Would you say no to having a dozen new movies you're waiting to see, always at your fingertips? As a promise it ranks along with a mobile phone with an everlasting battery. Yet a dozen new movies at your fingertips is what Sigma, a manufacturer of processors, claims for Digital Cube's i-Station personal media player. Sigma makes the EM8561 media processor on which the device is based.
The i-Station certainly looks good. It comes in a well-designed case with cut-outs and embossed lettering. The TFT LCD is about twice the size of the average screen on the latest clamshell mobile phones. For watching videos, the screen has the ergonomic advantage of being landscape, not portrait. Controls are fairly simple with the option of a joystick and two buttons or a pen on the touch screen interface. We found the touch screen unreliable and reverted to using the joystick. The pen doubles as a stand to prop the device at an angle but this did not work too well either.
Our review sample came with a fairly out of date version of the firmware - Version 1.04 as opposed to the current Version 1.10. We registered the device on Digital Cube's website to upgrade the firmware. This would have given us more options on file formats than DivX or XviD encoded AVIs and regular MPGs. We could only find firmware upgrades from Version 1.08 so we emailed support but have not received a reply from the Korean-based Digital Cube so far (17.02.05). We tried our luck playing .WMV files but given the limited format support, the i-Station did not understand them.
Getting back to the promise of a dozen new movies, and assuming you have overcome any compatibility issues, where is the content for this device going to come from? Personal DVD collections recorded by yourself, is one source but the i-Station does not record directly from the TV. Recording EastEnders in real time onto your PMP to watch on the way to work the next day is out. For anyone used to managing music as compressed audio files, the idea of recording in real time may be too excruciatingly slow to consider anyway.
A library of pre-recorded film DVDs is no use either. Pre-recorded video footage on DVDs that you buy comes with a copyright license that gives you the right to own the DVD but not to copy it. Other factors holding back content for personal media players is the sheer size of video files which are far less manageable than audio files. Thanks to Hollywood and the likes of the Motion Picture Association, there is little chance that PMPs will enjoy the content boost given to MP3 players from huge collections of audio files sitting on millions of computers any time soon.
As well as video, the i-Station supports audio files and JPEG photo files. According to Sigma, this means you can have 1,000 selected songs and 2,000 significant (as opposed to insignificant) photos as well as your dozen new movies on the 20GB device. It also has an FM radio, English/Korean dictionary and digital voice recording in MP3 format. Content on the i-Station can be played back on a TV. This might be useful if you are abroad and do not like the local selection of TV channels. Plug your I-Station in, and watch your dozen new movies instead.
This is a very good-looking device. In fact, we think it is one of the best-looking personal media players we have seen. However it lacks some functions such as recording off TV. We think that content is lagging behind the hardware when it comes to PMPs so it may be wise to wait until downloading movies is as commonplace as downloading music files. By then the price of these gadgets will have come down and there should be less chance of having problems playing different file formats.
This product was kindly loaned to us by www.mp3players.co.uk