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Cowon O2 Personal Media Player
"Breathe in Joy" is what the Cowon website suggests in its efforts to flog us the company's O2 PMP. Well, joy is probably a bit much, but the O2 definitely deserves a slight intake of mild contentment. It's not the most flashy or spectacular PMP on the block, and - frustratingly - it gets a couple of quite basic things wrong. All the same, it's a solid, affordable and versatile box that does an effective job with a minimum of fuss.
With some PMPs it's all about style. With the Cowon O2 it's all about size. While not as big or bulky a whopper as Cowon's 380g Q5W, the O2 is one of the larger PMPs we've seen recently, and one that sits more in the class of the Archos 5 than its smaller, more instantly desirable sibling, the iAudio S9, or Apple's iPod touch. Measuring 4.7 by 2.9in and weighing in at just over 200g, this isn't the sort of media device you can carry around in your pocket without noticing, but then size has its benefits too. The most obvious is the 4.3in 480 x 272 resolution LCD touchscreen, which makes this an extremely practical device for watching video, but it also means processing power, in the form of a Texas Instruments' DaVinci chipset, and capacity, with the 16 or 32GB of onboard flash RAM expandable to up to 48 or 64GB using SDHC memory cards. All these factors help make it the versatile player that it is.
You see, a lot of players claim to handle all your audio and video content, but when you come to actually use them you'll find that you need to spend a lot of time converting files from format to format beforehand. The O2 isn't perfect, but it's a good deal more flexible than the norm. You can drag and drop AVI, ASF, H.264, MPEG, DivX, Xvid and WMV files, not to mention a host of more exotic types, straight over to the player using nothing more than Windows Explorer and most of them will play. Give most players a file encoded at 720p and they'll throw up their hands in despair. Give the O2 a 720p WMV, DivX or Xvid file and it will struggle to maintain a super smooth frame rate or keep the audio in synch at all times, but it will at least play the file.
Audio file support is just as good, with out of the box playback for FLAC, OGG Vorbis, ASF, Apple Lossless and several others on top of the usual MP3, WMV and AAC formats. The only time we saw the O2 struggle was with one H.264 file and with DRM-protected WMV files downloaded from the BBC's iPlayer. Otherwise it played every decent working video and audio file we could throw at it.