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BlueRaven MediaMate review: BlueRaven MediaMate

BlueRaven MediaMate

Donald Bell Senior Editor / How To
Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.
Donald Bell
6 min read
Blue Raven MediaMate 7000


BlueRaven MediaMate

The Good

The Blue Raven MediaMate 7000 is an affordable PVP with a giant screen, built-in speakers, replaceable battery, above-average sound quality, built-in DVR, and support for a wide spectrum of video file formats.

The Bad

MediaMate is one of the bulkiest PVP devices we've seen. Its resolution is grainy, the screen brightness is not adjustable, and the button layout is a little awkward. Files must be added using drag-and-drop transfer, with no support for DRM-protected media.

The Bottom Line

Blue Raven's MediaMate is a Texas-size product with a down-to-earth price. Just remember, bigger isn't always better.

First impressions
The first thing you'll notice about the Blue Raven MediaMate is its size. It's simply gigantic. The portable media player measures 8 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall, and 1 inch deep and sports a screen that measures 7 inches diagonally. Along with its considerable size comes nearly 1.5 pounds of weight. Though the MediaMate stretches well beyond pocket-size, it has all the makings of a decent road trip PMP, with an affordable price tag of $379 (40GB) or $429 (80GB).

As a company, Blue Raven is known mostly for its line of affordable iPod and PSP accessories as well as laptop and iPod battery replacements. The MediaMate 7000 series comprises its first portable video players (PVP) and seems remarkably well-conceived for a first effort. The construction is mostly plastic with an aluminum backing, and it avoids the toy-like feel associated with some budget products. The 7-inch screen is recessed just slightly into the front of the player to prevent scratches, and all the connectivity ports are easy to locate and relatively intuitive. A 29-button IR remote is included in the package as well, featuring all the controls you'd find on the front of the player. Truth be told, we found the controls on the remote more intuitive than the layout of the controls on the device itself. Instead of a single four-direction control like the Creative Zen Vision:W, the MediaMate splits the directional controls between the left and right side of the screen--horizontal control on the left side, vertical control on the right side. While the split is manageable, we would have preferred if the direction controls were directly opposite each other. This is not a big deal, but it can be frustrating the first few times you hit the Enter button when you mean to hit the Up button.

The MediaMate 7000 is one big son of a gun. It's wider than the Archos 704 WiFi. Although the Creative Zen Vision:W is almost half the size, it still beats the MediaMate for screen quality and resolution.

Another design feature worth noting is a bit of a mixed blessing. The metal stands supplied with the MediaMate clip onto both the right and left sides of the player to bolster its considerable bulk. Unfortunately, the plastic slots used by the clips are not reinforced and could easily snap if sufficient force is applied. A badly angled drop off a table would be enough to permanently damage the kickstand feature. Still, the inclusion of sturdy, angled stands is a plus, even if their connections to the player are a little fragile.

The MediaMate 7000 players have most of the features you'd expect from a wide-screen PVP. You get a video player, a video recorder, an MP3 player, a voice recorder, a photo viewer and a text viewer. There's no FM radio, but you'll likely be using a device like this in a car or a plane--situations where you'll already have a radio or where a radio would be useless. The MediaMate also includes a three-in-one flash memory card slot (SD, MMC, MS) that allows you to import the contents of the memory card directly onto the player's hard drive.

The obvious standout feature of the MediaMate 7000 is the 7-inch screen. The screen is a TFT LCD display capable of displaying 16.7 million colors at a resolution of 480x234. We tested it up against the Archos 704 WiFi and Creative Zen Vision:W, and while the Blue Raven was colorful, it couldn't match either player for brightness and resolution quality. We also found the MediaMate's glossy screen to be prone to glare. So while the MediaMate's screen is luxuriously large, it only boasts the resolution of a device half its size. The end result is that the pixels on the MediaMate's screen are visible enough to be distracting, even at arm's length.

MediaMate 7000 series players come with a leather case, an AC adapter, a car charger, an AV cable and coupler, and generic earbuds.

The good news is that unlike the Archos players, the MediaMate includes a built-in DVR by way of a 2.5mm super minijack AV connection. There's a one-touch recording button located on the top of the device that allows you to record any composite video signal directly to a high-quality 720x480, 30fps AVI file (lower resolution settings are available as well). While the MediaMate's screen only displays video at 480x234, the built-in TV output (also a 2.5mm super minijack) displays at 720x480, allowing you to play video through to your television at a much higher quality. You can also schedule DVR recording times, although the feature is about as attractive and intuitive as programming a VCR. Another feature we appreciate is the ability to set bookmarks in video files so that you can take a break from viewing and still resume playing where you left off.

If you're more likely to rip or download your music to your personal computer and use the MediaMate to take it on the go, then file format compatibility is a big concern (unless you enjoy re-encoding your archived videos between formats). The good news is that the MediaMate natively supports MPEG-1/2/4, AVI, DivX, XVI, and WMV formats. Even files freshly ripped from a DVD in VOB format will play on the MediaMate without any file conversion. Because the MediaMate is based around a Windows FAT32-formatted hard drive, you cannot transfer files larger than 2GB to the device--so that uncompressed version of Lord of the Rings may need to get split into multiple files or converted into something more reasonable.

Digging beyond the video features of the MediaMate, the MP3 player and photo viewer were average but useful. The MP3 player supports unprotected MP3, WMA, WAV and OGG formats. Because the MediaMate does not support Microsoft's MTP mode, there's no syncing the device using Windows Media applications or through DRM-protected video or music rental services. Instead, the MediaMate will appear on your computer as an external hard drive, and all music and video files will need to be dragged into their appropriate folders. MediaMate's MP3 player also supports folder organization and basic ID3 tag information. The player's graphic user interface has a cheesy Windows 98 feel to it, but we've seen worse.

The MediaMate puts out strikingly full, warm sound quality with noticeable attention paid to stereo separation. Of course, given its bulk, price, and inability to sync with Windows Media Player, no one will be buying the MediaMate strictly for music playback. More importantly, the MediaMate's above-average sound quality makes for a better movie experience, especially with action-packed blockbusters where hearing the bullets whiz past your ears is a crucial part of the experience.

The MediaMate didn't do quite as well on the rest of our performance benchmarks. Even the highest quality videos appear grainy due to the player's 480x234 resolution being simply too low for its 7-inch size. To be fair, we experienced this same frustration with the Archos AV700. Finally, battery life rated at 4 hours for video and 10 hours for music--somewhat below average, but long enough to get through two movies on a long flight. The included cigarette lighter adapter will go a long way to extend the life of the MediaMate during road trips.

The removable battery holds a rated charge of only 4 hours for video and 10 hours for audio. Extra batteries can be purchased for about $40.

Final thoughts
The MediaMate is not a standout PVP. It has a low screen resolution for its size, lousy viewing angles, and no control over screen brightness. If you're not interested in a DVR--and are just looking for a travel-worthy PVP with a beautiful screen, flexible format support, and good battery life--we feel the Creative Zen Vision:W is a much better device, with an ample screen size in a much more portable form. If a DVR is an important feature for you and you're convinced that bigger is better, then the Blue Raven MediaMate is a perfectly suitable solution if the more full-featured Archos AV700 or 704 WiFi are out of reach. If recording capability is not a big deal and you already own a video iPod, consider products like the Philips DCP850 or the iLuv i1055, which can give your iPod a wide-screen upgrade for a fraction of the price.


BlueRaven MediaMate

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6