Take a trip to Apple HQ and you'll see a hundred Nobel Prize-winning boffins laser-carving iPod Video prototypes out of solid cool. Unfortunately, they all get discarded because the power-LED colour or click-wheel noise doesn't conform to Jonathan Ive's vision.
But Vivitar has no such scruples, releasing a 20GB video-capable digital recorder that looks like it was designed in ten minutes on the back of a fag packet and comes packed with loads of features.
Talking of iPods, the Vivitar is about the same height and width as a fourth-gen Apple player, but twice as deep and made mostly of plastic. A removable, rotating camera module makes it longer (and flimsier), while a five-way joystick and just a few buttons control all the main functions, via a nice-and-smooth graphical interface.
Video jukeboxes live or die by their displays, and while this one's enormous 3.6-inch LCD isn't gobsmackingly sharp or colourful when using the device as a camera, it looks great playing back video. A tie-clip microphone plugs in awkwardly underneath the screen, and a composite cable hooks up to the docking station for broadcast TV or DVD signals.
Video is recorded as VGA-quality MPEG-4 files, which look pretty damn good, even on a full-size telly. You might have to tweak the output of your set-top box or DVD player to get the framing right - we suffered irritating borders on some clips. You can listen to soundtracks and MP3s either through the loud but tinny on-board speaker or the quiet but tinny supplied headphones - upgrade immediately.
There's no fancy syncing software for downloading media files via the USB 2.0 docking station - you just drag and drop MP3s or JPEGs into folders or use the built-in Secure Digital slot. The model doesn't support WMA or AAC tunes, but DivX video clips work okay.
The 3.1-megapixel still images from the fixed-focus lens are soft and lack strong colours, but are just about acceptable. Moving images (up to 28 frames per second at 640 x 480-pixel resolution) are better, but are no substitute for MiniDV video or footage from the 4GB JVC Everio (T3 106, 5/5).
That 20GB hard drive means there's room for over 20,000 photos or about ten hours of movies, but don't get too excited; you won't get to watch all the Police Academy outings back to back - the battery fades after about an hour of shooting or playing films. We also experienced some memory errors and occasional crashes that raise questions about the unit's reliability.
This is a decent convergence device, especially for watching TV shows and DVDs on the move. But if you want a seamless, multifunctional video jukebox where build quality is as important as functionality, you'll probably have to wait for Ive to pull his finger out at Apple Towers.