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iZak Portable Media Centre (80GB) review: iZak Portable Media Centre (80GB)

If you're a high quality video junkie -- or for some perfectly legal reason have lots of DivX movies -- then the highly portable iZak should appeal.

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Alex Kidman
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Alex Kidman

Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.

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3 min read
Design

Cables are provided with the iZak for USB PC/Mac connectivity, as well as composite and S-Video connection; all of these are custom cables. If you're a chip fetishist, the underside of the iZak is comprised of clear plastic, letting you view the unit's main circuit board. The iZak is meant to ship with a coaxial cable for digital audio output, but our test unit came sans cable, so we were unable to really test the iZak's digital chops. We'll just have to take their word for it.

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iZak Portable Media Centre (80GB)

The Good

Plays back progressive scan, full quality DVD video. Entirely USB powered when connected to a PC/Mac.

The Bad

Expensive. Menu selection a touch tricky for the consumer market.

The Bottom Line

If you're a high quality video junkie -- or for some perfectly legal reason have lots of DivX movies -- then the highly portable iZak should appeal. For the general consumer, however, it's hard to get excited about the iZak, which fares badly against a highly competitive field.

While it shares the i prefix that Apple so dearly loves -- and only a hopeless fool would try to think that it isn't a deliberate naming choice -- the main iZak unit doesn't really share in Apple's strong design ethic, looking instead much like any other external hard drive unit. A single indicator unit on the front facing indicates power status, while the rear of the unit houses the external sockets for audio out, video out and USB connectivity.

The iZak has two different power profiles. Hook it up to a PC or Mac via USB, and it needs no power adaptor at all, taking power directly from the USB socket -- which presumably means it could be a problem if you're using an unpowered USB hub. Connect it up to an external monitor, and it uses a power adaptor (supplied) that hooks up through the same socket as the USB one. Unlike portable media players like the Banksia PMP and Creative Zen Portable Media Center, the iZak doesn't come with an inbuilt screen -- this is purely a player for use with an external TV monitor.

The iZak's remote is large and flat, and while it covers just about every common DVD function, there's no physical difference between the commonly used and infrequently used buttons. They're all just flat circular buttons, and that means the iZak has a pretty steep learning curve when you're first using it. It'd also be a very bad idea to lose the remote, as the iZak itself has no controls on its body whatsoever.

Features
Lacking in a screen for external display, the iZak needs some kind of hook to make it compelling, and the iZak's main hook is its variety of formats on offer. It'll play back ripped DVD files, for a start, although not unsurprisingly it ships sans any ripping software, instead including a note suggesting DVD Decrypter, along with a stern note about copyright issues. It'll even manage progressive scan DVD playback, making it a solid option if you don't want to carry around discs with you; you'd be talking roughly 10 discs within its frame. It's also compatible with files using the DivX codec, and, as it's firmware upgradeable, in theory it can be used with other video formats. As an 80GB USB 2.0 external hard drive, it's also of course a solid enough choice as an external storage medium.

Performance
Initially the iZak seems very user friendly, with a nice clear layout for viewing movies, pictures and audio. Once you delve a little deeper, especially into the movies settings, things get a little murkier. If you convert your ripped DVD into .ISO format, it'll play back seamlessly, but if you simply transfer the DVD folder, you'll find yourself having to negotiate .VOB files, and with no capabilities to access DVD menus or extras. To make things that little bit trickier, the supplied software will write to .VOB files -- but not .ISO ones, leaving it to a simple note in the PDF manual to search Google to find a suitable tool.

We also hit a few aspect ratio problems with the iZak's visual output, something that wasn't helped by the relatively confusing Settings dialogue that relies on three different buttons to change, cancel or alter settings.

The iZak's remote responded well, but we did notice that in dim light -- like, for example, when you're watching a movie -- it can be hard to make out the button text, especially given that all the buttons on the remote are the same shape and size.

There's definitely a market for the iZak amongst the crowd that demands high-quality video output, which you simply don't get from devices like the Nomad Zen or Banksia PMP. Having said that, at its asking price, you could also pick up a small media center-style PC -- or even a Mac Mini -- and achieve much the same results as the iZak itself, which makes it a somewhat harder proposition to enthusiastically endorse.




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