So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
- Huge number of file supports, Great design, Removable battery, Excellent video and audio capture
- Recessed screen, No FLAC support, screen shows noise on mid-tone greys,
The Topfield TFP20 is an exceptional portable media player and considering this is their first foray into this field they are to be highly commended.
Price$ 799.00 (AUD)
With the ever expanding availability of television shows, movies, music and E-books on the internet, devices that allow people to view content on the move become more important. Mobile phones and gaming devices like Sony's Playstation Portable are moving toward supporting multimedia playback but as yet, they have been unable to successfully topple a dedicated multimedia player as the best option.
We have reviewed quite a few portable media players and while not all of them have been outstanding, the handful of products that rated highly have been some of our favourite devices to review. We love the convenience of being able to watch all our favourite content on the train ride to work and the interconnectivity with other devices for both input and output. The best of these devices so far has been the Cowon iAudio A2 but Topfield has come out of left field with their latest offering. The Topfield TFP20 has matched Cowon on many features, surpassed them on others and come short on few. A lesser player may be hampered by comparisons to the A2 since it is such a high quality product but the TFP20 walks away proudly as its equal.
The design of the Topfield TFP20 is the antithesis of the A2. The entire unit is a piano black hard plastic material dominated by a four inch TFT LCD screen. On the right of the screen are the controls which include a central selection button and a surrounding four way directional pad. This is the most commonly used control mechanism and is used for navigation, playback shuttle and media pause. The four buttons below the directional pad are labelled Menu, Esc, Mode and Mark. The Menu and Mode buttons are fairly self explanatory and the Esc button is essentially a cancel button of sorts. This button is also used to stop playback at any time and comes in handy when the boss almost catches you watching a movie at work. The Mark button is used to place bookmarks within a track or mark where you are up to in your E-book.
The left side of the unit houses all the connections including a 3.5mm headphone jack, AV out and AV in jacks, DC in and USB. The top the unit has only one switch which is used for power on/off and to place the device on hold. We found this design very simple and easy to both understand and use. The button layout and functionality was not confusing at all especially when compared to the slightly befuddling A2 controls.
The rear of the TFP20 has a detachable Lithium-Polymer battery pack. Since there is no external battery charger or secondary battery packs available we thought this was a fairly pointless feature. However, we are assured by Topfield that both these accessories will become available in the near future. In that case, being able to slap a new battery in when the old one runs out is actually a useful feature and a factor that differentiates the Topfield from the competition. The battery life is wholly dependant on what you are playing but we found that about 6 hours of video playback could be squeezed out of one battery. Only 3 hours of video recording could be performed though.
The lynchpin of any Portable Media Player is always the screen size and quality. We have reviewed everything from the 0.96" screen of the Voxson MP200 through to the 7" screen of the Archos AV700. One constant across all screens is the idiom that no matter how large a screen is, if it doesn't display a high quality image and isn't easily viewable, it isn't worth the time and effort needed to use it.
The TFP20 has a remarkable 4" widescreen display that exudes bright clear images with excellent colour reproduction and no noticeable pixelisation. Obviously the quality of the image will depend greatly on what you are viewing but when viewing films copied from a DVD, the playback was flawless. We found that the screen tended to collect quite a bit of dust at its edges since it is not flush against the body of the unit but rather recessed about 5mm. Keeping the screen clean became annoying after a while and completely impossible. The viewing angle of the screen was quite reasonable though. In the vertical plane the screen could be viewed from a 15-20 degree angle from the bottom of the unit with the image still visible however from the top of the unit colour shift occurred at about 45 degrees. Horizontal viewing angle was much better with an image still visible at about 30 degrees.
We tested the screen by running a similar test to that which we use when testing televisions. We ran the lobby scene from The Matrix to test how well it handled motion and how well it rendered colours and we were impressed by its performance. The response time was flawless without any of the noticeable ghosting associated with mediocre displays. We also ran the T-Rex attack from Jurassic Park to test how well it rendered dark scenes and fine details in low light and found that it did a near perfect job. The contrast ratio of this screen is quite good with little stepping or colour bleeding. We did notice a little pixelisation on the pebbled skin of the T-Rex but considering how difficult this test is for any device to properly display, we were willing to forgive this slight problem. We also ran our Digital Video Essentials tests on the screen as well and found that the screen had problems rendering mid-tone greys with some unattractive digital artifacts popping across those areas in the grey scale tests. Fine details like diagonal lines and moire motion tests resulted in colourised banding in those areas. While the screen failed these particular tests, these problems don't seem to translate to any noticeable image quality problems when viewing video so it's nothing terribly serious. We did notice a slight degree of stepping in light colour variations, namely between white and beige but this didn't affect skin tones so we were willing to forgive its shortcomings.
We tested all the reported file formats that the TFP20 supports and can happily report that it successfully played AVI, MPG, ASF and WMV up to resolutions of 720x480 (WMV9 320x240, 500kbps). While we didn't test all the codecs that the specifications claim are supported, we did test MPEG1, MPEG2, Dixv 5 and WMV9 and found that all worked perfectly. In addition to these the device supports Divx 3.1. Dixv 4.x, Xvid and ISO MPEG4 SP/ASP formats as well. Like the A2, the Topfield has subtitle support in .SMI format. These are simple to use and need to be in the same directory as the source video to be displayed. However, one interesting feature of this device is that you can colourise the text of the subtitles to suit the video being played. This is particularly useful in situations where white subtitles would get drowned out by the scenery.
Video playback can be bookmarked so that you don't lose where you are up to and when that video is played again, it will start where you left off. However, once you play back a bookmarked video, the bookmark is automatically erased, so if that scene is important to you for whatever reason, you will need to set the bookmark manually each time you access the file. Audio files can also be bookmarked in the same fashion. Video aspect ratio settings can also be toggled via the mode button during playback. Essentially, this is a 4:3 or 16:9 selector but a zoom option will also eliminate the ratio masking for those looking for to fill the screen when watching a 2.35:1 film.
The Topfield FTP20 supports MP3 in both VBR and CBR as well as AC3, WMA, OGG and WAV up to 320kbps. We were a little disappointed that we couldn't play our FLAC but since there were so many supported formats already, we didn't realistically expect FLAC playback anyway. The audio quality is excellent in normal playback mode but the equalizer left a lot to be desired. Most of the labels for the equalizer tended to make the sound worse rather than better. Guitars in "Rock" mode became a little muted while the drums were made prominent but too tinny. The other modes also tended to reduce the effectiveness of the types of music they were attributed to but since you can set the equalizer manually, this isn't a huge problem.
The photo viewer on the TFP20 is superior to that of the A2 in some ways and inferior in others. The A2 has no resolution restrictions whereas the Topfield can only play files up to 8 megapixels. These images can be in JPG, BMP, GIF, TIFF or PNG and can be played either individually or in a slideshow. JPEG and BMP files can be played in conjunction with Mp3 files during a slideshow presentation but this does not extend to the other file formats. We tested all the reported image formats up to 8 megapixels and found they all displayed well. When combined with the ability to output the images to a TV via the supplied AV out cables and the x4 zoom function, we were more than happy with the image capabilities of this unit.
E-books and other text files can be displayed on this unit with up to 30 bookmarks. The files can be scrolled up and down one line at a time by pressing up or down on the directional pad or 10 lines at a time by pressing left or right. Being able to view text files and especially being able to bookmark them is a valuable tool and this media player does the job well. We found the controls to be very simple and easy to use and the screen quality allowed clear text without any strain on the eyes.
Recording and AV output
This is the area where the Topfield TFP20 rises above the A2. The Cowon recorded in .asf format and while it looks reasonable enough, it suffered a little when played back independent of the player. The TFP20 captures audio and video on the fly in 640x480 AVI format via the Divx 5.0 codec at a maximum rate of 5Mbps. The audio is captured in 128kbps MP3 format and sounds perfect. We connected a DVD player to the device and recorded various films. The quality was astounding and the audio was clear and in perfect sync. It should be noted that when you are recording the image looks as though it is being captured in 4:3 despite the source aspect ratio but when it is played back it is in the correct ratio, so there is no problem there to speak of. The created video can also be paused while recording and resumed with a different scene but from the same source. Imagine connecting a video camera to this device and making rough edits of your home movies ... the possibilities are endless. Users can also record voice via the in built speakers or connect a CD player to record audio into MP3 format.
Outputting AV uses the same cable as capturing but in the AV out connector. This allows you to connect your player to any television set and enjoy you media on a proper television. Since Topfield was smart enough to include a remote control for their player, being able to sit back and enjoy a movie or the like is made very simple. Not having a remote control was one of the biggest problems for the A2.
Unfortunately, the Topfield has no radio but it does have an alarm, a sleep function and the ability to program the device for time recordings. The firmware is easily upgradeable and there a power save mode to prolong battery life.
If you are in the market for a top quality portable media player, then look no further than the Topfield TFP20. The hard drive is only 20GB which is quickly becoming inadequate and the price tag is a little pricey when you consider that the A2 has recently dropped in price by $100 but in the end you need to decide what features you desire and which of the two does what you need.
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