Mossberg: Portable Media Center devices ‘not ready for prime time yet’

“There’s a tendency in the technology industry to think that, just because a product can be built, it should be built, even if all the necessary pieces to make it a success aren’t in place. Sometimes these premature products eventually become hits. Sometimes they just fail,” Walter S. Mossberg reports for The Wall Street Journal. “It’s too early to know which of those fates awaits the latest premature tech device: the handheld, hard-disk-based video player. But one thing is certain. It’s not ready for prime time yet.”

“The most prominent hand-held video player is the Portable Media Center, a design dreamed up by Microsoft and built, with different hardware designs, by three companies so far — Samsung, Creative Labs and iRiver. Based on my tests, I can’t recommend either player for mainstream, nontechie users. This is not so much because of the design of the players themselves. It’s because there’s so little video content available to play on them, and Microsoft’s software does a poor job of transferring commercial content to the players,” Mossberg reports. “By the time Apple’s iPod music player arrived three years ago, there were tens of millions of songs in the open MP3 format already stored on computer hard disks around the world. Most of these were downloaded from Web sites later ruled illegal, or copied from CDs people already owned. No such situation exists for the digital video that might fill up a Portable Media Center. Illegal downloading of movies and TV shows has been much less popular than illegal music downloads. And unlike CDs, DVDs are copy protected, so far fewer people have copied movies to their computers than copied music.”

Mossberg writes, “If you want a portable video device, you’re better off buying a portable DVD player. They can be bought for half the price or less, come with larger screens, and are able to draw from an almost unlimited selection of content.”

Full article here.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Report: Portable Media Center ‘build it and they will come’ strategy unlikely to be successful – November 12, 2004
Survey says interest in ‘iPod Video’ low; results do not bode well for Microsoft – November 01, 2004
Clunky, chunky Portable Media Center devices are not very useful – September 26, 2004
AP: Using a ‘Portable Media Center only made me want an iPod mini and a new laptop instead’ – September 16, 2004


  1. Wait … does Walt post on these boards because i swear i’ve heard that exact argument made here (over and over again).

    Maybe now people will actually recognize the truth that no free or legal content = no demand for the player.

  2. Walt Mossberg is a rare journalist covering technology in that he “gets it.” He’s a geek but he knows not everyone else is. He knows what is good technically, and from a user point of view.

    He’s written so many good articles, that this just is par for the course for him. He’s like Babe Ruth.. we’d be disappointed in him if he didn’t knock one out of the ballpark.

  3. It used to be that Apple would release a product before its market was ready for it, and would fail, thereby setting up a market for some nimble competitor to find success with a next-generation product. For example, consider the Newton (led the way for Palm), Pippin (way ahead of XBox), and OpenDOC (a sort of precursor to Java applets).

    Well, that seems to have changed over the past few years. Now Apple is more judicious about introducing new products, and sometimes that entails waiting for somebody else to fail with some ill-conceived prototype-quality product, like the early portable music devices and perhaps the Portable Media Center, before introducing an Apple branded product that really nails down the details and Gets It Right.

    I hope the same is true about other devices that Just Aren’t Quite Right, like the cell phone and NetFlix and TiVo and Cable TV and the Internet Phone. I can’t wait to see what Apple does next with markets like these.

  4. Portable Media Center’s are simply going to fail.

    The average user has a hard enough time logging into the internet and MS expects them to be able to locate, download, and transfer a multigig file to one of their stupid devices? Not gonna happen. Ever.

    Movies are only going to get better and better with the New HD DVD format coming out. It is still technology prohibitive to decode the encryption algorithms on current DVD’s by most users. Easy if you are really into it…but who are these things aimed at?

    MS doesn’t get it. Thurrott doesn’t get it. All you really need to do is look at the home market TV to see the general pattern that consumers are buying toward. Big Ass TV’s. Huge Ass TV’s. Huge Home Theatre experiences. No one wants to watch their latest recording of the golden girls on a 4inch screen.

    my 2 cents.


  5. “And unlike CDs, DVDs are copy protected, so far fewer people have copied movies to their computers than copied music.”
    I don’t think, copy protection is an issue. Only recently, I rented a DVD. Turned out, the movie skipped like mad. I was too lazy to drive back to the video rental. So I ripped the “copy protected” DVD to the hard drive using Mac The Ripper, and we hooked up the powerbook to the TV. But afterwards, I deleted the files ASAP because they took up too much hard drive real estate.
    So in my view, the main point is, that a full DVD is over 6 GB of data. Hard to transport over the web, so far. With compression, you loose quality. If you burn it back to DVD, you can’t use it on a hard drive Mediocre Centre. It’s a Catch 22.

  6. As an aside, a friend of my office-mate brought in his new Dell Axim X50v Pocket PC. I’ve got to admit–I was pretty impressed.

    With a 3.7 inch 16-bit 640 x 480 display, I put it on the desk and watched some video on it. It was easily viewable while sitting about 2 feet from my eyes. The device itself is the same weight as a 40GB iPod and it’s about half-an-inch longer and wider. Since it’s a Pocket PC, he also uses it to hold contacts (like an iPod) and get directions with a GPS box via Bluetooth (unlike an iPod).

    Of course, since it’s Windows, he had to reboot it once or twice…

    Still, I gotta admit, it was pretty impressive.

  7. Ben. Not many people want to take those home movies out with them.

    The other difference with music and video is that people listen to a music track 10s, even 100s of times. Only freaks would watch the same move that much (the type who would queue up for a week before the new Star Wars movie and say, “I’ve seen Episode IV 162 times and Emipre 130 times”).

    NOrmal people watch a movie once. And maybe a movei they like a lot two or three times, and their favourite movie 10 times.

    The fundamental thing is that people use music and video completely differently. Mainly because video demands two senses, but audio only one.

  8. Also, for those home movies I want to share, at the moment either I can send a DVD or VCD or I can send a URL to a movie I’ve posted online.

    If I wanted to carry this kind of media around with me, I’d get an iBook.

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