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Apple iPod, Creative Vision:M and other hard drive digital music players - a buyer's guide.

Apple iPod
- Apple iPods directly from Apple. Choose from the 30 GB or 60 GB versions.

Digital Hard Drive Music Players and Multimedia Storage Viewers

Digital music players, also referred to as hard drive players or portable audio players, are mp3 players that use a portable hard drive on which to store files. Hard drive capacities these days can be anything from 10 GB up to 100 GB and more - big enough to store not only your entire music collection, but also photos and videos, if the player you have bought offers these features.

Although iPod is the best known name in the digital music player market, launching the second generation iPods in 2002 which had capacities of 10 and 20 GB respectively, there are now many more manufacturers on the market, including Creatjve (check out the Creative Zen Vision:M), Philips, Sony, iRiver, Toshiba, Epson, Vosonic and others.

Easy iShop
- iPods including 3rd generation, 4th generation, shuffle, nano, photo and video, together with loads of accessories such as speaker docks and systems, cases and skins, the Griffin iTrip FM transmitter and ac chargers.

Advanced MP3
- Hard drive players, both new and reconditioned, by Archos, Creative, iRiver, Sony, Philips, iAudio and others.

apple ipodThe Apple Ipod

The Apple iPod is now in its fifth generation, and these models offer music and video playback, photo slideshows and storage. However, the iPods are currently not compatible with the WMA format (Microsoft's proprietary music file compression system) and not compatible with Windows Media Player. The only movie files the iPod is compatible with have the extensions .m4v, .mp4 and .mov, which is inadequate for PC users needing to play files with different extensions. However, convertors are available - see Videora iPod Video Convertor if you need to convert your videos.

creative zen vision:mThe Creative Zen Vision:M

If you really want to be able to play video in addition to audio files, then the Creative Zen Vision:M is a good option. It plays the compressed video formats DivX and XviD, in addition to being compatible with Windows Media Player. It will store photos, has a voice recorder and even an FM radio. However, it is bulkier and less sexy than the iPod.

Features to compare when choosing a portable audio player

Reviewing every audio player on the market today is beyond the scope of this article. In addition, technology moves on quickly so it would quickly become outdated. So... here is a list of questions to ask about the players you are interested in, so you can make an informed choice.

  • What is the capacity of the hard drive?
  • What music formats will it play?
  • Will it play video, if so, which formats?
  • Will it store photos and play photo slideshows?
  • Does it feature a voice recorder?
  • Does it have an FM radio?
  • Is it compatible with Windows Media Player?

Jargon Explained

The following acronyms, abbreviations and features are used in relation to digital music players:

  • AAC - This is the proprietary music compression format used by the iPod. When you buy a music track from iTunes, it is in the protected AAC format, which means that it is locked and cannot be played on "unauthorised" computers.
  • DivX, XviD - These are formats for compressing video, which provide higher quality playback for a smaller file size. Currently only the Creative Vision:M will play back these formats.
  • H.264 - Proprietary high definition video used by the fifth generation iPods.
  • OGG, MP3, WMA - see the MP3 Players article for an explanation of these music compression formats.
  • Video Playback - Some audio devices will also play video.
  • Voice Recorder - Some audio players have this function, which will allow you to use the player as a dictaphone. In this instance it will have a built in microphone.