Video on the Go
With the right gear, your favorite shows, movies, and video clips can accompany you wherever you go. Mobile video devices come in two categories: lightweight players such as the Apple iPod, Creative Zen, and Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP), onto which you download content from your computer or the Web; and video-capable cell phones that pull in prepackaged clips of news, sports, and other short content. You'll find a wider selection of material--and slightly better video quality--with the players, but phones offer fresher content.
Prepped to Play
The iPod and PSP have the most market share and thus have the broadest support from tool developers and content providers. In addition to the iTunes Store and the 250 films on PSP-compatible 2.5-inch UMDs (Universal Media Disc), inexpensive programs such as MoviePod ($10) and PSPWare ($15), both from Nullriver, provide drag-and-drop batch conversion of common video files into clips compatible with iPods or PSPs, and then automatically download the files to the players.
The Web has plenty of content, too. Google Video, for example, has downloadable iPod and PSP versions of the free videos on its site. Even CinemaNow, a movie download site partly financed by Microsoft, has hinted at possible future support for iPod and PSP. Want an easy way to receive RSS video feeds for your iPod or PSP? FireAnt, Videora, and soon Democracy Player each can find, download, convert, and sync RSS video feeds to these mobile devices, not just to your PC. FireAnt is currently the most evolved, and it integrates Yahoo video searching, but Democracy Player has a lot of potential. All three are as easy to use as a typical RSS news reader.
Apple and Sony aren't the only players in town. Palm Desktop, which is bundled with all Palm OS devices, includes QuickInstall, an app that can perform drag-and-drop conversion of many types of video for playback on the handheld. The open-source Core Pocket Media Player is a bit finicky, but also lets Palm, Windows Mobile, and other devices (though not the iPod) play a wide range of popular video files.
Windows Media devices have less downloadable video available than iPods and PSPs do, with CinemaNow the main commercial source for films. But you can use Windows Media Player 10 or 11 to convert several video formats into files compatible with the increasingly interesting Portable Media Center players from Creative, iRiver, Toshiba, and others. Prices for such devices range from $200 to $800, with 20GB to 30GB mainstream players available for around $300.
To watch TV shows as you go about town, you have several options. If you already subscribe to TiVo, download the company's new $25 Desktop Plus software, a one-time purchase that lets you move video from your TiVo onto an iPod, a PSP, a Treo, or certain Nokia devices. If you already own a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC, you can use WMP 10 or 11 to easily transfer your stored video from the PC to compatible devices.
Some services go further, like the $30 SlingPlayer Mobile. Although not all the glitches have been worked out, it lets you use a newer Windows Mobile device, such as the Motorola Q, on a 3G (third-generation) phone network to remotely watch and control your TV and DVR via the $200 Slingbox TV-streaming device (see our Slingbox review, "Take Your TV With You"). For free, Orb Networks offers similar features for devices with Windows Media Player (see our review, "Orb Offers Easy Media Streaming").