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Zowowie! – Creative Zen Vision:M

October 7th, 2006

Creative Zen Vision: MLast night, we went to StuffMart and purchased for Angie a Creative Zen Vision:M.  She’s been wanting something that plays MP3s and that she can take with her (her laptop is a bit bulky) and play the songs she loves in the car, or around the town.  One of the requirements was that it can connect to her Rhapsody account, and be able to use their subscription service.  The sexy slick iPods are tied to the iTunes (I know they can play other normal MP3s, &c.) and isn’t compatible with the subscription service that Angie would like to use.  I had heard about the Zen Vision a few months back, and had a crush on it for a while, since it has some pretty cool video features (much more flexible than the iPod with codecs).  So we’ve had our eyes on this one for a while.  We bought an old style cassette tape adapter so she can listen to her music in the car as well. 

After we got home, it needed to charge up (via a USB connection, which is the way things seem to be going nowdays, and also handy as we both have our laptops) and so she left to go scrap/stamp with Natalie. *evil laugh* ITS MINE!!! *cough cough* at least for a few hours…

Time to put it through its paces, so follow the geekitude after the break.

Some of the cool features of this gadget include FM Radio (with an autoscan, and puts in bookmarks for all sorts of channels), the ability to record to the disk, or record from FM Radio to Disk, a photo viewer, and of course the music and videos things.

The form factor is at least twice as thick as Matt’s shiny new iPod, which isn’t much of a problem for me.  The only ones they have at Stuffmart was the blackfaced model.  The back part is white molded plastic, totally about the size of a deck of cards.  The 30GB hard drive works well, even while waving it around.  The navigation uses a vertical touch pad (kinda like a touch pad on a laptop) that scrolls through the lists, as you sweep your thumb up and down.  There are also four buttons, the bottom right, is like a right-click menu, that has context sensitive menu commands.  One programmable shortcut key, a back key, and a play key.  The vertical touch pad is used almost globally to adjust the volume, which is comforable  at  around 50 percent.   The display is nicely lit, and when I went to th adjust display, found out it is preset to 50% brightness, which is still fairly bright.  Also you have six different color themes you can use in the display, so I set up a nice pink one for Angie.  It also comes pre-loaded with a selection of music, and a whole bunch of photos, and videos that show off its beautiful display.

Time to put some of our songs and music on the machine.  It synced very well with Rhapsody, moving some of the songs that were available on the subscription service, checked off that requirement.  Time to test the video capabilities… 🙂

I first tried moving an archived television video (xvid format) from one of my network drives using Angie’s laptop, and it balked that the format wasn’t right.  Hmmm…  The requirement for me is to be able to easily move/copy my archived shows onto the device for easy playback, because you never know when that LOST feeling might hit you, and you have to get you fix.  So lets move to my laptop for more extreme hacking, while I actually install the sof.tware that came with it on Angie’s laptop.

My current OS is Unbuntu Edgy Eft Beta.  And so I installed the Gnomad2 package that is supposed to be able to manage the Creative players.  Opened up the application, plugged in the Vision and … nothing.  :/  Okay, *crack knuckles, time to head to Ubuntu Forums.  As I suspected, I wasn’t the first to have this problem, and a few minutes of searching brought me to this thread. Hmmm.. Update 9/17/06, but mostly for Dapper… It compiles from source, so it shouldn’t be a problem, needs some newer libraries compiled also, so I download the latest source tarballs, and after about 30 minutes of fiddling I get it to recognize the device.

Also during this time, I was googling to see what type of format the Zen Vision favors, so I can make sure my videos are encoded right.  I found a post with a mencoder string that I used to reencode an archived episode of Heroes, and let that run while I was fiddling with Gnomad2.  The only reason I did this was the complaint of invalid formatting for a similar video on Angie’s computer.  So after I got Gnomad2 to recognize the device, I quickly moved over that re-encoded episode, and clicked play.  Success, and nice audio/video sync, but the video was originally in a widescreen aspect, and the new one was flattened vertically, to fit the 4:3 full-screen aspect of the player.  Not wonderful, but not horrible either.  The re-encoding took about 30 minutes for an hour long file, a daunting task at my two year archive of Lost.  The specs of the player suggest that it can decode upto 640×480 resoultion videos and most of my stash is lower than that, lets try moving over one of my shows directly.  Huzzah!  Success, and it plays in the right aspect (with the normal letter-boxing common for wide screen videos, on square displays)

Watching the video on the small screen, wasn’t as bad as I thought.  I have re-encoded video to play on my ROKR-E1 and that screen is too tiny to watch enjoyably.  The 2.5″ screen on the Zen is nice to watch, while holding it on your lap, and really the size isn’t too much smaller that watching my TV from across the room.  The player handled the 624×423 resolution xvid files just fine, I need to try playing from the player to my TV, and see how well it scales the video.  But 10 hours after purhased.  Very pleased with the player, it went through all my hoops with ease.

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