iRiver PMC-120 Portable Media Center

Is the world ready for portable video?

Review We've no qualms about saying we like the iRiver PMP-140. The screen is good, the storage capable sufficient, the battery life great, and as a handheld unit for watching movies you can't get much better, writes Stuart Miles.

iRiver PMC-120 Portable Media CenterWhat's the catch? It runs Linux and while for some this is a good thing - Microsoft still hasn't managed to stop those blue screens completely - for those folk who are used to Microsoft's Windows operating system it may seem less friendly.

Enter the PMC-120, iRiver's Windows Portable Media Center-based media player. Like the PMP-140, the PMC's screen takes centre stage. At 3.5in, it's big enough to watch the odd television show, however we wouldn't recommend watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on it.

On either side of the screen are the player's controls. iRiver has decided to have a different look at feel for the PMC-120 over its Linux-based machine. While the PMC's control array is not as stylish as the PMP's, it is easier to understand what the keys actually do and the addition of a Windows key means that at any point you can get back to the main menu.

The operating system runs in an identical way to a Media Center PC. You're offered little choice, but then little choice means that you can't get lost within the menu system. In fact if you like Media Center, you'll feel right at home here. The main plus point is that you can plug straight into a Media Center and not have to worry about downloading additional software.

Unlike the Linux-powered version, you can't get the PMP in a 40GB model, only 20GB. That said, you can still store up to 80 hours of video or up to 600 hours of music, and to be honest we wouldn't recommend watching 80 hours in one go.

The PMC does allow you to connect it to a TV. But be wary, the quality, while satisfactory on a 3.5in screen, will look very ropey on a 32in widescreen job.

Of course, video isn't the only option here. The PMC offers music and still image playback as well, but that's not really what it's about.

With the portable media players starting to swamp the market and analysts predicting that 2005 will be the year for this post-iPod format, iRiver has put itself in a good position to be the number one player in the market. In our opinion, it's better than the Creative Zen Media Portable, with easier to use controls and a lighter styling.


We can't fault the gadgetry, but is there any enthusiasm out there for watching TV, movies or anything on a 3.5in screen, even if you're stuck on the train? We put that very question to a number of twentysomethings and the comments where the all the same:

"It looks good, but what's the point?"

And its here that we struggle to really see why you'd want one. Around 20 years ago, we were told we'd want palm-sized TV, and yet you don't see them on the train in the morning even though you could probably pick one up for under 30 quid. You don't see too many people with portable DVD players on the train either. The marketeers suggest that its so you can catch up with Eastenders on the train into work in the morning, but can you really see yourself sitting on the 7:20 from Reading watching a television show you've recorded the night before and then transferred over to the player? If you can then perhaps this is for you. But for us, we'll give it a miss.
iRiver PMC-120
Rating 80%
Pros — Screen; hard drive capacity; controls; connectivity with Windows.
Cons — The Windows operating system; and what's the point?
Price £400
More info The iRiver global site

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