Iogear’s Portable Media Player: A Set-top Box Made Easy

iogear_playerIogear’s Portable Media Player is more of a set-top box than a true portable media player. But it isn’t really a set-top box, either. What is it, then? It’s basically a portable hard drive that stores 120GB of multimedia content that you can play back on your TV. And regardless of how you want to describe it, it provides one of the easier ways I’ve seen to get content from your computer to your TV.

That’s because Iogear wisely forgoes connecting the Portable Media Player to your home network, where it would sit as a bridge between your computer and your TV. Instead, you simply connect the small device (it’s petite enough to fit easily in the palm of your hand) to your Windows PC via the included USB cable. It works much like Seagate’s upcoming FreeAgent Theater HD Media Player; your computer recognizes it as a hard drive, and you can transfer content — audio, video, and photos — to the drive in any folder structure you’d like to create.

You then remove the drive from your computer, walk it over to your TV, and connect it via the included component or composite A/V cords. Once the Portable Media Player is powered up, you’ll see your folder list on your TV screen and you can browse through and play back the contents using either the collection of buttons right on the device itself, or the included remote control.

That remote control is the biggest downside to Iogear’s product, though: It feels flimsy in your hand, and the buttons are not intuitively labeled. For example, the remote lacks any sort of “enter” button, so you have to rely on “play” to select a folder. Sometimes, you press it and a video automatically starts to play; sometimes you press it, and you see the contents of the folder. And once your video is playing, you’d better like what you’re watching, because finding your way back to the folder to select another video is much more complicated than necessary.

The upside is that the video content looks very good. The Iogear player can upscale standard definition content to play it in 720p HD resolution; I wouldn’t say that the upscaled content I viewed could rival true HD content, but it still looked very sharp. The player supports a variety of file formats, including XviD, DivX, MPEG-1 and -2, and has full DVD menu support. If you transfer an unsupported file format, you simply won’t see it listed on the device.

When the Iogear player was launched last year, its list price was $350. Today, though, you can find it for closer to $150-$200 online. That’s a much more palatable price. But Iogear also plans to launch an updated version of the player later this year. I hope that version includes a better remote control; that’s something I’d be willing to wait for.

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