and Windows Media Video.
There was some commonality in the area of price. When asked, most companies were quoting end-user prices of between $US500 and $US700 for the players, although observers at the show and even representatives of some of the manufacturers admitted that those prices would have to fall by around half before the players become a mass-market product.
Price probably would not be the only deciding factor on whether such products become mass-market replacements for music players, niche products or flops.
Lifestyle could play a big part because digital video requires a different usage environment. Music can be enjoyed almost anywhere but video requires a little more concentration. While its suitable for the train or bus, one can’t safely watch video while walking along a street or riding a bicycle.