Moving media assets to the subway

Electronics makers are enticing consumers to take “Seinfeld” and other valuable media assets on the subway with a new generation of portable video players that look like an iPod crossed with a digital camera.

These compact players have room for up to 80 hours of video.

Built-in video screens about 3.5 inches across provide a crisp picture for personal viewing, while output jacks allow them to be plugged into a TV screen for a more panoramic experience. Users can record TV programs off the air, download movies from the Internet or copy vacation videos from their own camcorders.

Portable media players like the Archos AV420 can also store and playback hundreds of hours of music and display thousands of digital photos. And, like a TiVo, the AV420 can be programmed to automatically record certain shows.

U.S. consumers will buy 25 million portable MP3 players in 2008, but portable-video player sales will be closer to two million units that year, according to several research firms.

Like elsewhere in the high-tech world, the products have broken down into two camps: Microsoft and the rest.

Apple Computer, which accounts for 55 percent of the MP3 market when measured by revenue, has said it has no plans to offer a video player.

Microsoft last year unveiled a software platform that would link personal media players closely with its Windows XP operating system. Movies, music and other content could be automatically copied from a user’s computer onto the mobile device while computers with a built-in TV tuner could record shows automatically and copy them to the mobile player.

Samsung, Sanyo and Creative have announced plans to release Microsoft-compatible players, and is taking pre-orders, though the products are not yet on the market.

Archos and RCA, which run on proprietary software, say their units can sync up with personal computers or record video directly from TV units.

But that’s a labor-intensive way to get content, said Josh Martin, an associate research analyst at IDC. Paid download services like CinemaNow, that allow users to download programs in minutes could encourage adoption if they’re priced right, he said.

Video-download services have been slow to get off the ground due to piracy concerns. Overly restrictive copy-control measures and conflicting file formats could dampen enthusiasm, he said.

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