capsule review

ViewSonic VPD400 MovieBook HD: Right Price, Wrong Design

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At a Glance
  • ViewSonic VPD400 MovieBook HD

For people who want a portable media player but don't want to break the bank, ViewSonic offers the VPD400 MovieBook HD. At $130 (as of 12/9/09), it is more affordable than the 16GB Zune HD and the 16GB iPod Touch (which cost about $200 and $230, respectively), 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 VPD400 is pretty minimalist. Available in black, white, or pink, the plastic player sports a 4.3-inch 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-adapter 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 VPD400's menu without having to tilt the player to figure out which buttons I was 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 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 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 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 I 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 colors 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 I noted some slight pixelation. I 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 VPD400 performs well, though it cut off some of the text on a few of my e-books. You can also hook your VPD400 up to your TV with the included audio-out and RGB composite-out cables. Video on my TV looked okay, but it was obvious that the footage came from a portable media player.

The ViewSonic VPD400 MovieBook HD has a wallet-friendly price tag, but it omits a lot of features. While not everybody needs Wi-Fi or apps with their portable media player, a touchscreen is absolutely necessary on a device like this. The navigational buttons are frustrating to use, especially if you have a rather large media collection to scroll through. If you can tolerate this setup, the VPD400 is a perfectly capable, affordable player--just don't plan on watching any MOV videos.

This story, "ViewSonic VPD400 MovieBook HD: Right Price, Wrong Design" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • The MovieBook HD is an inexpensive alternative to other portable media players on the market, but on this model ViewSonic has sacrificed design and specs.

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