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How Portable Media Centers Work

Alternatives to Windows Media Players

Archos AV420 Pocket Video Recorder
Archos AV420 Pocket Video Recorder
Photo courtesy Consumer Guide Products

There are also non-Windows-based portable media players currently available -- for example, the Archos AV420 (20 GB), AV480 (80 GB) and the new AV4100 (100 GB) Pocket Video Recorders.

One advantage of the Archos players is the dramatic increase in capacity. Another major advantage is that television programs and movies can be recorded directly from TV, VCR or cable/satellite; with Windows Mobile-based portable media centers, a PC running Windows XP Media Center must serve as an intermediary in the video transfer process. A downside to the Archos players is that you don't have the benefit of Window's Mobile's incredibly simple, automatic file-sync process.


A robust challenger in the portable media player arena is the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP). The PSP is a lightweight, pocket-size gaming device that utilizes a broad range of digital content. The PSP features a 16:9 widescreen display, USB 2.0 and 802.11b WiFi LAN connectivity and the ability to play games, video and MP3 audio.

In addition, there is increased competition between Windows Media-based portable media centers and Apple iPod media players. Apple's latest iPod supports up to 150 hours of video and is available in 30 and 60 GB models. Apple already has network deals to provide downloadable TV shows, and it is in talks with TiVo to allow for coordination between home DVRs and iPods.

The Future of Portable Media

Will portable media centers be a hit with today's on-the-go consumers? Only time will tell. Although Windows-based portable media centers are larger and heavier than MP3 players such as the Apple iPod, they offer larger screens, a familiar Windows-based interface and more diverse media content. The future promises more video and audio content designed specifically for portable media centers. Some of these new features include the following:

  • TiVoToGo - With this new feature, TiVo subscribers will be able to transfer television programs to a Windows XP-based PC. Then, they can use Windows Media Player 10 to transfer their favorite shows to a portable media center.
  • MSN video downloads, including videos from CNBC, MSNBC, Fox Sports and Food Network - These videos, which are stored in a Windows Media Player 10 library, can be easily synchronized with portable media centers.
  • MTV, VH1, CMT and Comedy Central programming for portable media centers, including news content and musical performances

If portable media centers prove popular with consumers, we can expect to see even greater storage capacity and sleeker and lighter designs.

For more information on portable media centers and related topics, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Wired: Apple Gives Video the iPod Touch - October 12, 2005
  • PC Magazine: Portable Media Centers Change Everything,1759,1641714,00.asp
  • PC World: Microsoft Takes On Portable Video,aid,118015,00.asp