Review: MPM-201 MPEG4 Personal Video Recorder

This is the era of multimedia we are living in. PMPs and PVRs are part of most consumer’s everyday lives, be it as a capable phone, an iPod or as a portable video device. sent in the 30 GB version of the MPM-20x to check it out and review it (a 60 GB version is also available).size comparison The MPM-20x series is manufactured by NHJapan. The MPM-201 is exactly the same as the MPM-202 model, except that it includes a 30 GB laptop hard drive instead of a 60 GB one. On the box you will find a TV-cradle, a remote control for it, USB and A/V cables, a well-written manual, a power-supply, earphones, a carrying pouch for the device (with additional SD and CF internal pockets), a battery for the device and a battery for the remote control, and of course, the MPM-201 itself. The TV cradle includes a TV card in it and accepts S-Video, Antenna-in and A/V-In while it can also output A/V to another device. On the front of the cradle there is a red “Record” button and an infrared receiver for usage with the accompanied remote control. When placing the MPM-201 on the cradle, you can watch TV through it, record from any audio/video, or simply charge the device. The plastic base that holds the MPM-201 can be tilted so you can get a better viewing angle.

size comparison 2 The MPM-201 itself features SD and CF slots in addition to its 30 GB disk. All three storage units are appearing as external drives to any operating system that supports USB mass storage. You can place media files by drag-n-dropping them to the right folders (My Movie, My Music, My Picture etc). It also has 4 buttons on the front, a jog wheel for volume and a 5-way joystick to navigate through. On the side you get A/V out, a mini-usb jack (can also be charged via USB) and a DC in. On the top of the device you will find the on/off/hold button and the integrated microphone, below it the replaceable battery for the device and behind it the plastic kick-stand that let’s you place the MPM-201 on a flat surface and watch video without having to keep the device on your hands at all times. On the front you will find also stereo speakers (which are not very loud unfortunately) and a 3.5″ screen. There is some controversy over the screen, which doesn’t use the normal pixel layout as other PMPs or PDAs. The spec sheet says that it’s a “3.5-inch TFT LCD screen w/480×234 pixels” (which is a respectable resolution for a PMP), but to my eyes it looks much lower than that. Pixels are so big that you can easily see them with naked eyes. However, watching video from some distance (around 1 meter away from you), it doesn’t look any more different than a normal TV. Colors are definitely vivid and brightness has a good level.

MPM-201 on the cradle

The MPM-20x loads in under 4 seconds, before you are presented with the main interface: seven icons that include video, music, pictures, voice recording, file manager, TV mode and Setup. Using the 5-way joystick you can navigate through these options and load your media files for viewing. The user interface is really fast and responsive. The icons/font interface is not very professionally designed though and usability lacks in many aspects (e.g. trying to enable shuffle or repeat when on the music mode is an exersise in patience). The device is able to play mp4 and divx files, but the audio encoding of these files must be with either WAVE or MP3, otherwise you will get video playback without audio support. Playback support was excellent on the supported video files, not a single frame drop or B-Frames incompatibility. The MPM-20x can play up to ~720×400-encoded divx files and it naturally failed to playback the HD Doom movie trailer which was encoded at 1280×720. During video playback you can change the volume up and down, fast forward/back 2x/4x/8x but you can’t adjust contrast, brightness or continue a movie from where you were left off the previous time. Basic Mp3/WAV playback is acceptable and the song title and artist’s name are displayed during playback. Shuffle, repeat, bass and tremble are supported. There is no support for playlists and equalizer and you can’t turn off the screen immediately when pressing the “Hold” button. The “LCD off” timer feature can only be set globally, which is something you don’t really want if you mix-match video and music, plus the minimum time for turning the LCD off is 5 minutes instead of a few seconds. Regarding picture viewing, is also acceptable, supporting slide-animation, zooming, panning and rotating. It can even read EXIF information! However, I haven’t found a single mode where the picture is displaying alone in the screen without the menu items. The File Manager is easy to use and it does the job well, even if renaming files is a bit time consuming. Voice recording is done in WAVE format and it can be useful for some personal notes or even for a mini interview with that… actor you stumbled upon on your way to the laundry (sample).

MPM-201 settings

Battery life is so-so. It yielded less than 3 hours for video and less than 6 hours for mp3 music. Unfortunately, battery levels are visible only on the front screen so if you are watching a long video file, you will have no clue how much battery you have left. I really wonder why none of the manufacturers of the four PMP I have reviewed so far haven’t managed to use the same tricks Apple uses with the iPod to save battery life on their harddisk-based mp3 players (in music-only mode). [sarcasm] Oh, wait, that requires some actual software engineering. I guess there is a reason why the iPod is the No1 mp3 player, at least in the US [/sarcasm].

What’s the best feature of the device? Its cradle and TV recording function (PAL and NTSC supported). The cradle makes the whole device pretty worthwhile, because it makes it so much easier to record from a TV or any other AV device using its A/V in/out jacks, S-Video jack (e.g. record from your XBox or PS2) and the Antenna-In jack. You can schedule the device to start recording at a specific date and time or immediately after pressing the big red “Recording” button on the cradle. You can choose between QVGA (sample), VGA and VGA Fine (sample) recording quality. The included remote control makes the life of the user much easier, as you can not only control the TV channels and recording through it, but the whole interface (e.g. video, pictures and music).

Bottom line: Amazing hardware, software needed more work. A better screen and the ability to record via an A/V-in jack on the MPM-201 itself (without the usage of the cradle) would have been nice, but these hardware features come as second rate wishes because the software should have supported more audio formats for divx and have a better user interface. Despite these problems, this is the best PMP I have reviewed so far. The multiple input jacks on the cradle, the SD/CF slots, the remote control and its internal TV card makes it all worthwhile. For $220 for the 30 GB version and $270 for the 60 GB it’s definitely a wise purchase.

Video sample of the unit playing back the Matrix trailer.

Overall: 8/10


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