Holiday Buyer's Guide 2005

Creative Zen Vision Multimedia Player

This sharp little unit offers the broadest range of multimedia support of any of the micro players we've seen. In addition to the more usual photos, movies, music, and personal audio recording capabilities you can find in other units, you also get a capable FM tuner (with the ability to record off the air), and a link-up to let you record from your TV or other live video source as well. It's surprisingly solid and well-built, with an attractive matte finish conducive to a good grip.

The Creative Zen Vision weighs in at about 8.4 oz (239 g). Considering that it includes a 30 GB hard drive and a bunch of other electronics, it's an impressively small unit. The case is a tough, durable magnesium alloy, with dimensions of 4.9 x 2.93 x 0.79" (124.3 x 74.4 x 20.1 mm). The display is a 3.7" TFT LC, with a resolution of 640x480 pixels, and 20 bit color depth. Battery life varies according to use, but varies from 13 hours for MP3 audio encoded at 128 kbps to 4.5 hours of continuous video playback using MPEG4 encoding at 500 kbps.

Creative goes the extra mile with this product and includes a high-quality set of earbuds, making the audio experience as good as that of any portable player we've tried. The screen seems a bit prone to brief wash-outs, however, both when showing rapid motion and when transitioning from bright colors to dark ones and vice-versa. It's okay for watching movies or TV, but it's by no means a peak viewing experience.

The company didn't skimp on other cables and goodies, either: a special video cable to permit recording from TV or other video sources is also included, along with a black plush cloth carrying sleeve for the player. And of course, there's also a USB mini Type B to standard USB type A adapter cable (the small end goes in the Zen Vision, the big end into your PC).

As with other USB-attachable media players, it's essential to transfer only files in the formats suitable for playback on the Zen Vision. For video these include AVI, MPEG 1/2/4-SP, WMV, motion-JPEG, DivX 4/5, and XvID; for audio, MP3, WMA, WMA with DRM 9, linear PCM WAV; for photos, it's JPEG only. You can drag files back and forth from your PC to the proper directory using Windows Explorer, or use Creative's Zen Vision Media Explorer application to handle this job. The Creative application has the advantage of refusing to let you move any incompatible formats, and giving you options to create and manage playlists, convert video, synchronize data, and more. The Creative tools also give you the software you'll need to convert video and audio to formats the player can handle.

The user interface is also pretty intuitive and makes the device easy to drive; once you learn your way around the menu system, it's straightforward to get things done. At an MSRP of $400 Santa may wince a little as he forks over the cash for a Zen Vision, but spending a little time and energy on this unit will quickly turn it into a portable media powerhouse for all occasions - including Christmas.

Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a long-time IT writer, researcher and consultant, and occasional contributor to Tom’s Hardware. A Windows Insider MVP since 2018, he likes to cover OS-related driver, troubleshooting, and security topics.