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Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Digital Media Players

For this Digital Media Player Holiday Guide we will be taking a look at the best devices that offer a complete music playing and video watching experience. There are still some devices that specialize in one or the other, but the capability has improved in most of them so that both types of media content can be enjoyed. Last year we looked at both MP3 players and portable digital video players in two Guides, but are merging them this year since most perform both functions well. Some of these devices can be used for web browsing, 3rd party application usage, and gaming, but we will focus on the music and video support while mentioning some of these more advanced capabilities.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer on

For this Digital Media Player Holiday Guide we will be taking a look at the best devices that offer a complete music playing and video watching experience. There are still some devices that specialize in one or the other, but the capability has improved in most of them so that both types of media content can be enjoyed. Last year we looked at both MP3 players and portable digital video players in two Guides, but are merging them this year since most perform both functions well. Some of these devices can be used for web browsing, 3rd party application usage, and gaming, but we will focus on the music and video support while mentioning some of these more advanced capabilities.

You will see some of the same brand names in this Holiday Guide, but you will also see that updated models continue to improve on the media experience and for the most part you can't go wrong with these players. You will see that the Guide is arranged in order from highest price device to lowest price device since price is a major factor when you look at one of these media players to purchase.

Archos 5 Internet Tablet

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The Archos 5 Internet Tablet is powered by the Google Android operating system and is focused on the media experience with Internet browsing also being a prominent feature. Archos has been know at excelling in portable video playing capability and the Archos 5 continues that tradition. You can view HD video content and photos on the 4.8 inch 800x480 pixel resolution display. The Archos 5 Internet Tablet supports the following video formats; MPEG-4 HD (up to 720p), MPEG-48, H.264, WMV, MKV, and M-JPEG. Supported audio formats include MP3, WMA, AAC+, Ogg Vorbis, and Flac. There are some optional plug-ins available to further enhance support on the Archos 5.

In addition to the various hard drive capacities, the Archos 5 has a microSD card slot with support up to 32GB, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0, FM receiver with RDS, and FM transmitter. There are a couple additional accessories to extend the functionality of the device to your TV as well.

With the Google Android operating system you will find that many third party apps seen on Google Android smartphones also work on the Archos 5 Tablet.

Price: $499.99 MSRP for 500GB unit, $399.99 for 160GB, and $379.99 for 32GB Flash drive

[Check out review pages for the 500GB and 32GB models]

Go to the next page »

Sony X-Series Walkman

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My first portable music player was a cassette playing Sony Walkman player that I still have in working condition. Sony has come a long ways since then and their latest player series, the X-Series comes in both 32GB and 16GB capacities. The Sony X-Series Walkman has a 3 inch OLED display at 432x240 pixel resolution and is quite compact at 3-7/8 x 2-1/8 x 13/32 inches and 3.5 ounces.

Supported video formats include AVC(H.264/AVC), MPEG-4, and WMV DRM. Supported audio formats include MP3, WMA, AAC, and L-PCM. The X-Series also has an internet browser you can connect via WiFi. Slacker Radio is also supported to help you discover music.

The Sony X-Series Walkman has a long rated battery for 33 hours of music playback and 9 hours of video playback and in all the reviews I have read the audio quality was reported as top notch.

Price: $399.99 MSRP for 32GB and $299.99 for 16GB

[Read the review]

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Apple iPod touch

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The Apple iPod touch may be the most popular portable media player and even though it may not have the best specifications in this field, the user interface, ease of content access, and amazing accessory market make this one you definitely should consider. The iPod touch has a 3.5 inch 480x320 pixel resolution display, 802.11 b/g WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1, support for H.264 video and AAC & MP3 audio. The media player is very simple and provides the user with a fluid experience.

You will also find a web browser that does quite well, as well as thousands of applications and games to make it a full featured media and gaming device.

Price: $399.00 for 64GB, $299 for 32GB, and $199 for 8GB

[Read the review]

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Microsoft Zune HD

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The Microsoft Zune devices have been around for a couple of years, but it really wasn't until the Zune HD was launched in September that Microsoft hit a homerun. I purchased a Zune HD on the day of release and followed up with a purchase of a custom Zune Original device in blue.

The Zune HD has a brilliant 3.3 inch 16:9 OLED display in 480x272 pixel resolution that supports capacitive touch. The entire experience is fluid and fast on the Zune HD. A HD FM radio is included and you won't go back to standard FM radio after experiencing HD radio where you can also choose to add songs to your cart as they plan on the radio.

A web browser is provided, but the real strength of the Zune HD is the music and video support. You can pay just $15 per month for unlimited music on the Zune Marketplace with 10 free song credits given to you each month. There are multiple ways to discover new music (social integration, Smart DJ, and more) and with the Zune Pass you never have to worry about loading up the device to your heart's content. I also find Zune players to have higher quality audio quality than other media players.

Price: $289 MSRP

[Read the review]

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Apple iPod nano

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I really wasn't looking for a new Apple iPod, but once I heard about the latest generation iPod nano I couldn't resist because of all the additional features they included. The nano is a strong music player and is the first iPod to include a FM radio with RDS support. It also lets you capture video content with the included video camera. Movies and iTunes video content is enjoyable on the 2.2 inch 240x376 pixel resolution display and it is quite amazing how much Apple was able to pack into the compact device.

The iPod nano has an integrated microphone for recording voice notes and capturing audio during video recording. A pedometer is now included with the iPod nano so you can use it to capture the number of steps you take as you walk around or run.

The iPod nano is available in nine brilliant colors so you can choose something personal when you buy one and if you pick it up from Apple you can even throw on some custom engraving for free.

Price: $179 MSRP

[Read the review]

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