Christmas Gadgets: Creative Zen, LCD Monitor

So it’s a few days after Christmas, and like most of us tech-heads, I’ve got a few more gadgets to play with.

First up: the Creative Zen 4GB. This one was a little bit of a saga.

Last year, we got the kids no-name MP3 players, on the theory that we didn’t want to spend megabucks on something they wouldn’t use. They made valiant attempts to use them, but the little machines just weren’t up to the job. So, it seemed prudent to buy them iPods this year.

Well, except for Apple’s attempts to break all non-iTunes iPod software, which had the side effect of making the devices unusable under Linux. Still, this was what they wanted, and they had been good this year, and very patient with my ever-more-convoluted schemes to get the old players working. So, iPod Nano 3Gs for both of them. My heart sank as I watched some of my hard-earned money go to reward such behavior.

As part of the deal, I vowed to find a non-Apple player that would be good for when the iPods gave up the ghost or became “uncool”. And my dear wife, upon hearing this, went online, did some research, and bought me the aforementioned Creative Zen 4GB.

From a Linux perspective, it’s in the “not quite ready for prime time” mode. Rhythmbox and Banshee are working on support; I tried a prerelease of Rhythmbox, and found its support to be very unstable. The only usable app is Gnomad2, which has a terrible UI and also occasionally crashes, but can manage to upload audio, video, and photos without too much hassle. Still, this is a problem of fine-tuning, and not of a hostile hardware vendor; I’m confident that these devices will be well-supported in the near future.

The Zen is picky about what video files it will play, but I managed to figure it out: DivX or XviD video, 320×200 or smaller image size, encoded at a 480 kbit/sec video bitrate or less. Other video files might work, too, but you’ll have to find them on your own.

My Zen has a little problem with the button locking feature: after unlocking, the screen comes up to all-white, and you have to power-cycle it to get the display back. I’m assuming this is a firmware bug, as the screen is still visible for a short time after engaging the lock. Other than this, the Zen is a delight, and every bit as functional as the iPod.

The other nice gadget: a 24-inch LCD from Envision, bought after Christmas with a combination of gift cards, exchanges, and some of my own money. It was an open-box, and I saved about $80 for that; the only problem turns out to be a single dead pixel in the corner of the screen which is barely visible. It does 1920×1200 in very nice, bright color.

Here, too, an improvement on my life only came after some effort. Debian 4.0’s drivers for the Intel graphics chipset are not capable of driving a widescreen LCD; the best I could get was 1600×1200, a normal-width resolution stretched across the wide display. I booted an Ubuntu Gutsy live CD to verify that the problem wasn’t with the monitor, and then set to the task of backporting everything I needed from lenny. Happily, before I started, I found that someone (Holger Levsen, to be exact) had done the work for me.

Things are now about 90% there. The new drivers still don’t have everything figured out for running both Compiz desktop effects and XVideo acceleration at the same time, so I’ve had to turn XVideo off. My computer can render video without hardware support, but the quality isn’t as high. But, I have my nice wide screen, with crisp fonts and lots of room. I figure I’ll live with what I have until lenny releases, and then see what progress has been made.

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6 thoughts on “Christmas Gadgets: Creative Zen, LCD Monitor

  1. Support for MTP devices in rhythmbox isn’t great, but we’re working on it. There are a few new challenges we haven’t seen with other devices we support.

    Coincidentally, I bought such a device today. I’m having some trouble getting it to work at all on even the most basic level, sadly..

  2. I had the same screen problem. A workaround is to lock/unlock quickly again.

    Try it and see. However I read around that this could be a real hardware problem not a firmware one, and that was the main reason I returned it.

    That and the compatibility with linux are my two biggest concerns.

  3. Thanks for the hint. I ended up sending mine back to Creative, and got a replacement which doesn’t have the problem.

    I’ve also learned that some of the Linux compatibility problems are fixable by updating the Zen to the latest firmware.

  4. Thanks for the hint. I ended up sending mine back to Creative, and got a replacement which doesn’t have the problem.

    I’ve also learned that some of the Linux compatibility problems are fixable by updating the Zen to the latest firmware.

  5. Hi, I have just now found your site whilst browsing on the Internet as I am seeking some information on LCD TVs!. It is a good blog so I bookmarked you and I intend to return another day to give it a more detailed look when I have more time.

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