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MP3 & MP4 Players (Portable Video Players) explained

MP3 and MP4 players (Portable Video Players) players give you an easy way to take your music and videos with you. Just transfer the files from your computer (MP3 gives you music, MP4 gives you music and video) to the player and you can enjoy them anywhere – using headphones, portable speakers or a built-in screen. The most famous player is Apple's iPod, but there are many other MP3 and MP4 players.

MP3 and MP4 players

MP3 Players

MP3 players put your music in your pocket

MP3 is a 'format' – a method of storing music digitally. There are other formats, such as WMA and AAC, but they're all just different ways of doing the same thing. Digital music files take up less space than a CD recording, so you can store lots of music on a player – even a small 2GB player can store up to a thousand songs, on a device much smaller than a portable CD player. They're compact, easy to use, and will play for hours (or even days!) on a single battery charge.

Store a few albums, or your whole collection

The amount your MP3 player can store depends on how much memory it has. This is measured in gigabytes (GB) – units of a thousand megabytes (MB). A 1GB MP3 player can store about 500 songs and still have room for some digital photos! The figures below are a guide based on the space an average video, song or photo takes up. If you store a combination of video, songs and photos then the maximum for each will be less than that shown below.


Memory Hrs of Video No. of Songs No. of Photos
1GB 4 500 330
2GB 8 1000 660
4GB 16 2000 1330
8GB 32 4000 2660
16GB 64 8000 5320
80GB 320 40000 26600
160GB 640 80000 53000

mp3 playerIf you like to change your tunes regularly and listen for short periods – perhaps on the way to work – choose a small, lightweight MP3 player. (Even the smallest will store several hundred songs). If you want to store your entire CD collection, choose an MP3 player with 30GB or more. These players use a small hard disk rather than a memory chip. This makes them larger, but they'll still fit in your pocket.


Choose long playback if you travel

Playback time is the amount of time you can use your MP3 player with batteries. Most MP3 players charge through a USB port on your computer, but there is the flexibility to use rechargeable or standard batteries, or charge it straight from the mains.

The famous Apple iPod

iTouchEveryone's heard of the Apple iPod. It's a beautifully-designed MP3 player (yes, it plays MP3s as well as Apple's own AAC format) from Apple. iPods are great for accessorising there's a huge range of docking stations, headphones, ipod cases and skins available, all matched in style and colour to your device, so you can have your iPod exactly the way you want it. The iPod is also designed for Apple's iTunes software, which makes buying music online easy.

The Apple iPod range is split into four different players. The smallest of the range is the Shuffle, which is available in four colours and has a capacity of 2GB. With support for multiple playlists, Genius Mixes and a clip on the back it’s perfect as a lightweight player when exercising.  Next in the range is the Nano, which is available six colours and in 8GB or 16GB versions. The current sixth generation models now feature a new multi-touch screen, a pedometer, a clip on the back and is smaller in size than the previous versions, therefore making it more suitable for exercising if you want to carry more songs along with you than the iPod shuffle. 

The most popular of the range is the Touch which is available in 8GB, 32GB, and 64GB versions, and has a Multi-Touch touch screen interface.  The new features to the iPod Touch range includes FaceTime video calling, a higher-resolution screen with Retina display, HD video recording and a Game Centre.  The Touch is the most versatile of the range as it is not only a music player, but can  be used to play games, download apps, surf the internet via wi-fi, record HD 720p video and much more  Finally, the iPod Classic has the largest capacity of the range at 160GB and is suited to real music lovers with a large volume of music.’

MP4 Players (Portable Video Players)

MP4 players give you video on the go

MP4 players are like MP3, only for video and do everything that MP3 players do – organise and play music in a variety of digital formats – but they also have built-in LCD screens and play MP4 video files. Like MP3 players, all MP4 players come with headphones so you can listen as well as watch.

Larger screens make viewing fun

Screens on MP4 players go up to 7 inches – big enough for viewing TV shows without eyestrain – but you can also display content on your TV, so you're not limited to the player's screen when you want to share a clip. Some will even record directly from your TV or DVD player and store on the player's memory.

The more memory, the more shows

MP4 players tend to have larger memories than MP3 players, since video takes up more space than music! They usually use a small hard disk rather than a memory chip, to offer the biggest possible capacity.

How do I get music and video on my player?

You’ll need access to a computer to put songs onto your player.

Most computers with a CD or DVD drive will be able to copy, or ‘rip’ the content from the CD and convert it to digital files. You then simply connect your player to the computer and transfer the music files across. Most players come with their own software to make this quick and easy.
You can record over old tracks as many times as you like, so you can keep your music collection up to date. You can also download music and video from the many online stores on the Internet. We have tried to make things easy by showing which types of download the player is compatible with:

CD - means the player can only play songs that have been ‘ripped’ from a CD by your computer.

DRM - means you can use most download sites where you pay per song (excludes iTunes), as well as ripping CDs.

iTunes - a site where you pay per song, can only be used with Apple iPods but you can also rip CDs.

Check that your PC has the correct operating system to support your player.

Don't forget

There's a huge range of accessories for your MP3 or portable video player – here are just a few.

ipod speakersSpeaker docks

Digital music sounds too good to keep to yourself – why not try docking your MP3 player into a set of high-quality speakers? Simply slide it in, then hit play to hear your music out loud. Some speakers take batteries so you can carry them with you, while others use mains power for great-sounding music to rival your home stereo.

FM transmitters

These small plug-in devices let you listen to your MP3 player in your car – your car radio picks up the player's music over its FM radio. They're easy to use, and sound great.

A computer

You put songs onto your MP3 player by connecting it to your computer and ‘dragging and dropping’ the files you want. You'll also need a computer with a CD or DVD drive so you can 'rip' or convert your media into digital files; many players come with software that'll do this for you. The average file size of an MP3 track is around 4MB, which on a broadband connection will take around 30 seconds to download on a 1MB connection.


Whether you prefer lightweight earbuds that won't eat up space in your bag, or a high-tech headset that cancel out surrounding noise, quality headphones are a great upgrade to the earphones supplied with your MP3 player – making your music sound even better.


Most MP3 players use rechargeable batteries and recharge when they're plugged into your computer. If you listen or travel a lot, you may want to pick up a spare charger.

iPod accessories

Apple's iPod has spawned its own range of add-ons. From colour-matched cases and arm pouches, to FM transmitters for listening to your iPod through your car stereo, choosing iPod accessories is as much fun as choosing an iPod!

ipod accessories

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