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Cowon V5 supports HDMI, DivX, and WTF?

CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell offers his personal take on the Cowon V5 portable video player.

Photo of Cowon V5 playing Star Wars.
Sure, the Cowon V5 can output our DivX torrent of "Star Wars" over HDMI, but the touch-screen user interface is a cluttered, emasculating, eye-straining, deliberately confusing facepalm. Donald Bell/CNET

The Cowon V5 is a portable video player with flexible audio and video format support, HD video output capabilities, and a pocket-size design that's roughly the same dimensions as an iPod Classic. Unfortunately, those are about the only good things we have to say about it.

Overpriced at $299 (16GB) and $369 (32GB), the Cowon V5 plays out like a case study in how not to design a touch-screen user interface. 

Some design elements are just goofy and harmless, such as the progress bar used on audio and video playback that features a lovelorn man running toward a woman. It makes no sense and arguably has no business mucking up my playback experience with sentimental cartoon antics, but it's not functionally problematic.

Things start falling apart on the main menu screen, which is composed of 27 animated icons--5 of which actually do anything. Maybe Cowon is trying to be cute with its useless animated icons of egg-laying chickens and lightening clouds, but mostly it feels like a bait-and-switch. I don't know what app I expected an animated popsicle icon to launch, but I figured it would at least do something.

After drilling down into the music playback screen, you're presented with a baby-blue-hued menu screen that tries to break your eyeballs and your patience simultaneously. The font Cowon uses is absurdly minuscule. A total of 21 pinhead-size buttons laid out on the screen, scattered everywhere. Most of the onscreen buttons require a double-tap to engage, which is no easy feat on the V5's sluggish, resistive touch screen. Music files are sorted strictly by folder view (no ID3 sort), and although we're happy to have FLAC support, the lack of AAC compatibility is a huge sore point.

Video playback is similarly plagued by tiny fonts, finger-mashing resistive screen double-tapping--much of which is carried over from Cowon's behemoth Q5W player. I was happy to see how quickly the V5 was able to serve up everything from questionably procured 720p XviD movies, to H.264 video podcasts. Viewing angles on the V5's 4.8-inch TFT are decent in most directions, but horrible when tilted slightly downward--completely inverting the contrast. Luckily, the V5 can spit out HD video over an HDMI video output...sorta. 

For some unfathomable reason, Cowon went with a restroom icon romantic theme with the V5's packaging and user interface. Donald Bell/CNET

The truth is, the Cowon V5 doesn't have an HDMI output. Instead, Cowon stuck a proprietary connector on the side of the V5 that--depending on which adapter cable you connect--works as an HDMI out, component video out, or the sole USB connection. If you lose any one of these three cables, you'll also lose the ability to connect the V5 to anything worthwhile. Also included with the V5 is a wall-charging block, which is pretty much a necessary attachment for recharging or if you want to have the V5 play a full-length HD movie over HDMI without dying halfway through. Recharge time with the wall adapter is approximately 3.5 hours.

What else can you do with the Cowon V5? Well, I could go into the Windows CE 6 desktop view, which is completely useless without a stylus--or maybe you'd like to hear more on the built-in calculator, voice recorder, or Flash game player? More important, though, is what's missing. Specifically, I'm more than a little bummed about the absence of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or just about any other feature that could justify the V5's high price and annoying design. Then again, just imagining the kind of crippled Windows Explorer mobile browser that Cowon could have shoehorned onto here is enough to make my head explode.

Bottom line: the Cowon V5 is just an all-around disappointment. If you really need a PVP with HDMI out and HD video support, go grab an Archos 5 or pick up a Zune HD and wait for XviD support later this year.