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PQI mPack P800 Portable Multimedia Player

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed Sept. 2005 by Carson Friday

Portable multimedia players are really just beginning to take off and a lot of interesting companies are getting into the PMP arena. Some have been making MP3 players and other devices for some time, and others are getting into PMP's for the first time. PQI is a well-known manufacturer of flash memory, so I was a bit surprised to hear that they are getting into the PMP game. Even more surprising is their first PMP product…it looks great, it works great, and the feature set is superb! In addition to sharp design of the mPack P800, it sports a bevy of accessories, including two carrying cases and a wireless remote control. Generous storage capacities coupled with a crisp 3.5" screen and great battery life make the P800 a tough player to beat, and the best feature of the P800 is the wide support of playback formats.

PQI mPack P800 portable media player

First Impressions

The P800's packaging is attractive, and the box is larger than one might expect since it must accommodate all the bundled accessories - PQI does not skimp with the P800. You likely won't need to purchase any accessories for the P800, as PQI is kind enough to include a large assortment of accessories that really add value to the P800.

The user interface is clean and the screen is bright and crisp. It can't match Sony's PSP screen, but it is indeed better than many of the other portable media players on the market. Somewhat surprisingly, portable media players generally have a 4:3 ratio rather than wide screens. For most content, this works out just fine, but wide screen movie playback really suffers on 4:3 screens, as a lot of the screen real estate is wasted by letterboxing. All that aside, the screen is vibrant and does well in all lighting conditions except in direct sunlight. The P800 uses two internal 2200mAh batteries, which provide great battery life, but are non-removable which may prove to be an issue in the long run.

The included small infrared remote control is a great touch: you can plug the P800 into your television and sit on the couch and control it much as you would a DVD or DVR.

In the Box

The P800 ships with a wide array of accessories; just about everything you'll need is included. Accessories include an A/V cable for input and output, AC power adapter, infrared remote control, wired remote control, small carrying bag, large carrying bag, USB cable, SPDIF cable, earphones, installation CD, and printed user manual.

back of mPack P800
Back view

top of PQI mPack P800

Top view

 

 

 

 

 

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Supported Formats

The mPack P800 supports the following file formats*:
Audio: MP3, WMA, AC3, AAC, WAV, OGG
Photo: JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, RAW
Video: MPEG1/2/4, XviD, WMV, ASF, AVI
*PQI does not give specific details on each supported format

Design and Ergonomics

The P800 has a sleek design and is very easy to hold, though it's relatively large as portable media players go. The foldaway stand is great for easy tabletop viewing. The P800 is constructed of a unique type of plastic material that feels very soft to the touch, almost like fine-grain velvet. Like most media players, selecting a file for playback requires both hands. However, the unit can be easily cradled in one hand during playback.

Navigating menus is quick and easy, and the main method for playing media is through the 'player' menu. The earphones are very nice quality, and are much better than the usual included "freebies". Usually, I prefer to use my own earbud headphones, but the included ones were great - very crisp sound and almost too loud in some cases!

Connectivity

All connections to the P800 are located on the top of the unit and include AV in, AV out/Earphone, SPDIF, Mini USB 2.0 high speed, and Power. A nice feature is the inclusion of a SPDIF output so you can watch Dolby Digital AC3 movies in true digital surround sound, provided you have the proper audio equipment. The P800 can record from any source with the right connections, including DVD players, VCR, and even TV tuners.

No drivers are necessary for Windows 2000/XP, as the P800 is detected as a standard USB mass storage device and will appear as an external drive moments after it is plugged in. Video files and images can be directly added to their respective directories on the P800 or can be transferred using the supplied software. Unfortunately, audio files must be added with the software in order to show up in the menus of the "player" feature of the P800. You can add audio files manually to the P800, but then you must navigate to the music files using the "browse" function of the P800.

Video Playback

The P800 was able to playback all supported formats with ease, and the ability to playback MPEG2 files is what really sets the P800 apart from other PMP's. This capability allows playback of files pulled directly from DVD (or other MPEG2 source), which consumes a lot of disk space, but is much quicker than encoding the MPEG2 file to a different format such as divx. This is currently a rare if not unique feature among portable media players, and it worked perfectly. With 40/80GB of capacity, the P800 will easily store several DVD's worth of movies.

Using the included AV cable, the P800 can output audio and video to an external source such as a television or audio receiver. PQI was kind enough to include SPDIF output and cable, so the P800 can playback with Dolby Digital surround when paired with the proper receiver. It should be noted however, that even with the SPDIF cable, I could not get my receiver to detect a digital signal. The files I watched all played back in Dolby Pro Logic, which sounded quite good, but I could not get a true Dolby Digital signal. Image quality on an external set is pretty good, but quality is limited due to the composite video output. I would like to have seen a better video output such as S Video. With the wireless remote, controlling playback is a breeze. Plugging in the external display cable automatically switches off the LCD and displays the output on the external screen.

Audio Playback

MP3 playback worked perfectly, although the P800 does not scan ID3 tags automatically, so it's necessary to browse the file system to play music files. PQI includes software to propagate artist and album data, but the PC application kept crashing when I attempted to add some mp3 folders to the media library. The P800 played back 320kbps, VBR MP3, and OGG files perfectly with no jittering. The single built-in speaker sounds fine, although it would be nice to see stereo speakers. The included earbud headphones are made by Cresyn, and as mentioned earlier, they sound great and have excellent volume levels. PQI includes an inline remote for controlling basic playback functions. The P800 is smart enough to turn the screen off after 2 minutes when listening to audio files.

In addition to audio file playback, the P800 includes an FM tuner. The tuner works well, although it uses the headphone cord as an antenna, so you cannot listen to the radio through the included speaker - you have to use the headphones in order to get reception. Still, it's a great value-added if you're a fan of FM.

Photo Viewing

Photo playback is straightforward and navigation is a snap with the joystick controllers. The crisp 3.5" screen does a great job of accurately rendering photos. In addition to all the standard image formats, the P800 also supports RAW image formats, a feature which digital SLR users will find handy.

The P800 has a compact flash slot up top, and the P800 can either browse through images or backup the entire card to the internal hard drive.

Recording Functions

The P800 features several recording functions. It can record audio from the supplied input cable, it can record audio from the built in microphone, and it can also record video via the input cable. It can even record from the built in FM tuner! Audio recordings, whether from microphone, radio, or input jack, are encoded as 320kbps MP3 files, and video recordings are encoded in some form of MPEG. PQI does not state the exact video format, and the record settings cannot be modified. Audio recordings sounded great, likely due to the high encoding bit rate. Video recordings were a bit blocky and it would be nice to have the ability to adjust the record settings to a slightly higher quality recording.

Battery Life

The P800 has an advertised battery life of 4.5 hours for video playback, which is very accurate. Playback tests drained the battery after just about 4.5 hours, right in line with PQI's claims. The P800 should easily be able to get through two full movies with a bit of power still remaining.

Conclusion

The P800 is one of the best portable media players I have come across to date. Its support of MPEG1/2/4 playback as well as OGG audio make it a truly versatile player. The wireless remote and SPDIF outputs are bonus features that put it ahead of other PMP's, and the crisp screen makes for a very enjoyable viewing experience. The ability to playback MPEG2 files makes the P800 a very appealing player. Having 80GB of multimedia content at your fingertips will keep you entertained for a very long time, and the design of the P800 makes it a handsome addition to any gadget bag!

Pros:
-Excellent support of Video / Audio formats
-Great battery life
-40GB or 80GB hard drive for storage of files
-SPDIF output
-Wireless remote

Cons:
-No S Video output
-No internal radio antenna

Web Site: www.pqimemory.com

Price: 40GB - $599 / 80GB - $699

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Specs:

Display: 3.5" TFT, 320 x 240 pixels.

Size: 5.75" (W) x 3.23" (H) x 0.98" (D).

Weight: 0.77 lbs.

Battery: Two 2200mAh Lithium Ion batteries permanently installed.

 

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