Creative and iRiver were first to market with a Portable Media Center (PMC), but Samsung took the time to get the design right. The $500 Samsung YH-999 is the only PMC that is nearly as portable as a hard drive-based MP3 player or other single-purpose mobile device, yet it seamlessly handles not only music but also video and photos. The only serious drawback to the YEPP YH-999 is that to shed some bulk, Samsung sacrificed battery life. Portable video players (PVPs) remain an emerging category that appeals primarily to gadget lovers, but Microsoft's PMC software delivers the best mainstream user experience--especially if you also have a Windows Media Center PC--and no other PMC makes it as portable as the Samsung YEPP YH-999. The sleek, silver Samsung YEPP YH-999 PMC stands out from the crowd for two reasons.
First, the basic design is different from that of most portable video players, including theand the . These devices use a horizontal, Game Boy-like design with the screen at the center and navigation and selection buttons on either side. The YEPP YH-999, by contrast, looks like one of those miniature handheld TVs with the screen at the top and the controls and speaker below it. Overall, it seems more like a typical consumer electronics device than a computer peripheral.
Second, the YEPP YH-999 is significantly smaller and lighter than the other two PMCs. At 3.8 by 4.2 by 0.8 inches, the YEPP YH-999 occupies a little more than half the volume of the bulky Creative Zen and iRiver PMP-120 PMCs. The YEPP YH-999 weighs 7.8 ounces vs. 11.3 ounces and 9.9 ounces, respectively, for the Creative and iRiver versions. The YEPP YH-999 is still bigger and heavier than even large hard drive-based MP3 players, but it fits into a jacket pocket and is the only PMC that we would be willing to carry all the time.
The YEPP YH-999 and the iRiver PMP-120 have identical screen specs: 3.5 inches (diagonal) and 320x240-pixel resolution. At 3.8 inches, the Creative Zen PMC has a slightly larger display but the same resolution. Below the screen are the external speaker and most of the controls, including power, play/pause, skip/search, a five-way navigation pad, a Back button, and of course, the signature green Windows Media Center button that returns you to the "desktop." The volume and hold buttons are on the side, as well as the connectors for charging the battery, synchronizing with a PC via USB 2.0, and hooking up the included remote and headphones or, with the A/V-out cable (also included), an external device such as a stereo or a TV.
One of the design oddities of the Creative Zen and iRiver PMP-120 PMCs is that the five-way navigation pad, which you use continually to move about and make selections, is located on the left side of the device. That's fine if you're left-handed, but for the rest of us, the arrangement is not intuitive, and at first, we found ourselves hitting the wrong buttons--a complaint that has also popped up in user reviews. The YEPP YH-999 eliminates this problem by putting the five-way below the screen and to the right in a much more natural position--at least for righties.
Overall, the hardware design is compact, attractive, and highly functional, but Samsung hits a few sour notes. The buttons are tiny and a little tough to control, especially the five-way navigation pad; none of the keys are backlit (the power switch has a charge indicator); and the YEPP YH-999 lacks the handy programmable presets on the Creative Zen PMC that let you jump directly to a favorite video or song. The YEPP YH-999 comes with a nice, thick leather case with a detachable belt clip, but you must remove the device from the case to connect the power and sync cables. Instead, we wound up using the sturdy, spring-loaded kickstand--a key feature not found on all portable video players--to prop it up while the cables were connected. Unlike the Creative Zen PMC, the YH-999 does not have a removable battery, a fact made more dire when you consider its disappointing battery life (see more inAll PMCs share the same basic specs, including a 400MHz Intel XScale chip, 64MB of RAM, 2MB of ROM, a USB 2.0 interface for synchronization, and a screen with a resolution of 320x240 pixels. The size of the hard drive may vary, but right now all models, including the Samsung YEPP YH-999, have a 20GB drive. In an age of 40GB and even 60GB MP3 players, that's already starting to look a little small, especially for a device also intended to store video and photos. Nevertheless, it should be enough to hold 25 movies, 2,000 songs, and countless photos--once they've been reformatted for a PMC. ).
Given that PMCs are based on Microsoft technology, it's not surprising that the devices work best with the company's PC software and audio and video formats. Like all PMCs, the YEPP YH-999 is designed to work hand in hand with Windows Media Player 10.0 and optionally with Windows Media Center desktops and notebooks. The YEPP YH-999 plays WMV 7.0, 8.0, and 9.0 files at 320x240 pixels, 30 frames per second, and with a constant bit rate of up to 800Kbps. Similarly, all PMC devices can play back WMA (including protected WMA, lossless WMA, and WMA voice) and MP3, as well as JPEG images.
There are many other popular formats that PMCs such as the YEPP YH-999 can't play natively: AVI, DivX, DVR-MS (Microsoft's recorded TV), MPEG, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, TIFF, and WAV. This has earned PMCs some scorn from enthusiasts who prefer non-Microsoft PVPs from the likes of Archos and that tend to support a wider array of audio and video formats.
But this misses the point. Windows Media Player 10.0 has the smarts to transcode most of these formats into the specifics required for PMCs or other compatible devices, such as a Windows Mobile smart phone. The original files remain untouched, and in most cases, you won't even know it's happening. AutoSync then automatically synchronizes them with your YEPP YH-999. You can also pick and choose the files and playlists that you want to synchronize, if you prefer. In fact, while Samsung includes an installation disc, you don't even need it--the YEPP YH-999 is plug-and-play. The result is an iPod-like user experience that other PVPs can't even come close to matching.
If you also own a Windows Media Center desktop or notebook, the recorded TV content gets treated exactly the same way. The DVR-MS files are automatically transcoded and transferred to the YEPP YH-999. Even without a Media Center PC, you can record TV and transfer it to the device using a TV-tuner card and third-party software. PMCs are not true portable TiVos; they can't directly record TV, video, or audio the way some PVPs can, but the result is the same. You can also connect your PMC to a TV, but the reformatted video files that appear just fine on the device itself don't look so great on the big screen.