A slew of portable media players are now available, but the $599 Ovideon Aviah is the first I've seen to use an organic light emitting diode (OLED) screen. Unfortunately, on the late preproduction Aviah handheld audio-video recorder and player I tested, the OLED screen was the most distinguishing feature, by far.
OLED display technology promises better colors and smoother video than conventional LED screens. And it delivers: Videos in MPEG-4 format showed brilliant colors and appeared clear and sharp on the 2.2-inch, 521-by-218-pixel screen, with natural-looking colors and great dynamic range.
The screen also looked great in most lighting, with the exception of direct sunlight, where it was a little too pale to view comfortably (presumably because OLED screens use their own generated light instead of reflecting ambient light, as other types of LED display technologies do). The viewing angle is also much wider than on conventional LCD displays: I could see the image from most any vantage point.
My only complaint about the screen is that it's a tad small compared with the 3.5-inch and bigger screens we've seen on other players such as the IRiver PMC-120; watching for extended intervals made my eyes sore. Another note: My test unit got a little warm, especially after recording video for 10 minutes or so. It's not uncomfortably hot, but it could give you a slight case of sweaty hands.
Recording TV On the Go
Due to ship in early April, the Aviah weighs in at just over 5 ounces, is less than an inch thick, and fits easily into a pocket. On the front of the case are buttons for volume and channel control, plus a jog dial for navigating through the files stored on the integrated 5GB hard drive, as well as for playing back content.
This is the only portable media player we've seen with a built-in TV tuner--useful when you run out of prerecorded Simpsons episodes to watch in a really long meeting. The unit lets you record video three ways: With the included antenna you can pick up over-the-air TV channels; an included cable lets you connect to an analog cable TV socket; or you record from an external composite-video source.
The player handles a range of video formats, including MPEG-2, ASF, WMV, DiVx, and MPEG-4 video files at resolutions up to 720 by 480 pixels (the player automatically resizes them to fill the screen). And with the heavy compression that DiVx and MPEG-4 use, you can fit several hours' worth of video onto the Aviah's 5GB drive. The unit itself records in MPEG-4; software to transcode video files into DiVx format (called TransC) will be included with the production version but was not available for testing.
Another nice touch: The player comes with a second battery, and swapping it out is easy. In our informal battery tests, we got less than 2 hours of video playback per battery--not enough for a long flight, but sufficient for a long commute. However, when I was watching and recording live TV, battery life dropped to just under an hour.
Inelegant Audio Player
The Aviah has several limitations as a digital audio player. It can play back MP3 and WMA audio files, but it doesn't support AAC or WMA files with embedded DRM--a drag if you want to purchase tracks from online music services such as ITunes and Napster.
The unit does support Windows Media Player playlists, and these can include both video and audio files. However, there's no support for the other common playlist formats (created by ITunes or Winamp). You can create playlists on the player itself by using the CH + and - buttons, but it's awkward at best.
Skipping tracks is similarly ungainly. Most players will skip straight to the next track if you hit the fast-forward button, but the Aviah fast-forwards through the current track before it gets to the next--a real pain if the song is long. You can skip to the next track by going back to the list of files and selecting it from the list, but that's much less convenient.
Switching from video to audio playback can also be confusing. Audio and video files are stored in separate folders, but the player doesn't automatically move from the audio to the video folder, so you must navigate there yourself.
Less Than Perfect Price
The $599 Aviah, which uses a proprietary operating system, is more expensive than other portable media players with similar-size screens. For example, the Archos Gimini 400, which also uses its own OS, sells for about $350. IRiver's PMC 120 uses Microsoft's Portable Media Center OS, has a larger, 3.5-inch display, and sells for $450. The IRiver's bigger screen makes it easier to watch long videos, and the Archos unit is physically smaller. Both systems make it easier to select and sort files, and both have 20GB hard drives--dramatically larger than the Avia's 5GB one.
The OLED screen on the Aviah is terrific, and this feature alone makes it easy to recommend as a video player. But you aren't likely to want to use this purely for video, and as a more general media player, the Aviah has too many quirks to be the all-in-one device it tries to be.
Ovideon Aviah Portable Media Player
(Preproduction version, not rated)
This small portable media player has a great screen, but the unit is expensive and awkward to use as an audio player.
This story, "First Look: Ovideon's So-So Media Player" was originally published by PCWorld.