For a start it has a dedicated Windows key – that’s got to be fairly reassuring for people who have only ever used a Microsoft product. Pressing this friendly green button brings up the same menu as on a Media Center PC – with options for My TV, My Music, My Pictures and My Videos and Settings. You move between the options using a four-way rocker switch with a selection button in the middle, while a back button enables you to move up one level. On the right there are controls for play/pause, fast forward, rewind, and volume. One pleasing touch was that the interface enables you to resume a video file from where you left off, even if you’ve played numerous other files before returning to it.
At the top of the device is a standard 3.5mm jack for headphones. Every iRiver audio device we’ve tested has always sounded great and things were no different here with a pleasingly clean and full sound. Of course this was only with a decent pair of headphones, rather than the cheap ones included in the box. There’s also a built-in speaker, but this is fairly quiet, and you’d be unlikely to be able to hear anything over the speaker when sitting in a noisy environment such as on a plane.
But what about actually getting content onto the PMC. A USB 2.0 port sits at the side which makes for speedy copying. Unfortunately there’s more to it than that. Almost everything has to go through Windows Media Player 10. MP3 is supported but it first has to be converted to WMA. While it’s fairly inevitable that non-Microsoft video formats will have to be transcoded, I naively expected content recorded from a Media Center PC to be able to transfer over directly. Not so. Native Media Center content has to be converted too. There is some benefit to doing this at least, as it significantly downsizes it, making the most of the player’s storage capacity. For example, one 250MB file was shrunk down to a mere 44MB. How long this conversion process takes depends on the configuration of your PC. At first I tried the conversion on a Tranquil Media Center PC. This is powered by a 1GHz Via chip and it simply wasn’t up to the job, crashing out before the process completed. Instead, I copied over the content to my main work PC running standard Windows XP Service Pack 2. Not only did it play perfectly using Media Player 10, but it only took two minutes 35 seconds to transcode and copy over a 126MB file. My work PC is fairly run-of-the-mill by current standards – an Athlon XP 2600+ with 1GB of RAM, so those with more powerful hardware should enjoy quicker conversions. This is important as long programmes could run to several gigs, so you’re still looking at a lot of waiting time. Clearly however, the concept of being able to record your shows and then easily copy them onto your portable device goes straight out of the window.
When you plug the device into your PC via USB it appears as a drive letter, with one folder called Media and another called Data. You can copy anything you like into the Data folder, enabling you to use the PMC as a portable hard disk. However, if you try and drag a music or video file into the Media folder it asks you to use Windows Media Player instead. You can import images directly into the media folder but you’d do well to reduce the size of the images first. It was able to display high resolution images of around 1.2MB each, but it took several seconds to display each one.