Review: Portable video player has basic features

Sonic Impact's Video-55, while imperfect, is a solid system for those who just want a portable iPod video player with very good audio performance

Sonic Impact Technologies LLC's Video-55, a portable video player that uses your fifth-generation (5G) iPod as a media source, doesn't include a DVD player as some other iPod-video players do, but it performs its primary task -- displaying your 5G iPod's video -- very well.

The 9- by 6.5- by 1.5-in., 2.4-lb. Video-55 provides a clean and crisp picture via its 7-in., 480- by 234-pixel LCD screen, although the screen's color is lacking a bit in saturation. Audio, which plays out of two speakers, one on each side of the screen, sounds surprisingly rich considering the speakers' small size; in fact, the Video-55 has sound that's superior to some dedicated iPod audio systems we've used. (Sonic Impact, which also makes a number of iPod speaker systems, suggests that the Video-55 would serve well as a portable speaker system and thus touts the Video-55's audio-playback compatibility with all iPods.) Of course, you can also listen via headphones.

The Video-55 looks and feels well-made. Its outside case sports a matte-black finish and feels sturdy. However, the inside is a detective's dream, attracting fingerprints by the score. There's no way to avoid this, as the audio and video buttons -- soft-touch controls like the ones on most microwave ovens -- are embedded in the glossy surface. You insert your iPod into the Video-55 by first connecting it to a stubby pop-up dock connector near the front of the unit, and then rotating the iPod and connector down into a cradle-type slot. My 30GB 5G iPod fit snugly into the cradle with the included adapter; when in the Video-55, the iPod looked like it was actually part of the system. I also found disconnecting the iPod to be simple: You just insert your finger into a small notch at the top of the iPod and then lift up.

The Video-55 comes with an AC power adapter, an auto adapter, a carrying pouch and an AV cable. The AV cable, unlike those included with similar units we've tested, featured female connectors that were incompatible with every television I had available for testing. Why the company went with this configuration is a mystery. Also, the AC cord itself is only six inches long, a length that serves only to make the connection process awkward.

Sonic Impact claims that the Video-55's rechargeable lithium-ion battery lasts four hours or longer, typical of the latest generation of iPod video players. Although the 30GB 5G iPod typically runs out of juice in three hours or so, the longer battery life of the Video-55 will come in handy if you have a 60GB or 80GB iPod. I tested the Video-55's battery life by playing video on my 30GB iPod until the iPod died, then charged the iPod, then resumed playback until the Video-55 died; the total playback time was four hours and 45 minutes. (Although this test was slightly flawed -- a straight run-through likely wouldn't have lasted as long -- it at least shows that Sonic Impact's claims are fair.)

Unfortunately, I had several problems with the Video-55. In the first unit we received, one of my colleagues incorrectly put the Video-55's small (1.5- by 2-in.) wireless remote into the remote-control storage compartment on the front left of the system. This compartment uses a push-to-eject mechanism, and because of the incorrect placement, we were unable to eject the remote. A conversation with a very helpful tech-support representative at Sonic Impact solved the immediate problem, and we were able to remove the remote with a razor blade. But this incident is unlikely to be confined to our offices. There are no clear instructions in the documentation or on the unit about how to insert the remote correctly.

Unrelated to the storage compartment, I also found that some of the buttons on the remote, specifically those used to jump to the previous or next song, didn't function properly. (Fortunately, the remote isn't necessary to use many of the Video-55's functions.) In addition, all of the system's ports -- AC and DC power, AV-in and -out, mini-USB, and headphone -- are covered by a rubber protector that gets in the way more than it protects; I found this door to be more annoying than reassuring. (The USB port lets you connect the Video-55 to your computer for syncing your iPod with iTunes.)

Although the Video-55 is an imperfect solution, it is a solid one for those who just want a portable iPod video player with very good audio performance. However, at the Video-55's current price (about $140 to $150 on the Web), you can get a system with similar video performance and a DVD/CD player and card reader in Philips' DCP750. If you don't need these additional playback options, the Video-55 is worth considering if its price drops considerably.

This story, "Review: Portable video player has basic features" was originally published by Playlist.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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