Creative Zen Vision

The Creative Zen Vision is a refreshing take on the portable video player.

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The Zen Vision, Creative's latest effort to craft the ultimate portable video player (PVP), improves on its predecessor, the Zen Portable Media Center, in almost every way. Though it's smaller and more elegant, it packs a larger 30GB hard drive and a longer list of features, including a VGA screen. Unfortunately, it can't record video or audio directly, and copying and converting files can be a time-consuming hassle, especially for novices, as Creative really skimps on the instructions. But the payoff is worth it because the Creative Zen Vision's screen dazzles like no other. It's no slouch when it comes to music, photos and FM radio, either.

If Apple ever decides to produce a video iPod, it may look something like the Creative Zen Vision. We tested the pearl-white version, which to our eyes seems classier and cleaner than the magnesium-black alternative. It's a sleek, sexy device that, at 74.4mm by 124.2mm by 20.1mm, measures only a hair longer and thicker than a Dell Axim X50v PDA, and it's considerably less bulky than Creative's last PVP, the Zen Portable Media Center. Likewise, at 239 grams, it's only a bit heavier than a PDA. We had no qualms about stowing it in a front pants pocket.

OK, we have one qualm: We'd be heartbroken if a piece of pocket flotsam scratched the Zen's 3.7-inch, 262,000-colour screen. It's by far the most eye-pleasing LCD we've ever seen on a PVP, thanks in no small part to its VGA (640x480-pixel) resolution. Everything looks stellar, from photos to video to the interface itself. Thankfully, Creative supplies a soft drawstring case to help keep the screen pristine. The only downside is viewing angle; unless you face the screen head-on or a bit to the right, you'll see almost nothing.

Most of the Zen's simple, straightforward, and tactile controls are grouped to the right of the screen. Even novices should have no trouble making sense of its Back, Menu, and Shuttle buttons, which reside above and below a five-way control pad. The latter is a bit small, particularly the OK button in the center; on a few occasions, we accidentally hit the pad instead of the button. Zooming in and out of menus on the Zen Vision's sweet interface is a joy, though more than once, we instinctively pressed the right nav button to select an option rather than the Select key itself.

The Zen's dedicated volume controls and power/hold switch reside along the top edge. A spring-loaded door protects the CompactFlash slot on the left side of the unit, while a rubberised tab hides the power and A/V-out ports on the right side. At the rear, a sizable battery comprises most of the Zen's backside. It's removable and stylish, with a pond-ripple accent surrounding a circular Zen logo. All that's missing is a kickstand, so you'll have to hold the Zen upright or find something to lean it against while watching a movie. Alternatively, you can purchase the optional dock, which props the device at a reasonable viewing angle.

The built-in CompactFlash Type I slot is a nice touch.

The aforementioned CompactFlash Type I/II slot permits viewing and downloading digital photos, though, admittedly, only higher-end cameras rely on CompactFlash media these days. If your camera takes a different kind of card, you can purchase an adapter that supplies SD, MMC, Memory Stick, and xD slots. Other available options include a wireless remote and the docking station mentioned above.

Navigating the Zen is a snap, thanks to its nine-item main menu and straightforward submenus. Interestingly, you can customise the main menu to your liking, hiding items you don't necessarily want and adding others you do. By adding the submenu All Tracks option, for instance, you can go straight to your track listing without first having to delve into the Music Library menu. The only downside is that these additions appear at the bottom of the main menu instead of immediately below their respective top menus. There's no way to manually organise the list.

The Creative Zen Vision doesn't have every bell and whistle in the book, but it comes with the ones that count. It plays MP3, DRM WMA, and WAV audio files; JPEG photos; and AVI, DivX, MPEG, Motion-JPEG, and WMV video files. It also plays and records FM radio; records voice notes via a built-in microphone. If you want to watch movies on the Zen, you'll have to rip and convert your DVDs, which requires both time and know-how.

As for other videos, some will play natively on the Zen, while others will require a pass through Creative's Video Converter utility. Thankfully, the program will tell you if a video file is already compatible and doesn't need conversion. (It's difficult to determine compatibility without using the utility.) In our tests, some files played fine; others required conversion. We discovered by accident that certain files that were listed under "conversion required" would play on the Zen without conversion but that certain features on the player (such as fast-forward) wouldn't work for those files. That said, you may want to forgo the conversion in some cases, as the utility can output to only a maximum resolution of 320x240 pixels -- an inexplicable waste of the Zen's potential.

The real problem is that Creative provides almost no instruction on moving video content to the Zen Vision. The electronic user guide mentions the video converter only in passing; nowhere does it explain how to work with it.

It's worth noting that WMP can easily, albeit slowly, convert TV shows recorded with Windows XP Media Center Edition. It's also worth noting that the Zen can output video to a TV or audio to a stereo using an included RCA patch cable. What it can't do is record from external sources, which is a definite letdown. The only recording option is the built-in microphone, which lets you record up to 10 hours' worth of voice notes as 16kHz, 128Kbps WAV files.

As a music player, the Zen offers the usual amenities and then some: on-device playlist creation; shuffle and repeat modes; support for up to 10 bookmarks; eight equaliser presets and a five-band custom setting; and a bass-boost feature. Its cool DJ feature can serve up Album of the Day, Random Play All, Most Popular (based on your ratings) and Rarely Heard. We particularly like the Smart Volume option, which keeps volume levels consistent across all your tracks. However, the Zen doesn't display album art, a disappointing waste of its jaw-dropping screen. It shows each song's genre and year alongside the usual track name, artist name, album info and so on, but it's not uncommon for ID3 tags to lack these designations, so don't be surprised to see Other or Unknown listed for genre and 0000 for year. It would be nice if the Zen let you choose what ID3-tag info to display.

On the plus side, the Zen lets you listen to your tunes while viewing a slide show of your photos. Obviously, you can also browse and view photos individually, even marking favourites for a custom slide show. However, when selecting the My Slideshows option, the Zen refers you to Creative's Media Explorer utility for creating slide shows on your PC. Problem is, there's no such option in that software, nor does the help file include any reference to slide shows. It's another instance of incomplete documentation.

The Zen provides solid FM radio features, including a lightning-fast autoscan that fills as many of the 32 available preset slots as possible. You can also manually add presets; assign names to the stations; and record any broadcast just by pressing and holding the play/pause button. Alas, the Zen lacks a timer for scheduled recordings, a feature we really wish it had.

Creative's Sync Manager makes simple work of copying your Outlook data such as contacts, appointments, and tasks to the Zen, though sync is something of a misnomer: It's a one-way transfer, and it doesn't happen automatically; you have to sync every time you want to copy the latest data from Outlook. On the Zen itself, you can view your data, but there's no option to edit or sort it.

The Zen Vision Media Explorer program handles most PC-to-Zen connectivity chores, including creating and managing playlists, converting video files, ripping audio CDs and Outlook/media synchronisation. For most music-related tasks, however, you'll want Creative's MediaSource Organizer, a basic but handy music manager. Interestingly, if you want to use the Zen as a portable hard drive, you have to allocate a chunk of space -- anywhere from 512MB to 16GB -- for that purpose. Then Windows Explorer can drag and drop files to and from the Zen, no drivers required.

The Creative Zen Vision leverages its VGA screen to deliver incredibly crisp, colourful video. We've never seen an episode of The Simpsons look so vibrant on a portable device. Likewise, the added resolution (four times what you get from a typical 320x240-pixel PVP screen) vastly improves content that might otherwise be poorly suited to a small screen. We loaded up Robin Williams on Broadway, which includes a number of pull-back shots of the stage, but still managed to see the comic legend in all his frenetic glory. Even a movie such as Lord of the Rings, with its innumerable wide-angle action sequences, looks dramatically better on the Creative Zen Vision than on players with lower-resolution screens.

Files converted by Video Vault PVP played just fine, as did various AVI and MPEG files converted by Creative Media Explorer.

Keep in mind that the process can be painfully slow for videos that require conversion. For example, it took us about two hours to convert a one-hour DivX file. At least music transfers are relatively speedy: using Media Explorer, we copied our 10GB song library to the Zen in about 35 minutes. For the record, Windows Media Player took 10 minutes more to do the job.

Once we started listening to music on the Zen, we didn't want to stop. It cranks out full, resonant audio at an unusually high 97dB signal-to-noise ratio. We were particularly impressed by Creative's stellar-sounding foam-padded earbuds. For once we didn't immediately reach for our favourite headphones instead. And the built-in speaker sounds better than you'd expect.

FM radio reception was good but not great; even outdoors, we had a hard time pulling in stations that came through loud and clear on a car stereo. In our tests of the voice recorder, we had to hold the Creative Zen Vision close to our mouth to achieve good recording volume. You'll have to forget about using it to record, say, a lecture; the mic just isn't sensitive enough.

Creative promises up to 4.5 hours of movie playback time and 13 hours of music from the Zen's removable lithium-ion battery. An optional extended-life battery, available in white or black, promises to double playback time. We'll update our review with CNET Labs' audio and video battery-drain test when they become available.

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Rating posted a review   

The Good:Nothing

The Bad:Always Freezes. Firmware error. Nothing will play.

Never Ever buy any Creative Products


okipop posted a review   

The Good:flashcard slot, detachable battery

The Bad:boring interface and not customisable

always freezes up
takes a while to start up

used it to view photos
except u can get slimmer cameras now with big screens anyway


"better than an ipod"

Anonymous posted a review   


"Great Little Player"

RoGuE posted a review   

The main reason I went for this was the Compact Flash Slot . . with an adaptor u can pretty much use any card format to transfer your photo's and video to it.

Great to have for all those holiday photo's I always take . . and at 30gb it gives you a lot of room for your photo's and any mp3's / movies (any format) you wish to take along.


"Vision is for Teckies"

reign posted a review   

I had an ipod for a short time and a vision. the Vision is definatly for teck-friendly for those that want control of their devices and content. the hidden files and password protect rock. and at least you dont have to deal with 'spy'tunes


"i had a ipod video, now i have a vision"

Reign posted a review   

I recently had bought an ipod video. concerned with the fact that I could not use anyother format or program other than that which itunes provided I became upset with all the things I though this player should do. All in all the pod was great for those out there that are looking for exactly what it offers; user friendly applications to do just and only what it will allow you to do.

My Zen Vision was well worth the price. With voice recorder, am/fm, larger screen and many acceptable formats that allow me to customize my pics, music and video DIRECTLY from the player. what a concept?! to be able to remove or alter from the device without computer! plus, and get this, it actually has a power button! the ipod doesnt. you can put it to sleep and it will go off in the alotted amount of time, but no power button.

Play with the player before you get it. make sure it does what they tell you it does.


"The Great Disappointment!"

Anonymous posted a comment   

Do not buy this product as it has not been a subject to testing at Creative Labs. They couldn't have, because it is not working well at all! It is constantly freezing and I am not able to trust it as a storage for my pictures when travelling. I had very high hopes. The disappointment was even greater, sadly.


"great product, great company"

stuartmay posted a review   

ive owned both an ipod and a creative, in my experience ipods battery life is sub par, very sub par. creative on the other hand has a removable battery. also the creative zen vision has ability to play movie files that arent quicktime, ipod video doesnt, and they try to make you pay to put any video on it, and unless you have a converter, its not very useful seeing as most movies arent in the quick time format,

for the record, apple also has very poor customer service, my battery in my ipod died in 6 months(completely dead, wouldnt even charge) and apple wanted me to pay 100$ to fix it, why waste the money, also the price of the zen vision is also only 400, so 100$ more and alot better features and reliability


"Top of the line"

Atomisk posted a review   

Way worth it, one of the best available at a really good price. 10x better than Ipod. Only low points are it can record the TV and has a bad left side viewing angle.


"It's probably fantastic..."

BluSwedeShu posted a review   

...but the whole debate about features, screen resolution etc is totally irrelevant. Choosing an iPod is as much a lifestyle choice and personal style statement as it is filling a technological need. Who wants to be seen with something that looks like it was thrown up by a Japanese car manufacturer's spare parts catalog? Doesn't matter how many features it has or what the screen resolution is.

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User Reviews / Comments  Creative Zen Vision



    "Never Ever buy any Creative Products"

  • okipop



    "always freezes up
    takes a while to start up

    used it to view photos
    except u can get slimmer cameras now with big screens anyway"

  • Anonymous




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