microsoft's Portable Media Center launches in Britain

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microsoft has finally confirmed the launch of a range of portable media devices in the UK based on its Portable Media Center operating system. Seen by many as microsoft’s response to Apple’s iPod, the OS will enable users to watch video as well as listen to music on one device. We reported on microsoft’s intent back in March, but the details have only been confirmed today. The company also announced the new Windows Media Player 10.

First out is the Creative Zen Portable Media Centre, already available in the US and due out here in a couple of weeks. The player, which should cost around £369.99, comes with 20GB of memory, a rechargeable battery capable of supplying up to seven hours of continuous video playback (or 20 hours of music playback), and a 3.8-inch TFT LCD screen.

The hard drive should provide space for up to 80 hours of video, 5000 songs and tens of thousands of photos. The user interface takes a while to get used to. microsoft has designed it to be more intuitive so that you can access the same functions in a number of different ways; actually quite confusing until you get used to it.

The Zen player itself is quite a nice device, but we did have a couple of quibbles. You can’t actually record onto it straight from the TV, it only works via a PC. So if you don’t have a TV tuner on your PC your video will be limited to downloads. However, as it only works with Windows Media not DivX, there will be precious few downloads to view until CinemaNow and rival download sites launch in the Uk later this year. Unlike rival products it also won’t record DVDs, so you won’t be able to watch your films by recording them onto it. Music files will also have to be transferred over from a computer.

Other players will be emerging shortly that will add this functionality, but in the meantime the Zen offers a very respectable battery life in a decent shell.

Media Player 10 sports a new design that should make it easier for users to negotiate. A Built-in “Digital Media Mall” means you can access online downloads stores directly from the player. Auto Sync will automatically add any new music, video or pictures to a portable device when you plug it in, while the Smart Jukebox makes it far easier to create and record playlists. The player should arrive in the UK in the next few weeks.

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