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First take: Cowon A3

CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell, shares pictures and his opinion of Cowon's new A3 portable video player.

Photo of Cowon A3 portable video player
Cowon's A3 portable video dynamo. Click for more photos. CNET Networks/Corinne Schulze

After spending the last 24 hours abusing Cowon's latest A3 portable video player, I have to say I'm pretty impressed...mostly. As a high-capacity portable video player, the A3 offers spectacular video resolution (800x480) and supports just about every file format under the sun. Along with its built-in video recording capability and a high-quality video output, the Cowon A3 is an undeniable force to be reckoned with in the PVP marketplace.

It's not all gumdrops and unicorns, however. I was a bit disappointed to see that aside from a dramatic jump in format support and screen resolution, the A3 is almost indistinguishable from the Cowon A2. Last year, we called Cowon out on the A2's frustrating miniature joystick navigation and lack of support for DRM-protected WMV and WMA files, and yet, the new A3 still hasn't addressed these drawbacks. Competitors such as the Archos 605 WiFi and Creative Zen Vision W, might not have the same breadth of format support, but they trump the A3 on navigation and support for video and music download services.

Photo of Cowon A3 joystick.
Using the center select button on the A3's joystick takes nerves of steel. CNET Networks

That said, if I'm being completely candid here, most of the digital video geeks I know rip their content from DVDs or pull it off their computer-based DVR systems. The kind of serious file hoarder who's putting down $399 for a 60GB portable video player isn't buying DRM-wrapped movies from CinemaNow at $15 a pop. Still, it would be nice if Cowon offered the option.

Despite all the wizardry packed into the A3, my gut tells me it's going to be a hard sell for Cowon. Archos is selling their 160GB Wi-Fi-enabled PVP, the 605 WiFi, for the same $399 price as Cowon's 60GB, non-Wi-Fi, A3. Granted, the A3 is technically superior to the Archos in many ways, but the allure of the 605's increased storage, touch-screen interface, and Wi-Fi capabilities, is hard to resist. Could there be a prizefight brewing?

I'll be working on a full review of the A3 soon, but in the meantime, take a closer look at our Cowon A3 photo gallery.