Creative has long played second fiddle to Apple in the MP3 player market, but competition in portable video is not quite so fierce. Archos is the only player of note -- even efforts from a major manufacturer like Samsung have largely gone unnoticed. Despite Archos' popularity, the company produces media centres that are pretty difficult to use and, AV500 excepted, pretty darn ugly.
Creative's Zen Vision is much better looking in both physical design and interface -- this sleek black model won't look out of place next to your iPod, while the menu is reminiscent of Windows Media Center. Affirming our belief that there's no such thing as a perfect media centre however, the Zen Vision cannot record from an AV source, the screen is too reflective and the hard disk is too small. But if you want movies on the go, it comes a close second to the Archos AV500.
Hold the Zen Vision in your hands on the bus and we guarantee that you'll attract glances, although if you're the sort of person that likes to show off you'll probably be driving a Ferrari to work.The black body matches the colour of the moment (PSP, Razr V3, iPod) and it's small enough to put in your pocket without too much discomfort. Its size hasn't limited the screen size either, which at 94mm (3.7 inches) is big enough to offer a decent movie experience. The only real problem is that it's not a widescreen format, which results in large black horizontal borders on most TV and film sources.
The Creative interface is uncannily similar to Windows Media Centre, although the endorsement isn't official. It does mean that anyone used to Microsoft's frontend, or indeed anyone used to a computer, will be able to get around Creative player with ease. It's made a lot easier thanks to the labelled buttons -- something which seems to be beyond Archos. Compared to using the Creative Zen Vision, using an Archos device is like trying to play a first person shooting game without a mouse.
Pick the Zen up and you won't notice an abundance of connections around the sides, which contributes to its sleek appearance. The power and AV outputs are hidden by a rubber panel, which stop any dust getting in there. There's only one headphone output, so you'll need to buy a splitter if you tend to travel with a friend. If you're linking up to a PC, you can either use the standard USB 2.0 option, or an iPod-like Creative standard that's also used on the company's MP3 players.
The player will also output video to a TV thanks to an included cable, although this wasn't included by Creative with our test model. That said, as it's a composite video lead, we wouldn't expect the video quality to be very high, especially if you have a flat screen. The side panel also houses a CompactFlash socket, which is useful for people who use digital SLR cameras.
The major omission on the feature front is the lack of TV recording. The Windows Media Player integration is seamless, and it has support for both DivX and XviD video, but until people can record video directly from their TV or digibox, these devices just won't become mainstream. Archos' players have done this for some time, and at high quality with infrared senders too.
The 4:3 screen means that most films and TV series have heavy borders top and bottom. Also, it has been made from the same highly reflective screen material as afflicted the Toshiba Qosmio. It's not so bad outside or on the train, but in the glare of office lighting it's horrible. Blacks don't actually appear black -- instead they have this very off-putting reflective quality. We're surprised this wasn't raised at the development stage.