Still lugging a notebook or a portable DVD player for watching movies on the go? The $299 GoVideo PVP4040 PocketCinema Personal serves up movies, music, TV shows, and photos from a device that's a fraction of the size. Indeed, it's among the few personal video players (PVPs) that can fit in a pocket. But while the PVP4040 gets a lot of things right in striving to be the ultimate entertainment center, it also gets a lot of things wrong. For starters, it has no hard drive--just an SD slot and 128MB of internal memory. We wouldn't mind that so much if not for two major annoyances: the PVP4040's relatively high price (you can buy the 20GB for just $100 more) and its incomprehensible lack of a bookmark feature, which effectively means that you have to finish watching your movie or show in one sitting. If you prize portability above all else, however, you may find the PVP4040 a worthy travel companion. Compact, lightweight, and decidedly sexy, the GoVideo PVP4040 earns high marks in the style department. It's mostly screen: a 3.5-inch TFT LCD surrounded by a control-laden silver shell. The device measures 3.7 by 3.1 by 0.7 inches and weighs a mere 5.2 ounces, making it just slightly wider and heavier than a deck of cards. Thus, it fits effortlessly in a pocket, which few other PVPs can claim. To help keep the screen pristine, GoVideo supplies a form-fitting gray case with a magnetic front flap and a belt loop.
The PVP4040 also includes a key-chain stand, which, while not really suitable for attaching the device to your key ring, does serve a very useful function: it plugs into either of two slots at the rear of the device, thereby enabling the player to stand at a 30- or 60-degree angle. That may not sound like a big deal, but you'll quickly come to appreciate not having to hold the player upright through an entire movie.
The GoVideo PVP4040's numerous controls and ports are well placed and clearly marked. Along the left side of the device are the headphone jack and a covered USB port, as well as Hold, NTSC/PAL, and LCD on/off switches, the last of which is great for prolonging battery life while listening to music. On the right side, you'll find the SD slot, a power jack, and an A/V-in port for connecting external audio and video sources. Playback and menu controls span the top of the unit and include everything from volume, record, and repeat buttons to a jog-wheel shuttle/select control. The removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery is accessible via a panel on the bottom of the player.
The combination of smartly designed controls and an attractive, icon-driven interface makes the PVP4040 easy to operate. Within the various play modes (video, JPEG, and MP3), you're presented with lots of neatly organized information about the selected file--including thumbnail previews where applicable. The ease and convenience of a PVP often depends on its support for different file formats. Although GoVideo promises compatibility with ASF, AVI, DivX 5.0, MPEG, WMA, and WMV files, the PVP4040 can't play any of these formats unless you convert them first. The only native formats it accommodates are MPEG-4, MP3, and JPEG.
Before you can install Transcoder, the Windows utility that handles file conversion, you must first download and install 10MB worth of codecs and, if you don't already have them, Windows Media Player 9.0 and DirectX 9.0. GoVideo should have supplied all these items on the software CD rather than requiring you to download them.
Transcoder is a simple tool that uses an Explorer-like interface for finding files that you want to convert and copy to the PVP4040 (which gets its own drive letter when connected--no drivers required). We were pleased to discover that it can convert just about anything, even usually troublesome WMV files.
Although Transcoder makes it easy to drag and drop converted files to the GoVideo PVP4040, you're limited to accessing either internal memory or the SD card, whichever is selected in the player's settings. This anomaly carries over to device operation as well. The PVP4040 can't read internal and external memory at the same time. If you have, say, music stored in RAM and videos on an SD card, you have to venture into settings whenever you want to switch between them. This gets old in a hurry.
The PVP4040 is not just a player; it's a recorder as well. Using the included RCA and stereo cables, you can connect just about any analog device, be it a CD player, a VCR, or a cable box. Videos are stored in MPEG-4 format and can be recorded in Fine, Normal, or Economy mode. With 128MB of internal memory, the PVP4040 can hold 30, 50, or 110 minutes of video, respectively. For audio sources, which produce MP3 files, you have a choice of bit rates (ranging from 64Kbps to 128Kbps) and stereo or mono recording.
While it's great to find recording features in a PVP of this size, they make us long for a hard drive all the more. To record a two-hour movie in Fine mode, you'd need a 512MB SD card--and it would leave you room for little else. At the very least, you'll want to use Normal mode, as Economy mode produces heavily pixelated, almost unwatchable video.
The device handles MP3s well enough, though it doesn't support playlists or random play. It recognizes folders but won't automatically skip from one to the next; it plays only the contents of the selected folder. More annoying is that you can't play songs in any order except alphabetically (or numerically, if your songs are named that way). A shuffle-play mode would help remedy this, but the player has only a repeat option.
GoVideo supplies an excellent instruction manual as both hard copy and as PDF files. The only trouble novices will have is figuring out where to get video content that they can play on the device. And you can forget recording any of your newer movies--the PVP4040 doesn't support protected content. The GoVideo PVP4040 is a decent photo viewer, a passable MP3 player, and an almost-great video player. The problem with video is not the 320x240-pixel screen, which looks grainy when viewed close-up but seems much sharper when you sit back a foot or so. It's also admirably bright and colorful, with contrast and brightness controls you can adjust to your liking.
No, the problem with video is the same one that plagues the: no bookmark or autoresume feature. There's no way to return to where you left off in a video if you stop it midway or turn off the player. Your only option is to fast-forward from the beginning, but the firmware limits you to 2X scanning--way too slow to be useful. This inexplicable shortcoming single-handedly torpedoes the PVP4040's video appeal, even more so than the lack of a hard drive. The bitter irony is that the video looks and sounds great; we'd gladly watch a full-length movie on the device.
Another problem is the time it takes Transcoder to convert video files to MPEG-4 format. We waited nearly two hours for the utility to convert an episode of Smallville, which started as a 110MB WMV file. Thankfully, not all files take this long. A 250MB MPEG finished in roughly half the time.
The PVP4040 powers on almost instantly, though copying files to the device is surprisingly slow, considering that the device uses USB 2.0. At least there's a perk: the player trickle charges when connected via USB, so you don't necessarily have to bring the included AC adapter while traveling. You'll probably want to, though. In our informal tests, the PVP4040 lasted a little less than two hours when playing video and a bit more than four hours playing audio.
In addition to packing the AC adapter, you'll probably want your favorite pair of headphones. The hard-plastic earbuds included with the PVP4040 sound pretty good, but they're incredibly uncomfortable.