I've been fiddling with the Insignia NS-DVB4G, an mp3 and video player that's part of Best Buy's (BBY) own branded electronics line. At $151.99 for the 4-gigabyte player on BestBuy.com, it's a good value next to devices like SanDisk's (SNDK) Sansa e260R ($142.29).
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While the Insignia player doesn't measure up to the Apple (AAPL) iPod – the NS-DVB4G's plastic shell and navigation wheel both feel sturdy but a bit cheap – for a hair over $150 it does a fine job playing music and displaying video and photos on its 2.2-inch screen. The 4GB of built-in storage is sufficient to hold more than a dozen movies at a resolution that suits the small display.
I did have trouble playing .m4v (MPEG-4) podcasts I downloaded to the NS-DVB4G. It comes with a CD that has conversion software on it, but it's Windows only, and I'm a Mac guy. Besides, who wants to screw around with conversion software? It should just work.
For now though, the NS-DVB4G and similar devices are limited by the lack of easily accessible video content. If a device like this is going to have appeal outside of the tinkerers who download pirated video, or download and convert podcasts, there's got to be a convenient way to get quality video into the thing.
Right now, we're out of luck. Sure, the video problem on the Web has largely been solved by sites like YouTube and Google (GOOG) Video, which use Adobe's (ADBE) Flash software to stream video to just about any browser. But on most devices it's still a headache to try to view video.
Once this changes, and I believe it will in the next couple of years, the iPod could have some real competition in the media player realm. Best Buy, and its contract manufacturers in China, are proving that lots of companies are capable of selling fun video players. Of course, I fully expect that by the end of the year, Apple will begin selling sub-$200 iPods that play video.