Monday, December 1, 2003

VideoNow, a $40 personal video player for kids


By James Booth

How many of you have taken a trip with the incessant nagging of children from the back seat getting on your last nerve? Oh, don't act as if I'm the only one, you know what I'm talking about. There are portable DVD players to the tune of $400, but who wants to spend that much? I know I sure don't. I can think of better things to spend $400 on than something to quiet the kid on a trip. Then you have to buy the kid-oriented DVDs on top of it. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a less costly alternative? There is -- it's a $40 product called VideoNow from Tiger Electronics and is distributed by Hasbro.

VideoNow, shown in Figure A, is a personal handheld video player (see aimed at ages 6 and up.


VideoNow is a personal handheld video player aimed at kids. (click for larger image)

Given the programming currently available, the "and up" of "ages 6 and up" would suggest suitability for kids aged 6-10. The player runs 3" videodisks in a proprietary format, so they only work on the VideoNow player. To date the disks come mainly with Nickelodeon programming.

"VideoNow packs great value in a small package for a great price."

We aren't talking ultra high tech here. VideoNow has a 1.7" by 1.3" monochrome, 80 x 80 pixel, 4-bit grayscale screen (that's 1/4 the size of a monochrome Palm screen) that displays an amazingly decent picture for what the unit and disks cost. The screen is contained within the unit and protected by a clear plastic lens, so the risk of breakage is rather slim.

VideoNow packs great value in a small package for a great price.

The unit itself measures 6 1/2" long by 4 1/2" wide and is 1 3/8" thick -- just the right size for those small hands. It has a built in speaker that delivers clear audio for the size. There is also a headphone jack for those times when you want total solitude but the kids need to be entertained. There are a few other accessories available at this time, such as the ever important carrying case and a clip on light for watching in the dark (which, if you're following along, means that the little LCD isn't backlit).

The unit runs off of two AA batteries that will provide about 8-10 hours of continuous play. It also has contrast control, but would benefit from a brightness control as well. I've noticed, in some lighting situations, it can be difficult to get a good balance of light, dark, and contrast.

Each disk contains 25-minutes of programming. With programming such as SpongeBob Squarepants, Rugrats, Jimmy Neutron, and The Fairly Odd Parents, that amounts to two full episodes per disk. There are also titles such as The Transformers, Scooby Doo, Hillary Duff, and Fear Factor. But as you can see, most of the programming is geared toward the younger crowd [and, sadly, most of your esteemed editor-in-chief's adult friends -- DG]. VideoNow isn't really something you're going to want for yourself. Then again, maybe it is, I like SpongeBob and having a six-year-old is a great excuse for watching.