Portable digital video recorders are becoming an essential item in any traveling video geek’s arsenal. But Archos and Cowon aren’t the only companies pimping PMPs that help you
pirate time- and place-shift your favorite TV shows and movies. The Blue Raven MediaMate 7000 sports a 7-inch widescreen LCD and up to 80GB of storage, as well as a $429.95 price ($379 for the 40GB model) that will hopefully be lowered before the way sexier Archos 705 WiFi drops in the fall. (Product page)
Blue Raven packs in relatively simple features in a mostly user-friendly package measuring roughly 8 by 4.6 by 1 inch, which is pretty chunky for something that isn’t rocking WiFi or a touchscreen. (For comparison, the Archos 704 WiFi measures 7.2 by 5 by .8 inches.)
The LCD is 480 by 234 pixels, and the pixels aren’t packed very densely, so everything looks as though you’re seeing it through a screen door. It’s bright enough for indoor use but not so much for the sunny outdoors, and the brightness isn’t adjustable. The screen is framed in glossy black plastic, with silver plastic around the sides and a black brushed-aluminum back–not too shabby looking overall.
Two 1-watt speakers are on either side of the player, and the battery compartment is on the bottom. On top, there’s a 3-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC, and Memory Stick), a USB 2.0/OTG port, a pinhole mic, a reset button, and a hold switch. There are also dedicated buttons for live preview, one-touch AV record, and LCD/TV toggle. Along the left side, it’s got a power jack, 2.5-mm AV in and out ports, and a 3.5-mm headphone jack.
The MediaMate comes with a kickstand, which can be plugged into either side of the unit, as well as an AC charger, a car charger, an RCA AV cable, a USB cable, and so-so earbuds. It also comes with a semi-rigid case that doesn’t protect the screen at all, and elastic bands cover up the headphone jack, power button, mic, power LED, and both speakers–just bizarre. It does have straps for attaching to the back of a carseat headrest, which indicates the primary use for this big boy.
The MediaMate’s control layout isn’t conducive to whizzing around the menus, but even Archos has a tough time coming up with a satisfactory button scheme. The icon-based main menu is easy to figure out, but once you delve into the settings and the file browser, you can tell the engineers that wrote the firmware are… well… engineers. (The interface won’t win any speed contests, either.) You’ll have an easier time navigating using the included infrared remote control, which has dedicated buttons for many of the player’s functions.
You load content on the MediaMate drag-and-drop style–it won’t work with Windows Media Player. Oddly, the player shows up on your PC as two 40GB partitions, which you can access separately on the device itself, so if you don’t see your files on one drive, they’re on the other. And the player won’t work with Macs, though you can always use a card reader to load files from a Mac onto a memory card and then copy the files from the card to the player via the memory card slot.
What the MediaMate lacks in polish it makes up for in video file format support–if you overlook the complete lack of DRM compatibility. It can play VOB, ASF, WMV, AVI (DivX, XviD, MPEG-4), MP4, and MPG files. (No H.264 though.) It also does OGG, MP3, and WMA audio files, plus JPEG, BMP, and CRW for photos–a plus for shutterbugs. Recorded videos are in AVI (DivX 5) format with ADPCM sound.
Recording video from analog sources is about as easy as it gets. Just attach the included RCA AV cable to your cable box, TV, or DVD player and press the Record button. There are three quality settings; I wouldn’t recommend the lower-quality settings, but on High, videos look pretty good on a CRT TV (via the AV output jack and cable) or the built-in LCD. HDTVs and computer monitors will reveal a lot of compression artifacts, though.
Unfortunately, the MediaMate has a file size limit on recordings: You can set it to 1GB (about 27 min on High setting) or 2GB (about 54 min). Once it hits the limit, the player automatically closes the file and starts a new one, though you miss a few seconds in between.
Video playback is smooth, and the player automatically goes to the next file after it reaches the end of one, with only a brief load screen in between. Colors aren’t great on the built-in LCD or on recordings, but they’re good enough for while you’re on the go.
Music playback is adequate, though there is some noticeable system noise. Overall sound quality for both movies and music is pretty average with the included earbuds; the built-in speakers are plenty loud enough for indoor or in-car use. Photos look blocky and any diagonal straight lines look very distorted, but faces look okay.
The removable battery takes about 4 hours to fully charge. I got about 4 hours 15 minutes of video playback time per charge, and just over 3 hours of recording time–not impressive, but you can use the AC or car charger while watching or recording.
Now keep in mind that there aren’t a whole heckuva lot of 7-inch PMPs out there in the first place. The best things about this one are the broad video format support, decent accessory bundle (except the case!), and built-in DVR features. It’s definitely cheaper than a laptop, but the tech savvy may want to check out Archos’s excellent 704 WiFi or the upcoming 705 WiFi for the sleeker look, more storage (up to 160GB) and the higher-res touchscreen.