Creative isn't new to the portable media player market – the Vision:M represents its third model with video playback capabilities, while arch-rival Apple is still on its first with the fifth-generation iPod.

Creative was quick to embrace Microsoft's Portable Media Center format with the Zen PMC and followed it up with the Zen Vision a little over a year later. Just three months on, and it's launched another video capable player, which addresses many of the shortcomings of the previous models.

Like peas in a Pod

On first impressions, the Creative bears more than a passing resemblance to Apple's latest baby, although it's available in three more colours: green, blue and pink, in addition to black and white. While the majority of buyers are likely to plump for the monochrome casings, it's nice to have the choice if you fancy something a bit different.

Like the Vision, the Vision:M runs Creative's own software, although it's been slightly tarted up. Omissions such as album art have been corrected, and there are a number of colour themes available – so you can choose the look you're most comfortable with.

Video support, especially compared with the iPod, is immense – supporting Mpeg, Mpeg2 and Mpeg4; WMV 9; DivX 4 and 5; and XviD natively. No time is wasted waiting for video to transcode into a suitable format – just bung it on and away you go. The Vision:M will also be compatible with the BBC's upcoming iMP player, allowing you to watch BBC shows up to a week after broadcast, on the move.

New Year's resolution

Resolution support matches the iPod: 320x240. But if you hook the Vision:M up to an external display (via optional cable), it'll output at an impressive 640x480. Colour support is also better, sporting a whopping 262,144 colours, compared with the competition's 65,000.

If you want to use the device as a photo viewer you can transfer images with up to 8Mp (megapixels) onto it, and either scale them for the display or show them at their native resolution and scroll. There's also a built-in microphone and FM radio, so you can record speech or radio shows at the push of a button.

Audio-wise, the Vision:M lives up to Creative's well-deserved reputation for MP3 excellence. As usual, the bundled headphones are adequate, but you'll want to replace them to get the most out of your purchase.

Unlike previous Creative video players, the design is portrait rather than landscape. While the latter provides a better format for video, which is wider than it is tall, the Vision:M's screen is good enough for moderate use. The display corrects the viewing-angle problems seen on the Vision, so sharing content with others or finding a comfortable viewing position shouldn't be a problem.

The final string to Creative's bow is the battery life. The company claims the device will manage four hours of video, while audio playback should last a sensible 14 hours.

The Vision:M is bulkier than Apple's contender – almost twice as thick as the 30GB iPod – and there's no 60GB option currently available.

WMP 10.0

Creative has included a suite of applications to transfer content on to the device, but it will also happily sync with WMP (Windows Media Player) 10.0, if that's your media manager of choice.

Lucky owners of Media Center PCs will be happy to know that transferring last night's television to the device proves no problem at all, although WMP will transcode the content into WMV format first – so best to leave it running overnight.

Creative Zen Vision:M: Specs

  • Portable media player
  • 30GB hard drive
  • video and audio playback
  • image display
  • battery life: 4 hours of video, 14 hours of audio
  • MTP
  • Windows Media Player 10.0-compatible
  • 104x62x19mm
  • 163g
  • Portable media player
  • 30GB hard drive
  • video and audio playback
  • image display
  • battery life: 4 hours of video, 14 hours of audio
  • MTP
  • Windows Media Player 10.0-compatible
  • 104x62x19mm
  • 163g

OUR VERDICT

While the iPod has a couple of advantage over the Vision:M – namely thinness and price – it's beaten on almost every other score. Creative almost undoubtedly has a runaway hit on its hands.

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