VuGo Portable Multimedia System

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20 November 2005
Updated: 13 July 2006 (See bottom of page)
19 Dec 2006 - Apparently Tiger has re-named the VuGo as the TV Now (TVNow).  It is selling for as little as $25.00.  They seem to have dropped the whole thing about copying video from your PC, and are marketing it as only being able to record video from TV (which is all that worked for me anyway).  I may be naive, but I think the change in strategy may have been partially a result of this review.
Final Update Apr 2012:  This page still gets some hits, but the VuGo, the TVNow, and the alternative video players I mentioned have all faded into the history of technology.  Today, All Android Tablets are Linux Slates. Many different Android devices are intended as media players, and even if they are primarily internet tablets, most can function well as media players.
  1. Searches for "TV Now" would not find this page as easily.  Since those 2 words are far more generic than "VuGo" it is harder for the search engines to get you to reviews such as this one.
  2. Mentioning only TV recording avoids my complaint, and possible legal implications, of the advertising on the package (see below), as well as many of the other issues mentioned in my review.
I have reason to believe that only the marketing has changed and that the firmware has not even been touched, let alone fixed.  Another review indicates that the issue of very loud, and unadjustable sound during record is still present.  If they had a firmware update, I think they would have fixed this.  There is nothing in the VuGo menus that would betray it's previous marketing.  I am quite sure that "TV Now" (or "TVNow") and "VuGo" are the same device and same firmware.  There is still no mention of screen resolution, and a large yellow sticker on the packaging that covers the screen.  Covering the screen may keep the experienced eye from determining the display technology.  I strongly recommend avoiding any such product that seems to hide the display technology or specifications.

Original Rewiew of the Vugo Portable Media Player Continues:

I just saw these in WalMart for the first time today.  Being a member of a family that travels allot with young children, my eye is always out for ways to entertain them.  Given that I am also very gadget happy, and sort of cheap, the thought of a small, inexpensive, flash-based media player got several of my neurons firing at the same time.  That rarely happens.  Have no fear though, it didn't last long.
VuGo Overview
VuGo by Tiger.

  I did a few quick Google searches on the device, and found -- Very little.  I found several product announcements, all of which were very similar.  These included "Specifications" such as:
These are Features, not Specifications, folks !!  I never could find simple specifications such as the screen resolution.  That includes checking the box, and  I also did almost an hour of Google searches.  I finally found a post stating that the VuGo was essentially the same device as the ZVUE Media Player (Link Below).  The ZVUE pages do have specs, and list the resolution as 160 x 240.

With such poor information available,  I had my last incentive to go buy one -- I could write a review !

Buying one was somewhat interesting in itself.  Here are some different prices I saw:

"Out of the Box" Experience

Physical:  OK, for $99 I don't expect a whole lot.  The case is just plastic, but  the feel is kinda nice, all things considered.  I really like the form factor, and the back of the unit is contoured to be better to hold. 
Back of Unit
Back of the VuGo is contoured for grip.

The buttons are cheap feeling, (more on that later) but well located. It's a fraction the size of any portable DVD player. I kinda like the fact that it runs on AAA batteries - no worrying about charging, or how many charge/discharge cycles you have left on a battery pack that costs half the price of the device.  If you want to watch more while traveling, AAA cells are available almost anyplace.  [Note: See Update below].  Also, the SD/MMC card slot has a cover, and does have the push-to-eject feature.  This is important to both those who bite their nails down to blood, or for those who like to keep their nails really nice --  OK, I guess the nail bitting and blood bit has no part in a review like this, but I do have a pet-peeve about gadgets that lack this simple feature.

Top of VuGo
Top of VuGo, Showing (Left to Right) the Headphone Jack,
Power Button, SD slot and cover (open) and the Volume buttons.

The left side has the AV input jack, and the screen adjustment.  The right side has the mini USB port (same style as seen on many inexpensive Cameras, MP3 Players, etc.) and the DC power jack.  Someone reported that their DC power plug fit very loosely in the machine, and would fall out or loose contact - sometimes while recording.  I can say that this is NOT a problem on my unit once the plug is fully inserted.

Power Up:  The first thing you notice is the screen.  Sorry to say, but it is terrible.  Given that a PlayStation Portable (PSP) costs twice as much, and the screen is more than twice as big, it is (IMHO) fair to expect at least similar quality over the smaller area.  Forget it.  The brightness is fine, and the contrast is easily adjustable by a (analog) wheel on the left side, but I can see why they won't readily tell you the resolution.

First Tests: 

So the Box and website says:

The following media file formats are supported by VUGO:
  -  Photo: BMP, TIF, JPG, GIF, PNG
  -  Video: WMV, ASF, MPG-1, AVI
  -  Music: MP3, WAV

And it has a SD card slot right?  So a good quick test would be to stick some JPEG's, MP3's, and AVI's on a SD card and pop it in the machine right?  Well -- this didn't work!  The VuGo reported that there were no Movies, Music, or Pictures on the card.  OK -- let the VuGo format the card, and then try - perhaps there is a specific directory structure or something.   Sure enough it does create 3 directories, music, movies, and photos.  So I re-copy the files to the appropriate directories.  Still the VuGo recognizes none of them !!!  What they mean is that the PC (or Mac) Software supports those file types NOT the VuGo IANAL (I am not a lawyer), but I think we are getting really close to false and/or misleading advertising here.  I was really hoping for a nice, small, inexpensive media player that would play standard file formats.

Recording Some Video: The VuGo can record video and music directly from any line-level source. Given the failure to play standard media types off the SD card, I thought I'd try recording some analog video.  The "Octopus" cable included with the VuGo makes connecting the VuGo for recording very straigtht forward. The VuGo has a manual record mode and a VCR-like timer. I manually recored some cartoons for the kids. This worked, but I have several complaints:
  1. During the recording, the sound came out of the VuGo speaker at a very high volume, and I was unable to turn it down or off.
  2. With the quality set to "Best", video was smooth, i.e. good framerate, but the resolution is so low that it is more an impression of a picture than actually watching what was recorded. It is fine for a child to watch a cartoon on, but that is about all.
  3. I was able to fit 2 half-hour cartoons in the built-in 128M Flash, and 2 more on a 128M MMC card. I recorded them using the "Good" quality setting, and as I said, the quality was fine for a cartoon. Due to the nature of compressed video, you can record a lot more cartoons than you can "real world" video in a given amount of memory.  (I suppose you want me to explain this in 5 words or less.)
  4. I had some difficulty adjusting the volume during playback. After some fiddling, I found that I had to press the (- Vol) button toward the right side (almost between the buttons) to get it to work. Even with this, it seemed to have very few steps of volume. There is no on-screen display of the volume setting.
  5. There is a pause button, but no Fast Forward or Rewind.  If your child (or you) hits a button by accident, there is no way to get back to the point where you were.  There is also no key lockout to prevent this. You also cannot pause the video, power off the device, and then resume. 
Despite the above, I will say that on several occasions the VuGo - loaded with a few episodes of "Dora The Explorer" did  keep a 3 year old quiet.

VuGo's DRM: (Disclaimer: As of this writing, I have not tried the VuGo software, so this section is more of a rant than a review.) The VuGo will not work as a standard USB storage device. A given VuGo must be "paired" to a single PC or Mac. Additionally, only a maximum of 2 VuGo's can be paired to a PC. Got 3 kids? tough. The VuGo content is managed by the VuGo PC software, and syncronization takes place when the VuGo is connected via USB. The VuGo software translates the various file formats into the respective VuGo formats. We must assume that this is done to prevent file-swapping.  It's the VuGo version of DRM (Digital Rights Management - Wikipedia link below). I am sure you can see the horrendous damage that would be done to our economy if my son should swap an episode of "SpongeBob SquarePants" with his friend down the street; Or worse than that -- think of the frightening possibilty that some kid may record an episode of the "Backyardigans" in the VuGo's couple pixel by couple pixel resolution, and it should get out on a Peer-To-Peer network. I am shaking with horror at the mere possibility. What's really amazing is that they may have found the one true way to make DRM that nobody will crack:  Make the device so lousy that nobody will bother to try.

VuGo on the Web:  Think my criticism is going to stop with just bashing the device and its software? Nope! If you surf to, you notice 2 things immediately: First, it is infested with Shockwave, and second, there's not much there.

I will not be continuing this review as previously promised for the following reasons:
  1. In my area, the VuGo seems to have been discontinued.  (Gee, I wonder why?)  Update: Re-Branded, not discontinued.  Update: Now gone.
  2. I no longer use mine.
  3. I discovered another serious problem. The VuGo seems to run the AAA batteries down in a matter of days even when it is off.
  4. I have found something that is a little more expensive, but a much better unit:

If you are looking for something that basically fits the description of the VuGo, but is much more capable, I recommend the GP2X.  (See Links Below).  The GP2X sells in the US for $189.99 (With free shipping as of this writing).  The GP2X does not record TV without separate hardware, but it did pass all my quick tests mentioned above.  It plays many standard formats without conversion, and appears as a standard USB storage device when plugged into any Windows, Mac, or Linux system.  It also currently contains no DRM limits or locks, and the company that makes it (Gamepark Holdings) has promised that DRM will only apply to commercial games that they sell specifically for the GP2X.  Your ability to play standard media file types or 3rd party games will not be disabled with a firmware update (like what Sony keeps doing to PSP customers).  The GP2X can also be connected to a TV or Monitor(s), so it can even replace a car or portable DVD player.  This requires only a cable available from the same retailer - no hacking or opening the case.
Given the ability to play standard file formats, freedom from intentional incompatibilities, Video output functionality, and ability to play thousands of games (via emulation of many game consoles) it is a better deal (IMHO) than the more popular handheld gaming units such as the PSP and Nitendo DS.

Update Apr 2012:
  Sadly, Neither the GP2X, or the GP2X Wiz (which was it's successor) are sold any more.  I would reccommend an Android based media player or tablet.

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Wikipedia page about DRM
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