Now Playing In A Palm Near You

The latest digital media players are making it easier for potatoes to leave the couch

I recently checked out the big picture on small-screen media players. With devices from the likes of Archos, Apple (AAPL ), Creative Technology (CREAF ), SanDisk (SNDK ), and Sony (SNE ), you can watch movies, listen to music, and tote digital files to your heart's content. Anyone sitting on a long plane ride, traveling with antsy children, or enduring boring commutes might welcome the diversion.

My hands-down favorite comes from Archos. Through its partnership with satellite-TV provider EchoStar's DISH Network, the company's $369 AV500 (with a 4-in. screen) or $499 AV700 (7 in.) wins for ease of use, versatility, and the ability to connect to just about any machine, whether it's your DISH digital video player, TiVo (TIVO ), or PC. If you own a DISH recorder, you simply hook up the player with a USB cable. DISH's built-in software recognizes the portable and asks you on the TV screen what you want to do. Using your DISH remote control, you select the recorded show you want to transfer, and a two-hour movie zips over to the player in less than 10 minutes.

Apple's 30-GB iPod video player is almost as simple. You plug it into a Mac or Windows PC, open iTunes, and download music or video. My gripes? The 2.5-in. screen is too small to watch for long periods, there's no stand to hold it at a comfortable viewing angle, and the video content on iTunes is limited to a handful of shows and music videos. While you may have no problem paying for each video individually, I prefer the DISH solution: Any downloads are free with your regular monthly satellite-TV subscription.

The jack-of-all-trades award goes to Sony's $200 PlayStation Portable, or PSP. Stylishly designed, the handheld game console has a beautiful 4.3-in., wide-screen display for viewing movies purchased at retail and built-in Wi-Fi. If you have Sony's $330 Location Free TV set-top box, it can stream live TV or stored Windows Media Center PC content to the PSP over any Wi-Fi connection.

Like its larger-screen sibling, the 3.7-in. Zen Vision, Creative's $300 Zen Vision:M offers a great 1.5-in. color screen, substantial battery life, and the ability to record content. But there's no online store to offer popular shows, so it's more suited to the tech-savvy and those willing to wait an hour to record a one-hour program. SanDisk's new $230 Sansa e260 is as stylish and easy to use as the iPod, but the 1.2-in. screen is suitable only for watching short video clips. If none of these appeal to you, just wait a few months till more video players hit the market, perhaps even some with built-in TV tuners.

Corrections and Clarifications "Now playing in a palm near you" (Executive Life, May 15) should have said that Creative Technology's () Zen Vision:M digital media player has a 2.5-inch color screen.

By Cliff Edwards

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