Dream'eo Enza Portable Media Center (20GB) review: Dream'eo Enza Portable Media Center (20GB)

Dream'eo Enza Portable Media Center (20GB)

Rick Broida

Rick Broida

Senior Editor

Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").

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8 min read

The Dream'eo Enza's controls are sparse and simple. To the right of the screen you'll find a green Start button (familiar to users of Media Center PCs), a four-way navigation pad with an OK button in the center, and a Back button. There's also a mono speaker. Volume controls reside on the right side of the unit; the top end is home to a hold switch and power, shuttle, and play/pause buttons. Although we accidentally bumped the shuttle buttons from time to time, we found the overall control placement to be logical and convenient. The same goes for the headphone jack, the A/V-out port, the USB port, and the power connector, all of which can be found on the Enza's left side. At the rear, a sliding panel provides access to the player's removable battery.


Dream'eo Enza Portable Media Center (20GB)

The Good

Smaller than other PMC devices, the Dream'eo Enza has a familiar and attractive interface that's easy to navigate. A removable battery, a wireless remote, the ability to display photo slide shows while music is playing, and fast power-up and operation make the nice-sounding Dream'eo a decent performer.

The Bad

The Dream'eo Enza's screen has noticeable posterization in some videos and photos and occasional dropped frames during video playback. Its downsides include mediocre battery life (especially for audio), no kickstand or carrying case, and support for WMV and ASF video files only. Converted DivX, MPEG-2, and XviD videos don't play properly, and the only video-out option is S-Video, which didn't work for us.

The Bottom Line

As much as we love its slick interface and effortless absorption of content from Media Center PCs, we can't wholeheartedly recommend the underpowered Dream'eo Enza.
Dream'eo's Enza Portable Media Center
Joining the increasingly crowded field of portable video players (PVPs), the Dream'eo Enza offers an enticing hook: seamless integration with Windows Media Center Edition PCs and an interface to match. Admittedly, that trail has already been blazed by players such as the Creative Zen Portable Media Center and the iRiver PMC-120; the Enza employs the same splendid interface as those well-regarded devices. So what sets it apart from the pack? Aside from its smaller size, not much--it has a fairly small hard drive, disappointing battery life, and a fairly steep price ($399) for a 20GB PVP, though other PMC devices cost more. But if you're looking for an easy way to take recorded shows and movies on the road and you enjoy music and photos, the Enza delivers. And it's not just for Media Center users--all you need is Windows Media Player 10. The attractive two-tone Dream'eo Enza measures roughly 4.4 by 3.2 by 0.8 inches and weighs 7.4 ounces. You can slip it into your pocket, but you'll definitely know it's there. The 3.5-inch, 320x240-pixel screen is fairly typical for a PVP, with one exception: Dream'eo says it produces 16.7 million colors. Although the display looks bright and colorful, with an appreciably wide viewing angle, we have to dispute that claim (see the Performance section for details).

By pressing the left or right control-pad buttons during playback, you can cycle through various attractive, cleanly organized information displays--a nice alternative to PVPs that cram everything onto a single screen. Some of the displays are functional, too, such as the one that contains the current playlist, making it simple to jump from one song to another, and the one that lets you choose shuffle, repeat, and equalizer options, the last of which consists of seven presets.

The Dream'eo Enza offers few manually adjustable settings. For instance, you can't change the background or the color scheme of the interface, and you have no control over how long the player should be idle before it shuts down, though you can tweak the backlight's auto-off settings.

One glaringly absent feature is a kickstand. Although the Enza can stand upright, comfortable video viewing requires the unit to rest on an angle. You'll either need to find something to lean it against or hold it--not exactly a happy proposition if you're watching a two-hour movie.

Although Dream'eo doesn't supply a cradle, the Enza ships with a USB cable, an A/V-line-out cable, a pair of earbuds, an AC adapter, and a slim wireless remote--which has a range of only about three feet, so don't plan on using it from across the room when the Enza is connected to your TV. The included documentation is a terse quick-start guide, which barely scratches the surface of copying media from your PC to the Enza and refers to a software CD that's not included. In fact, the player comes with no software at all, which may or may not be problem depending on what kinds of videos you want to watch (more on that in the Features section).

To get an idea for what the Dream'eo Enza is capable of, consider the Media Center functions it duplicates: My TV, My Music, My Pictures, and My Videos. You won't find extras such as an FM tuner or voice recorder, nor even support for copying Outlook contacts (which seems like a natural addition, given the player's heavy Windows integration), but the core features are solid.

Indeed, the real star of the Enza show is the interface, a mobile version of Microsoft's Media Center Edition OS. Like its desktop counterpart, it's fast and easy to navigate. Most users will pick up the Enza and have the entire interface figured out inside of two minutes. You can press the green button at any time to reach the main menu, which consists of the four aforementioned My functions and a settings option. Want to return to what you were doing? Just hit the Back button. It's that simple. And within the submenus for the four functions, use the left and right control-pad buttons to cycle through sorting options: by album, artist, and so on. The X/Y-axis-driven interface has been coined twist navigation by Microsoft, and it's blissfully easy.

The Dream'eo Enza's Microsoft-powered interface is one of its greatest assets.

Also easy is copying content to player, at least if you're starting with a Media Center PC. We connected the Enza to an ABS Ultimate E2; clicked Yes when asked if we wanted to sync media to the device; and proceeded to select music, photos, and recorded shows and movies. From there, all we had to do was wait while the OS converted the files (where necessary) and copied them to the player. That kind of simplicity is rare in a PVP, as is being able to stay on the couch while you queue up content for mobile viewing. However, Media Center isn't a mandatory part of the equation; you can also use Windows Media Player 10 for content selection and conversion. That's pretty simple, too. If you're looking for a PVP that records directly from video sources, the Enza, like other PMC devices, does not have built-in recording. Check out Archos's AV500 and AV700, as well as Cowon's A2 for PVR-like recording.

It also explains why the Dream'eo Enza ships without software. WMP includes the necessary drivers, and it automatically converts to the proper format whatever media you add to the Sync queue. However, bear in mind that the Enza itself supports only ASF and WMV video, so everything else (such as AVI and MPEG files) will have to be converted in WMP. Unfortunately, we had poor luck with the DivX, MPEG-2, and XviD files we tested. Although WMP appeared to perform a conversion on them--often a lengthy one, at that--when playing them back on the Enza, only the audio came through. Unless you have a Media Center PC as a source for video, you may want to consider a PVP that supports more codecs.

On the plus side, the Enza automatically bookmarks whatever video you're watching, so you needn't worry about losing your spot when you turn off the player or switch to another activity. When you return to the video, you'll get a choice of either resuming playback or starting over from the beginning.

As a music player, the Dream'eo Enza isn't nearly so picky about the source material. In addition to MP3s and protected WMAs, it supports Janus DRM, meaning you can pack it with music purchased or downloaded from any number of online services, including Napster To Go, Virgin Digital Red Pass, and Yahoo Music Unlimited. We tested the player with a couple of them, and it passed with flying colors.

As a bonus, after you start playing your tunes, you can switch to a photo slide show--a feature not all PVPs offer. The Enza also lets you whip together an on-device playlist with incredible ease; just select the artist, album, or song you want, then click the "add to portable playlist" option. However, you're limited to creating just one of these at a time, as there's no option to save the portable playlist, though you can easily copy playlists from your PC, of course.

WMP makes it a snap to copy photos to the Enza, where they can be viewed as a slide show, with or without a simple but pleasing fade transition between shots. What you can't do is copy photos to the Enza without a PC, as you can with PVPs such as the Creative Zen Vision (which has a CompactFlash slot) and Archos AV500 (which offers a USB "host" mode for connecting digital cameras directly).

Our bigger gripe is with the Enza's video output capabilities. The included cable provides standard RCA connectors for stereo audio but only an S-Video connector for video. If you want to connect the Enza to a TV that lacks an S-Video input, you're out of luck. Actually, you're out of luck regardless, because in our tests, video output didn't work at all.

The Dream'eo Enza is one of the faster PVPs we've tested, at least in terms of start-up and operation. It takes only about two seconds to power up, and there's almost zero delay in navigating menus, switching modes, and so on. You tap a button and presto: the Enza reacts. Only when you select a song for playback does the player hesitate for a few seconds. As for file transfers, it's above average--though far from stellar--at 4.65MB per second over a USB 2.0 connection.

We found video playback to be relatively smooth, though the Dream'eo Enza repeatedly dropped a few frames at odd intervals. This was a bit distracting, but ultimately, it didn't diminish our viewing enjoyment. Something else did, however: Dream'eo's claim that the Enza can display 16.7 million colors. If it can, then our unit must have been defective. Although the colors themselves were quite vibrant, videos and photos alike exhibited noticeable posterization and color gradations--effects that shouldn't occur on a 16.7 million-color display. And needless to say, the relatively low resolution of the screen made for somewhat grainy video.

Audio, however, sparkled. The tunes we sampled sounded crisp and boisterous, without a hint of hiss or distortion. To our considerable surprise, Dream'eo's bundled earbuds didn't send us scrambling for different headphones, though we did enjoy much better bass response from our beloved Shure E3cs. Ultimately, audio fidelity was a bright spot for the Enza.

Battery life was a disappointment, especially for anyone who's flying cross-country. The Enza managed to play a respectable 4.2 hours of video before running out of gas but only 7.8 hours of audio; you'll want to pack a spare battery, if not two.


Dream'eo Enza Portable Media Center (20GB)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 5
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