(Cristoph Niemann)

The Big Screen Gets Small

What the iPod did for music, the new portable media centers could do for movies. Now all we need to do is convince the suits.


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Back to the Future projected digitally on a 3.8-inch LCD screen? Now that’s ironic. But you can do it with Creative’s Zen Portable Media Center ($500;, a gadget that’s slightly bigger than your all-in-one remote and that smushes your music, movies, and photos into one sleek, handheld package. With built-in speakers and a color LCD screen, the Zen can house more than 40 full-length films or 5,000 songs in its 20GB memory.

But actually watching those films on the Zen—or a similar “portable media center”—is trickier than simply tapping your Netflix queue. It seems Hollywood has taken note of the music industry’s digital-copyright slipups, and so for now at least, you’ll have to choose from a limited selection of video files purchased from an online store like You can also rent a flick from the same outfit, sync up your device to your computer with Windows Media Player or a similar app, and gorge on movies for up to two days—or whenever your rental period expires.

If that rigmarole sounds a little arduous, well, it is. But buck up, dear early adopter: The process will streamline as more big-budget films become available online—which will happen as unresolved rights issues inch closer to agreement. Competition among device makers will help, too. The 20GB Archos Gmini400 ($380; rivals the Zen’s portability factor but skimps on screen size, while the 20GB iRiver PMC-120 ($500; has digi-cred comparable to the Zen’s but with less-intuitive handling. In the meantime, keep an eye on this emerging class of devices. The lawyers at Paramount and the like can’t stall forever.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: Cristoph Niemann