Cowon A3-60SL 60GB Portable Media Player (Silver)
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- 4” Wide LCD, 16 million color, res. 800x480, ultra portable
- Play all your digital entertainment: movies, TV shows, photos and music
- Record video from camcorder, TV sources; programmable PVR function for television programming
- FM tuner with record capability and voice recorder; line-in recording to MP3
- Internal rechargeable battery; compatible with Windows operating systems
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Introducing the most versatile portable multimedia experience for digital media enthusiasts, the COWON A3 delivers a full range of high-end video/audio capabilities. The successor to the top-rated A2, the A3 PMP features HD video output (1280x720) for movie playback on HDTV and direct recording from external A/V devices (TV, VCR or camcorder) for viewing on a 4-inch widescreen color TFT LCD. The COWON A3’s digital video performance is optimized by the latest Texas Instruments DaVinci DM6441 digital media processor – and an expanded hard-drive capacity of 30GB or 60GB provides maximum digital media storage. Designed for the best digital video experience, the A3 features HD video output via component, s-video or composite connections. The COWON A3 also boasts the industry’s most expansive digital media format and codec support, including popular lossy and lossless audio codecs True Audio, Monkey’s Audio, Musepack, WavPack, Matroska, FLAC and Ogg Vorbis; and video codecs DivX, XviD, MPEG-4 SP/ASP, WMV, H.264 MP and M-JPEG. Additionally, the A3 comes equipped with an FM radio and recorder, voice recorder with internal microphone, built-in stereo speakers, and it functions as a full-screen photo and document viewer. With its high-speed USB 2.0 interface and USB host functionality, the COWON A3 also doubles as a data storage and high-capacity photo backup device for digital cameras with support for JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIF, BMP and RAW image formats.
Top customer reviews
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* The size. Well, it's certainly no larger than a CD player ever was, so I see no issue. If you can manage a CD player, then you can manage this with no problem at all.
* The Toggle Switch. I really wanted this not to be a problem... and it doesn't have to be... it just makes it difficult for player operation to become mindless; you have to be sure you're pushing straight down to select things. Though I'll admit that the context menu eliminates 75% of the need to ever 'press' OK. Other than that, navigation is easy and really user-friendly without being stupid.
Other things reviewers would say about this player were just silly. For example, the lack of tag-based browsing. Listen, I keep my music organized in folders and am quite used to going through 2 or 3 folders just to get to the file I want. So I can't browse by genre on the A3. Why would I want to? Heck, half the music I listen to is always put in the 'Rock' genre anyway. The on-the-fly playlist function more than makes up for this in my opinion.
The other complaint I saw was its lack of DRM-protected file support. If you really need to buy DRM-protected media, then you obviously don't know that there are many MANY ways of acquiring DRM-free files. In other words, this player is a torrent pirate's dream. Not only will it play pretty much every file you can find on the internet, but plays it beautifully without transcoding a single thing!
* VOB (DVD video) files seem to have trouble with multi-chanel audio and subtitles. An anime series I loaded on to the player would only play in japanese and not recognize the subtitle tracks at all... so I was forced to encode it in to a different format. Frustrating, but not a deal breaker (hey, I don't expect it to be able to play EVERYTHING).
* Glitchy photo viewer. When playing a high-bitrate music or video file, don't try to look at pictures. The memory doesn't seem to be able to handle it and just sticks on the hourglass screen. Also, large photos don't seem to like to load consistently; They either take forever and cause skips in the music or simply don't show up at all.... but only sometimes. An issue that a future firmware upgrade will probably address.
Now to my favorite aspects of the A3:
* FLAC! My entire music library is in FLAC, where I can manage, so I'm used to the beauty and intricacy of lossless audio on my computer and now I can FINALLY have it in my portable media player.
* The generous 60 gig HD can hold almost 100 FLAC encoded albums or many hours of high-quality video.
* The display on this thing is mind-blowing; the vividness and clarity are comparable to a high-end laptop screen. Its seriously like holding a photo in your hands.
*The sound! Besides the fact that the many high-quality codecs supported will always trump mp3 for sound quality, the A3 has very few EQ settings (I think 5 or so) and what the EQ presets lack in quantity, they more than make up for in quality. The user-editable EQ is the best I've seen in any audio player
I've owned my A3 for about 12 hours now and I already can't live without it. Now I'm glad my iRiver H10 20 GB MP3 Player/Recorder (Grey) died. I never thought I would even want video function in a PMP, but the A3 made me a believer.
I'm not saying this player is for everyone (I would NEVER buy one for my mother) but if you're a technologically inclined geek with a few hundred bucks and a thirst for high-end entertainment, then you need the A3.
Now, on to the review:
First, the good points: The sound quality is great. I own two other mp3 players - an IRiver, which has extremely poor sound quality, and a Cowon F2 which has good sound quality, but not as good as the A3's. The graphic equalizer works well. The "Jet effect" sound enhancement features are useless if you're using a good pair of headphones. When you turn the volume up loud there's no distortion. (With the F2, too much bass will cause major distortion at medium to high volume.)
60GB seems to be plenty of storage for music. I use high-quality .mp3 files (256+ kbps) and .flac files. I put about 3,000 songs on the A3 and only used up about half the available storage space. (Remember, ALL manufacturers including Cowon exaggerate hard disk capacity. The A3 actually only has about 54GB of storage.) File transfer is reasonably fast - probably as good as it gets for this type of device. And speaking of transferring files, there are no artificial restrictions. This is no Ipod. Cowon doesn't force its customers to jump through any hoops to use its products. You can change the wallpaper as often as you like, change the startup and shutdown screen, and play your songs as many times as you wish without the manufacturer trying to squeeze more money out of you.
I use the A3 mostly while driving. It can handle normal driving conditions and road bumps fine without skipping.
Although I use the A3 almost exclusively to listen to music it is nice to have other capabilities available. The picture viewer is very good. I uploaded a few photos that were already sized for the A3's screen (800 x 480 pixels) and they looked fine. The zoom feature works amazingly well, much better than any other software zoom I've seen - the photos still looked sharp when magnified. The display quality is good for LCD, but when I compared a photo on the A3 to the same photo on my computer's CRT display the A3 appeared washed out and flat. However, the A3's display is perfectly acceptable for its primary function of navigating menu items. In fact, it's very impressive.
The joystick works OK for me but could be better. I have large hands and have a little trouble manipulating it sometimes.
Cowon's on-line technical support is pretty good. The technicians seem to be reasonably competent and they do try to help.
It's great to have .flac support.
Now for the bad points: The A3 has video playback problems. It supports lots of file formats, but doesn't play everything perfectly. I had given up on playing high-quality videos until version 1.27 of the firmware, which works much better but still has problems. Overall I'm happy though, because I only want a few videos and I converted them to a format the A3 plays well.
Some other problems are also present. It's very difficult to locate a file in a large list. For example, I have one folder that contains about 2,000 songs. Locating a specific song is very time consuming and frustrating because of the way the scroll bar works.
The A3 doesn't use the same type of USB plug as other Cowon devices. Since I use a Cowon F2 frequently as well, it would be nice to be able to connect both of them using the same cable so I wouldn't have to switch cables all the time. I'm not sure if the A3 is using the non-standard cable, or the F2.
Connecting the A3 to the computer can be tricky. The instructions indicate you should use the USB ports on the back of your computer. I found this to be true. Connecting the A3 to the USB port on the front of my computer did not work, and caused problems with an external USB drive connected to the back port.
Here's a helpful tip: The A3 scales album cover images to 180 x 180 pixels. If you assign the top left corner of the A3's screen the x, y coordinates 0, 0, the album cover images fill the area from 81, 99 to 260, 278. I pre-scaled all my album cover images to 176 x 176, then added a one-pixel-wide white border around the outside, then a one-pixel-wide black border. That looks very sharp. (I'll post a sample as a customer image.)
Another helpful tip: You can create your own startup and shutdown screen image to replace the Cowon logo. This isn't documented in the instructions. Here's how: Make an 800 x 480 picture. Convert it to an 8-bit 256-color .bmp file (I used IrfanView - load your picture, select "Image," "Decrease Color Depth," "256 Colors." Make sure the "Use Floyd-Steinberg dithering" box is checked. Click "Ok." Save the picture as a .bmp file.) Rename your file "A3_LOGO" with no extension. The size of this file should be 377KB. Then, follow the steps to upgrade the firmware with this exception: Replace the "A3_LOGO" file in the firmware archive with your "A3_LOGO" file before completing the firmware upgrade. You can also delete the "\Photo\Logo" directory on the A3 since the image will be stored in memory from now on.
Summery: In spite of the A3's flaws, I still think it's the best of its type even if it may never be perfect, and I don't regret purchasing it. Even Cowon's newest media player, the O2, only has a video resolution of 480 x 272. And Cowon is still supporting the A3 by working to improve the firmware.
1. Sound quality: I owned about 6 other mp3 players - A3's audio is the best I've heard.
2. Image quality: Screen resolution is quite impressive - it is so good that 4" stills and videos feel much larger. I would strongly prefer to watch videos on this player than on most portable DVD players with 7" or 10" screen sizes.
3. File transfer: It is reasonably fast - in 10minutes I've transfered around 4 gigs of files.
4. Built-in Mike and voice recording quality: Again, I am impressed.
5. Compatibility with existing file formats: so far it played 95% of the video files that I've downloaded and 100% of audio files.
1. Proprietary USB file transfer cable. Why Cowon? A2 model worked just fine with generic one.
2. Somewhat delayed response (slower than in A2) when switching between mp3 files and pausing videos. I hope they'll fix it with the future firmware upgrades.
3. Poor zoom function in Photos - it interpolates rather than zooms.
4. You have to convert PDF files into different format to view them.
5. Mediocre interface and nearly identical to A2, many buttons remain unassigned on multiple screens - with the upgraded processor Cowon could've added some additional functionality to the device.
In all - very good PMP gadget.
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