Datexx Pavio PVR30T Portable Digital Theater (30GB) review: Datexx Pavio PVR30T Portable Digital Theater (30GB)

The Good Attractive display; direct line-in video recording; S-Video input; music files sound excellent; slots for CompactFlash and Secure Digital memory cards; can schedule video recordings and record Macrovision-protected DVDs.

The Bad Big and heavy; weak battery life; plays only a handful of video file formats; cradle required to record video and use the remote control; poor audio quality on recorded video; no brightness or contrast settings; limited voice-recording and music-playback functionality; no line-in audio recording.

The Bottom Line The Pavio PVRT30 Portable Digital Theater promises to be your on-the-go TV, but its awkward design, limited functionality, weak battery life, and poor sound quality when playing videos make it a half-baked A/V companion.

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6.0 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Features 8
  • Performance 5

Review summary

Can a company known for scientific calculators and talking clocks bring something new to the portable-video-player (PVP) table? Unfortunately for Datexx, the answer is a resounding no--at least for now. The Datexx Pavio PVRT30 promises to be your on-the-go TV, but its awkward design, limited functionality, weak battery life, and poor sound quality when playing videos make it a half-baked A/V companion. Heart-stoppingly priced at $600, this 30GB PVP needs to go back to the drawing board. The Datexx Pavio PVRT30 is relatively bulky, even by PVP standards. Measuring 5.5 by 3.2 by 1.2 inches and weighing 12 ounces, it is way too hefty for a jeans pocket and would feel as big as a brick in your purse. The Pavio isn't much of a looker, either; it's essentially a big silver block with an LCD, a pair of black dials, and a couple of small speakers with tadpoles swimming around them. If you're looking for a stylish, space-saving PVP, consider a player such as the eye-catching 20GB Archos Gmini400, which is only a tad bigger than the Apple iPod.

While the Pavio's casing won't exactly turn heads, its 3.5-inch screen might draw a few looks. The 480x234-pixel TFT LCD cranks out sharp images, although colors look a bit washed out, and even the darkest areas of the picture appeared gray rather than black (not unusual for an LCD). We would have liked to tweak the brightness and contrast settings on the display, but no dice--the player has no image controls. That said, we could see videos clearly from more than three feet away, and the picture looked good within a 45-degree viewing angle. You can also set the Pavio upright on a table by unfolding the thin plastic kickstand on the back of the player.

The Pavio's menus are crude but effective. From the first screen, you can choose from seven options: My Movie, My Picture, My Music, My Voice, File Manager, TV Mode, and Setup. Using the left-hand, five-way navigational keypad, we were soon browsing through the various options with relative ease. We liked the Windows Explorer-style file browser and the instant previews for video clips and images, but we wish you could use the Forward and Back keys on the joystick to select items or to back out of a menu; instead, you must go with the separate OK and Back buttons.

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The display is bright and sharp, and the menus are crude but effective.

The player's other controls are pretty standard. To the right of the LCD, you'll find the Stop and Play/Pause buttons along with a large (but too stiff) volume dial. The small, tinny speakers flank the screen. Sitting on the left edge of the Pavio are ports for USB, A/V out, and the DC power supply, while the Power/Hold slider and the built-in mic lie on the top edge, right next to a spring-loaded door that hides slots for CompactFlash and Secure Digital memory cards.

But where are the A/V inputs, you ask? You'll find them on the player's handsome but awkward-to-use cradle, which provides a Record button, A/V-in and A/V-out ports (which use minijack-to-RCA A/V cables), and S-Video and RF inputs. While we like the high-quality S-Video input, we don't know why there couldn't be a minijack A/V input on the player itself; as it stands, you'll have to cart around the cradle if you plan on doing any on-the-go recording.

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You're going to need this cradle if you want to record to the Pavio.

Also included in the package is a wafer-thin remote control that features a numeric keypad, a five-way navigational keypad, and volume and playback controls. It's a nice remote, but it has a major drawback: the player must be plugged into its cradle for the remote to work. D'oh!

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The wireless remote is thin and effective, but it works only when the Pavio is docked in its cradle.
Setting up the Datexx Pavio PVRT30 is a piece of cake. Transferring video, music, and photos is a simple matter of attaching the player to your PC's USB port; the Pavio's hard drive and memory cards (if inserted) appear as removable drives in Windows Explorer. The install CD includes drivers for the Pavio, but we didn't need them on our Windows XP machine.

Transferring videos to the Pavio is one thing; playing them is slightly more complicated. The PVRT30 played only our DivX-encoded AVI files; our raw MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and WMV 9.0 files didn't work, and Pavio's documentation didn't help much, noting only that "some AVI video files do not play" on the device. Luckily, converting video files to the right format is a relatively easy--if lengthy--process, thanks to a utility included on the install CD. Dr. DivX takes AVI, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 video (but not QuickTime or WMV 9.0 clips, unfortunately) and processes them into DivX AVI files; you can even crop the frame, convert 4:3 video to 16:9 anamorphic format, and tweak a series of arcane video settings. Converting your files, however, is a time-consuming process; Dr. DivX took almost an hour to turn a 34-minute VGA video clip into a DivX-encoded AVI at the highest quality setting. Bumping the quality down a notch from 640x480 to 352x256 speeds things up; our test file took only 35 minutes to encode at this setting, but you'll see a noticeable drop in video quality.

If you want to record video and have the Pavio's bulky cradle handy, you can choose from a few options. First, you can record directly from your TV, using either the RF connection from your cable/satellite box or an RF-equipped over-the-air antenna. The Pavio will search for available channels; once they're locked in, you can hit the Rec button on the base of the cradle or use the VCR-like programming screen to set the device to record a future program. You can also record using the cradle's minijack A/V inputs or a combination of the S-Video input (a rarity for a PVP) and the minijack audio inputs. The Pavio recorded our copy-protected DVDs without a hitch, making the device perfect for film fanatics who want their DVD collections in the palms of their hands, although the MPAA won't be too happy if you trade those recordings over P2P networks. You can also choose one of three quality settings: QVGA (320x240 pixels), VGA, or fine VGA (the last two both 640x480 pixels).

While we like the Pavio's recording options, we were less than thrilled by the device's playback features. You can fast-forward or reverse at 2X to 8X speed during playback (pretty slow if you're watching a long movie), pause the video, or skip to the next video on the hard drive, but there's no bookmarking, commercial skipping, or autoresume. On the plus side, using the Pavio's minijack-to-RCA connector, you can play videos on a TV monitor (either NTSC or PAL) with A/V inputs.

Playing music files--MP3 and WAV only; AAC, OGG, and WMA files aren't supported--on the Pavio is disappointingly primitive. The player's display shows only the song title, artist, and album information (although long titles won't scroll across the screen), the total time, and the time elapsed. With a display this large, we'd expect much more detail, such as bit rate, file format, time remaining, graphic sound levels, and even a thumbnail of the album cover. There's a shuffle mode and single-song/all-songs repeat modes but no song bookmarks, autoresume, or support for M3U playlists. You can tweak the treble and bass controls but only by three steps in either direction--a far cry from the five-band equalizers you'll find in basic portable music players.

Voice recording on the Pavio is surprisingly limited. Using the built-in mic that sits right next to the power slider, the Pavio records only to 128Kbps, mono WAV files; a two-minute recording took about 1MB of disk space. You can't change the recording quality, and there's no line-in voice or audio recording. If you want to record directly to MP3, reduce the recording quality for a long interview, or boost it to high-quality stereo for live music or line-in recording from another audio source, you're out of luck.

Rounding out the Pavio's features is its ability to store and display photos in JPEG format, either one by one or in a slide show. And while there's nothing in the Pavio's documentation about using the device as a data wallet, we had no trouble transferring data files to and from the player. The battery life of the Datexx Pavio PVRT30 was very disappointing. In CNET Labs' tests, the player managed a mere 4.3 hours of video. Compare that weak number to Creative's Zen Portable Media Center and its nearly 8 hours of battery life. The Pavio fared slightly better with music, at about 7.1 hours; still, we're used to about 10 hours of music from a hard drive-based MP3 player. Transfer times fared better; files transferred over USB 2.0 at a speedy 2.7MB per second.

The Pavio's playback performance depends on the quality of the file and the type of compression; all things being equal, we were generally pleased with the smooth motion and the detailed images. Recording quality, however, was poor at the 320x240-pixel QVGA setting. The image was fuzzy, even on the 3.5-inch display, and it was marred by rapid, wavy interference. The picture settled down at the VGA and VGA Fine settings, but we still noticed some jittering and interlacing artifacts, especially during horizontal camera pans. After waiting--and waiting--for the Dr. DivX utility to clean up the interlacing problems, however, our videos looked great.

Though videos washed with Dr. DivX looked clean and smooth, the audio sounded weak and scratchy. Even worse, the soundtracks were mono rather than stereo. On the other hand, music files sounded excellent and very loud, although we'd recommend swapping out the cheap earbuds that come with the Pavio for a better pair.