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Creative introduces iPod video knockoff

Creative on Thursday launched the Zen Vision:M digital music and video player — an knockoff of Apple's iPod that offers a strikingly similar look and feel to the fifth-generation video iPod with a few added twists and longer battery life.

The 30GB video player, photo viewer and MP3 player was "designed with a stunning, 2.5-inch, high-resolution 262,144 color LCD screen" which "displays rich, vibrant digital video, and photos, full-color menus and album art," according to Creative.

The Singapore-based digital audio company said the $330 player will hold up to 15,000 songs and supports music subscription services including Yahoo! Music Unlimited, Napster To Go and Rhapsody To Go.

Creative claims the Zen Vision:M's rechargeable battery provides up to 14 hours of music playback or 4 hours of video playback. Supported video formats include MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Xvid, WMV, and MJPEG.

The player also supports TiVoToGo for free viewing of TV shows recorded on a TiVo personal video recorder, digitized home movies transferred from the PC, and video blogs from companies such as RocketBoom.

"When people see the Zen Vision:M, they tell us it's incredibly cool," said Sim Wong Hoo, chairman and CEO of Creative. "We designed the Zen Vision:M with its mesmerizing 262,144 color screen to display four times the color of the 30GB iPod that plays video, and to provide twice the battery life for video playback."

Taking another stab at rival Apple, Hoo said: "Plus, we offer people the freedom to choose their video in a variety of different formats, and to get subscription music or download tracks from a number of different sites to their player."

Other features of the Zen Vision:M include FM radio and recording with 32 preset options, a Vertical Touch Pad and Tactile Buttons, content password protection, a built-in Microphone, selectable interface themes, an organizer, and the ability to display full-color image output on any size TV screen through an optional composite video-out connector.

Creative said the Zen Vision:M will ship this month and will include an AC adapter, USB 2.0 cable, high-quality earphones, and a protective pouch. Optional accessories will include a docking station and an AV-out cable.

But if facsimileing Apple's latest iPod wasn't enough, Creative appears ripe to take its digital audio battle with the iPod maker to the mattresses. At the launch of the Zen Vision:M, Hoo reportedly told the BBC he plans to "aggressively" pursue a US patent that Creative owns on a system used to navigate music on digital players.

The report follows speculation that the company would seek royalties from Apple after it said it had won a patent in the US for "the way music tracks are organized and navigated on a player through a hierarchical system using three or more screens."

In recent months, Creative has also accused Apple of creating a shortage of digital music players due to its strategic flash-memory partnership with Samsung Electronics.

"Industry demand for high-capacity flash memory currently outstrips supply and this will impact availability of our 1GB flash MP3 players for the holiday quarter. [...] The shortage of flash memory, according to industry analyst speculation, is primarily a result of a special deal that Apple has secured from a key supplier for the holiday season," Creative Labs president Craig McHugh said in late October.

Creative last quarter posted a bigger loss than analysts had expected, partially due to competition from Apple and its flash-memory price squeeze.