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; us.creative.com), 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 CinemaNow.com. 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; www.archos.com) rivals the Zen’s portability factor but skimps on screen size, while the 20GB iRiver PMC-120 ($500; www.iriveramerica.com) 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.