For people who want a portable media player but don't want to break the bank, ViewSonic offers the ViewSonic VPD400 MovieBook HD.
At £92 inc VAT, the ViewSonic VPD400 is more affordable than the 16GB iPod touch, but you must be willing to make a few compromises. Unlike the iPod and Zune, the VPD400 MovieBook HD doesn't have a touchscreen or Wi-Fi, and its design isn't the slickest.
In appearance, the ViewSonic VPD400 is pretty minimalist. Available in black, white, or pink, the plastic player sports a 4.3in display that dominates its face. All of the playback and navigation controls - Play/Pause/Stop, Left/Esc, Right, Up, Down, Enter/Mode - sit at the top.
The bottom spine houses the on/off switch. The left spine has the power-adaptor port, a speaker, and the microSD slot. On the right edge are the 3.5mm headphone jack, the HDTV port, another speaker, the microphone, and the volume rocker.
Navigating the interface is a bit tricky with the top hardware buttons. Rather than a four-way directional pad or a touchwheel, as you'd find on other nontouch portable media players, on this device each direction has its own dedicated button. The Left and Right buttons sit in the opposite corner from the Up and Down buttons, too. It took me a while to get the hang of moving through the ViewSonic VPD400's menu without having to tilt the player to figure out which buttons we were pressing. This is definitely a device you won't be able to control from your pocket or your bag - you need to see what you're doing.
The ViewSonic VPD400's user interface has six main categories - Settings, Video, Music, Photo, Voice Recorder, and EBook - represented by large icons laid out horizontally. Under Music, Video, and EBook, the menu breaks things down further according to where the content is stored (local media library, local disk, external disk, USB host), listing items vertically below each main category icon. Overall the layout is fairly straightforward; the biggest issue is the tedium involved in pressing the buttons over and over again to move where you want. It gets old fast.
As a music player, the ViewSonic VPD400 is reasonably flexible, supporting MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC, APE, and OGG audio formats. In playback mode, you can show the song's lyrics, give the tune a star rating, or adjust the playback speed. You can also choose from a few different playback modes, such as Pop, Classical, or Rock. The player doesn't support album art, which is unfortunate since the VPD400's large screen would showcase it nicely.
Sound quality overall was pretty good, but it was better through my own higher-quality headphones (SkullCandy FMJ) than over the included earbuds. Sound piped through the external speakers was on the weak side, however, so you'll definitely want to use the player with headphones.
The ViewSonic VPD400 supports an even larger variety of video file types, including AVI, RM/RMVB, FLV, MP4, MOV, PMP, MPG, VOD, DAT, H.264, and H.263 formats. The VPD400 handled just about everything we threw at it, with the disappointing exception of MOV (QuickTime) files; none of my QuickTime movie trailers would play.
Quality wasn't always consistent, either. While colours were bright and accurate, the player seemed to have some trouble handling fast motion. A scene with ducks flying over a lake stuttered a bit, and we noted some slight pixelation. We also detected pixelation in scene transitions. The effect wasn't noticeable enough to completely detract from the viewing experience, but it was a little distracting.
As a photo viewer, voice recorder, and e-book reader, the ViewSonic VPD400 performs well, though it cut off some of the text on a few of our e-books. You can also hook your VPD400 up to your TV with the included audio-out and RGB composite-out cables. Video on our TV looked okay, but it was obvious that the footage came from a portable media player.
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