How Portable Media Centers Work (2023)

In our increasingly mobile society, portability is king. Thanks to easy-to-transport, high-tech products such as cell phones, laptops, personal data assistants and portable MP3 players, many of the tasks that can be accomplished at home on a personal computer can now be done on the road.

With portable media centers, you can store and access nearly all of your digital entertainment files on a single, lightweight unit about the size of a paperback novel. They can handle recorded television programs, movies, home videos, music and digital photos. You can even connect a portable media center to a television or stereo using the A/V-out jack when portability isn't necessary.


In this article, you'll learn about the storage capacity and wide array of advanced features available in portable media centers.

Storage Capacity and File Types

Windows Mobile-based portable media centers currently feature 20-GB or 40-GB storage capacities and can store and play not only music and photos, but also video content. A portable media center with a 40-GB hard disk can hold up to 160 hours of video, up to 10,000 songs or tens of thousands of digital photographs. Archos currently offers non-Windows portable video player/recorders with similar capabilities to the Windows PMCs, but Archos' players feature up to 100 GB (400 hours of video) of storage.

File Types

Windows Mobile-based portable media centers support a wide variety of different file types, including the following:

  • Microsoft Windows Media Video and Microsoft Photo Story files (.wmv and .asf) at a resolution of 320x240 pixels and a bit rate that is less than 800 kilobytes per second (Kbps)
  • Microsoft Windows Media Audio files (.wma)
  • MP3 audio files (.mp3)
  • JPEG image files (.jpg, .jpeg, .jpe, .jfif)
  • Microsoft Recorded TV Show files (.dvr-ms)
  • MPEG movie files (.mpeg, .mpg, mpe, .m1v, .mp2v, and .mpeg2)
  • Microsoft Windows Video files (.avi)
  • Microsoft Windows Audio files (.wav)

Windows Media Player 10 has the built-in capacity to convert oversized Windows Media Video files and JPEG pictures into a format and size that the PMC can handle. Windows Mobile-based portable media centers are not compatible with iTunes music files.



  1. Adding Music and Video to a PMC
  2. Windows-based Portable Media Centers
  3. Alternatives to Windows Media Players

Adding Music and Video to a PMC

How Portable Media Centers Work (2)

Using Windows Media 10, you can transfer files from a personal computer to a portable media center through a USB 2.0 cable. Windows PMCs will accept the following types of files from a home computer or laptop:

  • Music copied from a CD
  • Pictures from a digital camera
  • Home movies from a digital video camera
  • TV shows recorded on a computer running Windows XP Media Center Edition or other personal video recorder programs
  • Videos downloaded from the Internet

Portable media centers can also play premium downloaded digital music and video from various online services. It should be noted, however, that DVDs you own cannot be transferred to the device because of copyright restrictions.


Transferring Files

Files can be transferred from a personal computer to a portable media center using Windows Media Player 10. If the portable media center cannot support a particular file size or format, Windows Media Player 10 will automatically convert the file to a type and size supported by the device. You can set up Windows Media Player 10 to sync the type of media you want every time you connect a portable media center to your PC.

The file-synchronization process using Windows Media Player 10 is fairly straightforward:

  1. Install Windows Media Player 10 on your PC.
  2. Use the USB 2.0 cable that came with your PMC to connect the portable media center to your PC.
  3. Windows Media Player automatically detects that a portable device is attached and asks whether you would like to sync the device using Windows Media Player.
  4. Click OK to run through the setup.
  5. The Sync Wizard opens and gives you the opportunity to configure the sync settings. Accept the default settings if they look good to you, and click Finish.*
  6. If a Security Upgrade Required dialog box appears, click OK to accept the upgrade.
  7. Windows Media Player syncs all selected audio, video, recorded TV and image files to the portable media center, including album art for CDs. Windows Media Player may convert some files into an appropriate format for playback on your portable media center. Syncing takes anywhere from a few seconds to several hours, depending on the number and size of files.**
  8. When synchronization is complete, the "Items to synchronize" panel will show the number of items that have been synchronized.
  9. Unplug the cable. The device returns to the home screen.

*If you like, you can change the sync settings in Windows Media Player so that only specific types of media files (e.g., music files or photos) will sync each time you connect the portable media center to your PC. To change the sync settings in Windows Media Player, click the Sync tab, and then click the Sync Settings button. The new dialog box that appears allows you to choose the files that you want to sync when you connect the portable media center to your PC. The default setting automatically syncs all available media files.

**File conversion may be necessary for some audio and video files to make them compatible with your portable media center. To adjust media file-conversion settings, go to Tools>Options in Windows Media Player 10. The dialog that displays conversion settings is on the Devices tab. To speed up the sync process for large files, you can choose to allow Windows Media Player to convert audio and video files during computer downtime.


Windows-based Portable Media Centers

How Portable Media Centers Work (3)

There are three major brands of Windows Media-based portable media centers currently on the market:

Creative Zen Portable Media Center


  • Manufacturer: Creative Labs
  • Storage capacity: 20 GB
  • Dimensions: 5.67 x 3.18 x 1.06 inches (14.4 x 8.1 x 2.7 cm)
  • Display size: 3.8 inches (9.7 cm)
  • Resolution: 320x240
  • Weight: 11.3 ounces (320 grams)
  • Battery life: Up to 22 hours continuous audio playtime or up to seven hours continuous video playtime
  • Price: MSRP $499

iriver PMC-120 (20 GB) and PMC-140 (40 GB)

  • Manufacturer: iriver
  • Storage capacity: 20 GB or 40 GB
  • Dimensions: 5.6 x 3.3 x 1.2 inches (14.2 x 8.4 x 3.0 cm)
  • Display size: 3.5 inches (8.9 cm)
  • Resolution: 320x240
  • Weight: 45 ounces (1.3 kg)
  • Battery life: Up to 14 hours continuous audio playtime or up to five hours continuous video playtime
  • Price: MSRP $499 or MSRP $649
How Portable Media Centers Work (4)

Samsung Yepp YH-999 Portable Media Center

  • Manufacturer: Samsung
  • Storage capacity: 20 GB
  • Dimensions: 3.82 x 4.21 x 0.83 inches (9.6 x 10.6 x 2.1 cm)
  • Display size: 3.5 inches (8.9 cm)
  • Resolution: 320x240
  • Weight: 8 ounces (227 grams)
  • Battery life: Up to 12 hours continuous audio playtime or up to three hours continuous video playtime
  • Price: MSRP $499
How Portable Media Centers Work (5)


Alternatives to Windows Media Players

How Portable Media Centers Work (6)

There are also non-Windows-based portable media players currently available -- for example, the Archos AV420 (20 GB), AV480 (80 GB) and the new AV4100 (100 GB) Pocket Video Recorders.

One advantage of the Archos players is the dramatic increase in capacity. Another major advantage is that television programs and movies can be recorded directly from TV, VCR or cable/satellite; with Windows Mobile-based portable media centers, a PC running Windows XP Media Center must serve as an intermediary in the video transfer process. A downside to the Archos players is that you don't have the benefit of Window's Mobile's incredibly simple, automatic file-sync process.


A robust challenger in the portable media player arena is the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP). The PSP is a lightweight, pocket-size gaming device that utilizes a broad range of digital content. The PSP features a 16:9 widescreen display, USB 2.0 and 802.11b WiFi LAN connectivity and the ability to play games, video and MP3 audio.

In addition, there is increased competition between Windows Media-based portable media centers and Apple iPod media players. Apple's latest iPod supports up to 150 hours of video and is available in 30 and 60 GB models. Apple already has network deals to provide downloadable TV shows, and it is in talks with TiVo to allow for coordination between home DVRs and iPods.

The Future of Portable Media

Will portable media centers be a hit with today's on-the-go consumers? Only time will tell. Although Windows-based portable media centers are larger and heavier than MP3 players such as the Apple iPod, they offer larger screens, a familiar Windows-based interface and more diverse media content. The future promises more video and audio content designed specifically for portable media centers. Some of these new features include the following:

  • TiVoToGo - With this new feature, TiVo subscribers will be able to transfer television programs to a Windows XP-based PC. Then, they can use Windows Media Player 10 to transfer their favorite shows to a portable media center.
  • MSN video downloads, including videos from CNBC, MSNBC, Fox Sports and Food Network - These videos, which are stored in a Windows Media Player 10 library, can be easily synchronized with portable media centers.
  • MTV, VH1, CMT and Comedy Central programming for portable media centers, including news content and musical performances

If portable media centers prove popular with consumers, we can expect to see even greater storage capacity and sleeker and lighter designs.

For more information on portable media centers and related topics, check out the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • How MP3 Players Work
  • How PDAs Work
  • How DVDs Work
  • How CDs Work
  • How iPods Work
  • How the Ultra-Mobile PC Works
  • How the PlayStation Portable Works
  • How Digital Cameras Work
  • How Hard Discs Work
  • How Camcorders Work

More Great Links


  • Wired: Apple Gives Video the iPod Touch - October 12, 2005
  • PC Magazine: Portable Media Centers Change Everything,1759,1641714,00.asp
  • PC World: Microsoft Takes On Portable Video,aid,118015,00.asp


What does a portable media player do? ›

A portable media player (PMP) (also including the related digital audio player (DAP)) is a portable consumer electronics device capable of storing and playing digital media such as audio, images, and video files.

How do you use media center? ›

Using a Media Center remote, press the green Start button. . On the Windows Media Center start screen, scroll to Tasks, select Settings, select General, select Windows Media Center Setup, and then select Configure Your TV or Monitor.

What is a portable media? ›

Portable/Removable Media means any Data storage device that can be detached or removed from a computer and transported, including but not limited to: optical media (e.g. CDs, DVDs); USB drives; or flash media (e.g. CompactFlash, SD, MMC).

What can you do with a media player? ›

Media players provide most or all of the following features. They allow users to organize their multimedia collection, play songs and movies, rip CD tracks to MP3 and other audio formats, burn CDs, listen to Internet radio, download content from online music stores and stream content from the Internet.

What is the difference between a portable media player and a digital media device? ›

What is the difference, if any, between a Portable Media Player (PMP) and a Digital Media Device (DMD)? PMPs can be taken anywhere, while DMDs are not made to be carried around. PMPs are generally much more affordable than DMDs. PMPs can be analog or digital, while DMDs only play digital files.

What are examples of Media Center? ›

Audio-visual software and devices
  • Entertainment center, a furniture housing electronics for media consumption.
  • Home cinema, also commonly referred to as a dedicated "home theater" or "home media room"
  • Home theater PC, media computer designed for living-room or Home cinema use.

What is a media center as a business? ›

A media center contains all the basic information that a traditional journalist, blogger, or marketing pro would want to know about your business or organization. And it's all in one tidy section of your website. Not all businesses would benefit from a media center (also called a news room or some other variation).

Why did Microsoft discontinue Media Center? ›

Discontinuation. During the 2015 Build developers' conference, a Microsoft executive confirmed that Media Center, with its TV receiver and PVR functionality, would not be updated for or included with Windows 10; thus the product would be discontinued.

What is the difference between Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center? ›

Windows Media Player is a playback application where in you can play music, videos and sync devices. Windows Media Center has all the features of Window Media Player and also has the ability to play Live TV, record TV.

Why did Microsoft remove Windows Media Center? ›

There has been no secret about why Media Center was dropped. It's a simple question of demographics and cost. Microsoft sees the user base as vanishingly small and the costs of maintaining the program correspondingly high. It's no longer a profitable proposition.

What is the risk of portable media? ›

Removable media devices have several notable consumer safety risks, including physical loss or theft, malware, data exfiltration and viruses. Physical loss/theft: These devices are small and easy to misplace or lose.

What are 3 examples of portable storage devices? ›

Portable storage devices are devices that connect to the USB port of a computer and are used to store and retrieve data. Examples include: USB sticks/thumb drives • iPods • PDAs • smartphones • digital cameras • external hard drives.

What are examples of portable media players? ›

Portable media players — such as DVD/Blu-Ray players, MP3 players, and more — are a popular market that requires high-quality audio and video playback combined with a convenient user interface.

What are 5 examples of media player? ›

Examples. Well known examples of media player software include Windows Media Player, VLC media player, iTunes, Winamp, IPTV Smarters, Media Player Classic, MediaMonkey, foobar2000 AIMP and JRiver Media Center.

How is the Windows Media Player useful? ›

Windows Media Player (WMP) is a free media player and library app from Microsoft that plays audio and video on personal computers. It can organize media files, create playlists, rip music from CDs and DVDs, synchronize content with digital audio players and mobile devices, and purchase or rent music from online stores.

Can you watch movies on media player? ›

If you have a DVD drive and a compatible DVD decoder installed on your computer, you can use Windows Media Player to play a DVD-Video disc—this is the type of DVD that movies are distributed on.

Is a Firestick a media player? ›

Amazon - Fire TV Stick 4K Max Streaming Media Player with Alexa Voice Remote (includes TV controls) | HD streaming device - Black. User rating, 4.8 out of 5 stars with 3182 reviews.

Can smartphones function as a portable media player? ›

An umbrella term for a variety of handheld devices that play back audio, video or both. Today, every smartphone is a portable media player; however, prior to the smartphone explosion in the 2007-2012 time frame, a variety of handheld players were available to store and play music.

Are MP3 players also called portable media players? ›

An MP3 player is an electronic device that can play MP3 digital audio files. It is a type of digital audio player (DAP), or portable media player.

How do I turn my old laptop into a media center? ›

Steps to Build Plex Media Server
  1. Step 1: Create a Bootable Ubuntu USB Drive. ...
  2. Step 2: Install Linux Server on a Laptop. ...
  3. Step 3: Install Plex Media Server. ...
  4. Step 4: Set Up and Configure Plex Media Server. ...
  5. Step 5: Add Movies and TV Shows for Streaming.
Mar 30, 2022

Can I use my PC as a media server? ›

There are two reasons to use a PC as a media center — the one we've been emphasizing so far is the fact that it's simple and affordable to just use an old PC as a media center. But it's also possible to take your HTPC to the next level by upgrading your old PC or even building an entirely new one.

Does a media server need a graphics card? ›

When it comes to a media server, a GPU isn't typically necessary. Yes, a GPU can offer hardware transcoding and could be a viable option if you're looking to repurpose an older build or want to transcode many high-resolution streams simultaneously.

What are 3 common medias used? ›

The three types of media are commonly known as news media, social media, and web media, but you might also see them referred to as earned media, shared media, and owned media. Some other forms of modern media are print media, television, movies, and video games.

What is a modern media center? ›

A modern media center goes beyond the static repository of information to a dynamic, active space that supports content creation, collaboration and personalized learning.

What are the three 3 examples of media? ›

Modern media comes in many different formats, including print media (books, magazines, newspapers), television, movies, video games, music, cell phones, various kinds of software, and the Internet.

What does a media center have? ›

a library, usually in school, that contains and encourages the use of audiovisual media and associated equipment as well as books, periodicals, and the like.

What is independent media center? ›

The Independent Media Center, better known as Indymedia, is an open publishing network of activist journalist collectives that report on political and social issues.

What are the components of media center? ›

Top 10 "Must Haves" in a Media Center
  • Dual (or More) TV Tuners. ...
  • Set-top Box Compatibility. ...
  • Quiet or Complete Silent Design. ...
  • Native, Easy-to-Use DVD Storage & Cataloging Function. ...
  • The Right Form Factor. ...
  • Hard Drive Failure & Data Protection. ...
  • High-Quality Video. ...
  • High-Quality Audio - Automatic Audio Frequency Switching.
Oct 8, 2006

What replaces Windows media Centre? ›

10 Players that can run on Windows 10 as alternatives for Windows Media Player
  • Plex media player. ...
  • Buy. ...
  • Media portal. ...
  • Myth TV. ...
  • VLC. ...
  • KM player. ...
  • Moovida. ...
  • Winamp.

What replaced Windows media? ›

Replacement. With the release of Windows 10, the original Windows Media Center vanished completely, replaced by the default music or media player Groove Music which supports more file formats than you may think.

What is used instead of a media center in Windows 10? ›

However, the pre-compiled application is not yet officially available. Certainly, there are many other good programs like Windows Media Center in the market, for example, VLC, MediaPortal, and Plex. You are free to choose any one you like to replace Windows Media Center as part of Windows 10/11.

Does Windows still have Media Player? ›

Windows Media Player (2022)

Does Windows 10 support Windows Media Center? ›

With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft made the decision to discontinue support for Windows Media Center.

Does Windows 10 come with a media player? ›

Windows Media Player is included with Windows 10 desktop. Note that the app no longer plays DVDs.

Where are Windows Media Center recordings stored? ›

In fact, the tools are (IIRC) in Media Center: go to settings\general\TV\recorder\recorder storage (again, IIRC - it's been a while....), and enter the full path to your 'new' RecordedTV folder. Click Save.

What took the place of Windows Mobile Device Center? ›

Windows Mobile Device Center
The Windows Mobile Device Center in Windows Vista.
Operating systemMicrosoft Windows Vista Microsoft Windows 7
PredecessorMicrosoft ActiveSync
SuccessorZune Software for Windows Phone 7
2 more rows

What are the disadvantages of portable storage? ›

Con: Hard Drives Aren't Infallible

They can be susceptible to fire and water damage, can overheat, and can malfunction. There is nothing worse than feeling like you've backed up your important data, only to find out that your backup solution has failed.

Why do companies ban the use of portable storage devices? ›

Using portable devices can increase the risk of data loss (when a physical device is lost), data exposure (when sensitive data is exposed to the public or a third party without consent), and increased exposure to network-based attacks to and from any system the device is connected to (both directly and via networks ...

What is one disadvantage to using removable media? ›

Media failure—Despite its low cost and convenience, removable media is inherently risky. This is because many devices have short life spans and can fail without warning. As such, if a device fails and your organization doesn't have the files backed up, you could lose key files and data.

What is the most common portable storage device today? ›

A flash memory device–sometimes called a USB stick, a memory stick, or a thumb drive– contains trillions of interconnected flash memory cells that store data. These small, portable storage devices have long been a popular choice for extra computer storage–and they can hold up to 4 terabytes.

Should I use my SD card as portable storage or internal storage? ›

Additional Notes. Motorola recommends setting up the SD card as Internal Storage if the device has 8GB or less of storage.

What is another name for a portable storage device? ›

In the computer world, portable storage devices include flash drives, USB drives (thumb drives), external hard drives (sometimes called mini hard drives), and portable CD/DVD-ROM drives.

What is portable media storage? ›

A system component that can communicate with and be added to or removed from a system or network and that is limited to data storage—including text, video, audio or image data—as its primary function (e.g., optical discs, external or removable hard drives, external or removable solid-state disk drives, magnetic or ...

Do I need media player? ›

First of all, what is a media player? It's a small portable device that connects via HDMI to your projector to display video files. One of the main reasons you might need a media player is if you plan to offer animated monograms, slideshows, or other video files.

Why would I use a portable DVD player? ›

This means you can take just one device with you when you travel and listen to your favorite music in addition to catching up on movies. Portable DVD players often come with headphones as well, so that no one else has to listen to your movie or music if he doesn't want to.

Is media player free? ›

Key Features. VLC Media Player is a free and open-source way for advanced users to play videos on any device. This video player is compatible with any type of operating system. Windows users can use it on their PC, Windows phone, or Android, while Apple users can get it on Mac, iPhone, and AppleTV.

What is the difference between a media player and a streaming service? ›

The term "media streamer" is commonly used to describe both media streamers and network media players. However, there is a difference. Media is streamed when the video, music, or photo file is saved outside of the media-playing device. A media player plays the file from its source location.

Can you watch movies on a portable DVD player? ›

A portable DVD player can run on battery power, and has a built-in screen, so you can watch your movie collection anywhere you go. This is particularly useful because a lot of newer laptops don't have disc drives.

Can you watch Netflix on a portable DVD player? ›

Insert a USB flash drive into a USB port on your car DVD player. 2. Navigate to the “USB Flash Drive” menu and select the Netflix video files you want to play. Then you can simply play Netflix videos on a car DVD player without the Netflix app installed or a network connection at all!

Are DVD players obsolete now? ›

A report emerged on social media in 2021 claimed that Warner Bros intended to phase physical media out, beginning in earnest in 2022. For some DVD collectors, this is disappointing if true. But are DVDs dead now? Absolutely not.

What media player plays everything? ›

Remember these three letters: VLC. VLC is a free, open-source media player that plays almost every audio and video file format in existence, plus CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray. And you can trust VLC because it has been around since nearly the dark days of the internet, way back in 1996.

What is the best media player out there? ›

Here is the list of the best Media Players available:
  • CyberLink PowerDVD 20 Ultra.
  • VideoLAN VLC Media Player.
  • GOM Player.
  • PotPlayer.
  • Media Player Classic-Home Cinema.
  • Plex.
  • MusicBee.
  • Kodi.
May 1, 2023


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