Apple iPod + Sony PSP = Viliv P1?
Nothing makes tech writers sadder than getting their hands on a great-looking, eagerly anticipated gadget and discovering that it just isn't very good. The Viliv P1 looks good on paper, with its ability to handle audio, video, photos, and text, along with its raft of helpful features, such as recording from analog sources or displaying video on a television (with included cables). The Viliv even looks good in person, with its shiny red or silver exterior, as well as a shape that suggests a streamlined . But use the Viliv P1 for 5 minutes, and you'll discover why it's such a disappointment. The button layout and the interface design are awful, so using the Viliv is a chore. The device has all the features down--although it can't handle the range of file types that we'd like--but using it is simply no fun at all. On the plus side, Episodic Media (Yukyung Technologies' U.S. distributor) just lowered the price on the 30GB version from $499 to $399, matching the price tag of the similarly featured Creative Zen Vision. With its 4-inch-diagonal QVGA screen and metallic-silver and red color choices, the Viliv P1 is sure to get attention wherever it goes. We got our hands on the red model, which looks as sleek and sexy as a sports car. With its round control pad, it looks like a stretched-out iPod lying sideways. It measures 6.3 by 2.9 by 0.7 inches and weighs 8.8 ounces.
There are two ways to use the Viliv P1's control pad: You can either scroll your finger along it in a circle to highlight items onscreen or use the directional arrows. We found clicking the arrows was easier, since the touch wheel isn't that sensitive. We often found ourselves unable to stop exactly where we wanted when using the wheel. To select an item, click the center button. This is also the on/off button or the play/pause button when playing audio or video.
The buttons along the top of the Viliv P1 are unlabeled, so you may need to dig out the manual to figure out what they do. The green one on the left is called the Fire key, and it lets you turn off the LCD (to save battery life when playing music) or mute the sound. The red button on the right is the record button; you can click and hold it to call up the voice-note recorder.
The right side of the Viliv P1 holds a CompactFlash card slot so that photographers can offload pictures while shooting and free up room on their camera. Built-in software makes the transfer simple. The left side features a hold switch and a standard mini-USB slot, which is protected by a difficult-to-remove cover. Unfortunately, the USB port allows only file transfers; you have to connect a second cable to the proprietary port on the bottom of the device in order to charge it.
To use the Viliv P1, hold the center button until it starts up, then select what you want to do from its colorful icon-driven menu. While this menu is straightforward and simple enough to navigate, the controls for playing media are especially poor. Play a song, and you'll get an attractively designed playback screen that wastes a lot of screen real estate. A huge color equalizer on the right takes up most of the screen, while the song and artist information scrolls in small type in the upper-left corner. Nowhere on the screen do you see playback controls. To get them, you need to press the right-hand arrow. You'll then get a menu of small icons on the right side that don't even fit on the screen; you'll need to scroll through them.
You also can't use the Viliv P1's control pad to easily change the volume or scrub through a song, as you can with an iPod. Here, to scrub through a song, you need to click the right-hand arrow to call up the menu, click down until you find the icon called Position Change, select it, then use the arrow keys to move a playback marker through the song. And you can't hear where you are in the song simply by stopping, as you can with an iPod. Instead, you need to click the center wheel to select that location in the song. If you didn't get the exact spot you wanted, which is likely, you'll have to call up the Position Change menu again and start over. That's just one example of why the interface is so cumbersome and why using the Viliv is a chore. Plus, there's no way to play all the songs straight through or shuffled; you need to play them by artist or create a playlist.
On the plus side, the Viliv P1 comes with just about every accessory that you could want for such a device. In the package, you get a cradle, a wireless remote, a hard, clear plastic case, a wrist strap, a line-in cable, an S-Video cable, an A/V-out cable, an in-line remote, earbuds, a USB cable, and a power cable.
The Viliv P1 has all the features you could ask for in a portable media player; it's only the implementation that needs work. The player doesn't come with any software, so adding media (on a Windows 98 SE/Me/2000/XP system) is strictly drag and drop. As such, media is arranged in folder trees on the device; there's no way to view by artist, album, or genre. It comes with a USB 2.0 cable for fast transfers.
The audio player can handle MPEG-1 L2, MPEG-2, MP3, WMA, OGG, AC3, and AAC files, although it doesn't support DRM-protected songs, such as those from the iTunes Music Store or the various Windows Media-based stores. As mentioned in the Design section, the audio player is extremely basic in functionality and doesn't give many options for how you can play your music.
Considering the Viliv P1's 4-inch screen, the video player should be the real star here. After all, the screen is beautifully large and vivid. But the player can handle only DivX, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and Shockwave Flash video, and that's if the file is formatted correctly; unfortunately, the manual doesn't state the required video specifications. It does say that AVI and WMV files can play with transcoding, but the package doesn't come with transcoding software. It can't play DRM-protected video files either, such as those you'd buy or rent online. A Janus-compliant Portable Media Center (PMC) is a much stronger choice, since it lets you rent movies online and load them for portable viewing. Notably missing from the Viliv is a way to record video directly to the device, a feature common on many similarly priced PVPs, such as the Archos AV500 or the Cowon A2. You can record audio via the built-in microphone or line input as 128Kbps MP3 files.