The PVP4040 is not just a player; it's a recorder as well. Using the included RCA and stereo cables, you can connect just about any analog device, be it a CD player, a VCR, or a cable box. Videos are stored in MPEG-4 format and can be recorded in Fine, Normal, or Economy mode. With 128MB of internal memory, the PVP4040 can hold 30, 50, or 110 minutes of video, respectively. For audio sources, which produce MP3 files, you have a choice of bit rates (ranging from 64Kbps to 128Kbps) and stereo or mono recording.
While it's great to find recording features in a PVP of this size, they make us long for a hard drive all the more. To record a two-hour movie in Fine mode, you'd need a 512MB SD card--and it would leave you room for little else. At the very least, you'll want to use Normal mode, as Economy mode produces heavily pixelated, almost unwatchable video.
The device handles MP3s well enough, though it doesn't support playlists or random play. It recognizes folders but won't automatically skip from one to the next; it plays only the contents of the selected folder. More annoying is that you can't play songs in any order except alphabetically (or numerically, if your songs are named that way). A shuffle-play mode would help remedy this, but the player has only a repeat option.
GoVideo supplies an excellent instruction manual as both hard copy and as PDF files. The only trouble novices will have is figuring out where to get video content that they can play on the device. And you can forget recording any of your newer movies--the PVP4040 doesn't support protected content. The GoVideo PVP4040 is a decent photo viewer, a passable MP3 player, and an almost-great video player. The problem with video is not the 320x240-pixel screen, which looks grainy when viewed close-up but seems much sharper when you sit back a foot or so. It's also admirably bright and colorful, with contrast and brightness controls you can adjust to your liking.
No, the problem with video is the same one that plagues the: no bookmark or autoresume feature. There's no way to return to where you left off in a video if you stop it midway or turn off the player. Your only option is to fast-forward from the beginning, but the firmware limits you to 2X scanning--way too slow to be useful. This inexplicable shortcoming single-handedly torpedoes the PVP4040's video appeal, even more so than the lack of a hard drive. The bitter irony is that the video looks and sounds great; we'd gladly watch a full-length movie on the device.
Another problem is the time it takes Transcoder to convert video files to MPEG-4 format. We waited nearly two hours for the utility to convert an episode of Smallville, which started as a 110MB WMV file. Thankfully, not all files take this long. A 250MB MPEG finished in roughly half the time.
The PVP4040 powers on almost instantly, though copying files to the device is surprisingly slow, considering that the device uses USB 2.0. At least there's a perk: the player trickle charges when connected via USB, so you don't necessarily have to bring the included AC adapter while traveling. You'll probably want to, though. In our informal tests, the PVP4040 lasted a little less than two hours when playing video and a bit more than four hours playing audio.
In addition to packing the AC adapter, you'll probably want your favorite pair of headphones. The hard-plastic earbuds included with the PVP4040 sound pretty good, but they're incredibly uncomfortable.