When looking for a digital audio player, Best Buy’s house brand, Insignia, is probably not the first name you’d think of. The Insignia Video Player (more commonly referred to as the NS-DV) is clearly a budget player, but sports a few features which are usually found on more expensive models. As the name implies, it’s geared slightly more toward the video and photo aspect of things. With a relatively large 2.2” LCD, you shouldn’t need a magnifying glass to watch your favorite TV shows. What helps set the NS-DV apart from other players in this price range is the inclusion of dual headphone jacks, line-in recording, a microSD slot, user replaceable battery and a scroll wheel for navigation.
Sounds promising, but let’s face it: Insignia isn’t exactly known for quality products and surely they had to sacrifice some things to keep the price this low. So how does the Insignia NS-DV stack up? Let’s find out…
Inside the Box
Inside the extremely modest green packaging you’ll find a nice assortment of accessories. The NS-DV (preloaded with some surprisingly decent music and videos), a 3.7V Lithium-ion battery pack, a standard USB to mini-A cable, earbuds, a clear vinyl case (with belt loop), a quick start guide, warranty registration card, along with some miscellaneous music/audio related coupons, a software CD containing Best Buy’s music manager (Rhapsody), Arcsoft Media Converter 2 and the instruction manual in .pdf format.
The manual is one of the more poorly constructed ones I’ve read in a while. It was clearly written when the player was in the early stages of life and references some things which no longer exist in newer firmware versions. ..but who reads the manual anyway, right?
I must praise Insignia for including a real case instead of a cheap cloth pouch or none at all. Granted, the case probably cost 5 cents to make but it still does what it’s supposed to do. Some people have complained that it is hard to remove and put on which was indeed true, though it appears some of the newer players include larger cases. I find the cases slip on and off with little effort now.
Surprisingly, Best Buy also offers a couple of accessories for the player under their Init and Dynex brand names. Currently, they offer a faux leather case and a silicone case, as well as a car transmitter/charger; the DX-FMDC1 (See my review of in our user reviews forum).
Other accessories shouldn’t be too hard to find, as the NS-DV uses standard ports. Just about any universal mp3 player accessory will work with it.
The faceplate is made of a semi-scratch resistant gloss black plastic (read–fingerprint magnet), while the rear and sides are wisely made of rubberized plastic.
The unit is fairly large by today’s standards, partially due to its odd semi-trapezoidal shape. The right side of the unit slopes out for some strange reason, which I can only assume exists as a place to rest your thumb, as it certainly doesn’t add to the aesthetics of the device. Measuring in at 1.34” x 3.09”, it’ll still easily slip into your pocket, but won’t leave room for much else. The slightly larger-than-average dimensions are the price you pay for a 2.2” display.
The unit is designed to be held horizontally. I tend to prefer this layout as it is a much more efficient use of precious screen real-estate. Thanks to the fairly ambidextrous design, the GUI can be rotated 180° for left-handed use.
Although the casing is made entirely of plastic (which tends to make it feel very cheap), the player is extremely durable. I speak from experience when I say it will withstand 5-foot fall to a cement floor. Thanks to the rubberized plastic on the sides, any scratches were easily wiped off with my fingers. There’s nothing you could do during normal use which would crack something on the player.
The NS-DV features a total of 7 tactile buttons: a power button, a menu button and a play/pause/select button surrounded by a 4-way clickable wheel, which all give a good solid ‘click’ when pressed. There is also a hold switch on the top of the unit and a pinhole reset button at the bottom.
The power button is only used to power the player on or off, but the manual says briefly tapping it will set the back light to full brightness. I thought this would be an excellent feature. Usually you’ll have the brightness turned down for indoor viewing, but then will step outside and can’t see a thing. No worries, just tap the power button! My dreams were crushed, however, when I found that it didn’t work. It’s just another one of those phantom features the manual mentions.
Pressing the menu button will take you to the main menu, and holding it will take you one step back. Wait, what? Yes, it is the polar opposite of what almost all other players do. Because of this, I have hit the menu button at least 100 times expecting to go back one step. The problem is that once you tap the menu button, it forgets your entire menu history and you must start over.
The wheel is used for volume control as well as menu navigation, and I would have liked to see dedicated volume controls instead. Pressing the wheel left or right will skip tracks, or will allow you to enter and exit menus. Pressing the wheel up moves you, of course, up in menus, but also performs several other functions depending on where you are in the GUI. Pressing the wheel down moves you down in menus, and enables the A-B repeat function.
The wheel rotates fairly smoothly, but as you turn it you’ll feel several slight “bumps”. This is because, internally, there are 24 detents in the wheel. A spring which pushes against the wheel bumps into these detents. This is done to slightly resist movement, give you tactile feedback, as well as visual feedback from the GUI, much like the scroll wheel in your mouse. Unlike your mouse, these notches seem to have absolutely no correlation to the electrical pulse it sends to the processor. Sometimes a pulse is sent while in between a detent, and sometimes it is sent while in one. This tends to make the player feel somewhat unresponsive, because you expect the GUI to move one step every time you feel a bump. It’s a minor annoyance, though, and you’ll quickly begin to ignore it.
Graphical User Interface
While not as intuitive as some of the GUIs we’ve seen from iRiver, Creative, Samsung and the likes, you certainly won’t need to refer to the manual to figure things out. To help keep costs down, the player is running on reference firmware designed by Telechips for the TCC8200 chipset the NS-DV is based on, but Insignia did customize the firmware quite a bit.
Once you’ve overcome the blindness caused by the ugly pea-green boot screen, you will find yourself in a very clean looking aqua-esque blue and silver GUI. The blue color scheme is nice for the first month or so, but does get tiring. It would be nice if the NS-DV featured the ability to choose different color schemes.
The main menu icons are arranged in a circular pattern, relative to the scroll wheel. The ic
ons are animated, each having about four frames worth of animation with which to dazzle you. Via the main menu you can access the ‘Now Playing’ screen, the music library, the photo viewer, the video player, the file browser, the settings menu, the audio recorder, the FM radio and the Audible audio book player.
In the music library you will immediately notice the Zune/Windows Portable Media Center/Xbox inspired interface, but looks can be deceiving. Unlike the Zune, the options at the top stay static no matter where you are. The bar at the top contains options for sorting the library by album, artist and track. This is also where you access playlists and FM/line-in recordings. To enter a category (or ‘tab’), you can either press the wheel right, hit the center button, or press the wheel down. Once within a tab, you can drill down though an item by pressing the wheel right. Pressing the center button opens a sub menu which allows you to play all items in the current view, play all in the category, add all in the category to the OTG playlist or add all to the OTG playlist.
The Now Playing screen is nicely laid out. Album art (if available) is displayed on the left side of the screen and song info is displayed on the right. Album art can be displayed full screen by pressing the wheel up once, and it’ll stay full-screen for as long as you want. The player supports embedded album art at resolutions up to 500×500 and image sizes up to 45Kb (in my testing). In the lower portion of the screen you’ll find the timer/volume bar, time elapsed/total time, as well as upcoming song info which alternates between artist and song title by sliding the text vertically. This is a pretty effect, but it comes at the cost of being able to view off-screen text. You can quickly jump to a specific song in the current folder/playlist by pressing the wheel up twice.
The menus feel very snappy and responsive. There is absolutely no delay when changing screens or selecting a function, as it should be with a 200Mhz processor under the hood. The only thing that really bugs me about the GUI is the total lack of a context menu. To enable a simple function such as repeat or shuffle, you must venture all the way into the settings menu. It takes a total of seven button presses to simply enable repeat mode. Very annoying.
The LCD is surprisingly beautiful. With a 320×240 resolution and 262K colors, the display is very sharp and colors are vivid, although one minor complaint I have is that there seems to be slight interference from something in the unit. If you look very closely, you’ll see shimmering vertical lines; however, the majority of people will probably never notice this.
The brightness of the backlight is adjustable in 8 levels. Level 1 is extremely dim, which is great for nighttime viewing; while level 8 is blindingly bright, making it perfect for outdoor viewing. With the brightness set to 8, there is slight back light bleeding on the left and right sides but isn’t really noticeable unless you are watching a dark scene of a movie or looking at a dark photo.
You can set the backlight to dim on timeout or turn it off to save battery. Timeout options are; 2s, 5s, 10s, 30s, 1m, 3m or Always On. As the backlight times out, it slowly fades to black by obviously stepping down through the 8 available brightness levels (starting at the level where you have it set). Because of this, it looks a bit rough but creates a cool effect nonetheless.
Because the NS-DV is running Telechip’s reference firmware, it’s not exactly full to the brim with features, but it does have enough to keep most users happy.
FM reception is amazing. It literally picked up stations I didn’t know existed.
The tuner interface is one of the better ones I’ve had the pleasure of using. Pressing the wheel left or right moves up or down .10 Mhz at a time, while holding them will cause it to scan until it finds the next strongest station. Pressing the wheel up or down moves the tuner between the 20 available presets. To preset a station, tap the play/pause button, and a menu will come up allowing you to place the station into one of 20 slots. Why there are still limits to the amount of presets that can be stored with the technology we have today, I will never know.
To record FM, simply hold the play/pause button down. Oddly, the player always records in “WMA Highest Quality”, with no way in sight to change it. Because it’s stuck at that bitrate, as you might imagine, the quality is excellent. I found recordings to be indistinguishable from the original.
You can choose between mono and stereo mode in the settings menu. There’s is also an auto scan option which automatically populates the 20 presets with the strongest stations in your area. As expected, RDS was not implemented, due to added costs.
Dual Headphone jacks
The NS-DV features two headphones jacks: jack A, which is located near the USB port on the right side of the player next to the USB port, and jack B which is located on the far left edge on the bottom of the player. Jack A is best suited for pocket use, as it allows the headphone cord to go straight out of your pocket putting little strain on the jack/plug. While jack B works great for when holding the player normally, as it allows the cord to drop straight down from the bottom of the player, keeping it completely out of your way.
Insignia chose not to include a built-in microphone to keep costs down, and because the built-ins often create recordings which are plagued with electrical and case noise making them useless anyway. Instead, they decided to give the user the option of working with his own microphone or recording from other sources, making it perfect for digitizing those old cassette tapes and records.
Jack B is bi-directional. It becomes the line-in jack when the recording function is in use. The player features a live audio pass-through to jack A, which gives you a real-time preview of the audio entering jack B. This is very useful for monitoring input levels.
The NS-DV can record in uncompressed .WAV (PCM) or compressed WMA. You can choose between the following quality settings:
PCM: ‘Highest’ (1536Kbps, 48KHz) ‘High’ (1411Kbps, 44KHz) ‘Medium’ (1024Kbps, 32KHz) and ‘Low’ (705Kbps, 22KHz). WMA: ‘Highest’ (128Kbps, 44KHz) ‘High’ (96Kbps, 44KHz) ‘Medium’ (80Kbps, 44KHz) ‘Low’ (64Kbps, 44KHz). All are 16-bit stereo.
The actual process of recording is very straight forward. Press play/pause to record, press it again to stop. With the highest quality settings, I found recordings to be flawless. Of course, this depends entirely on your source.
The NS-DV is one of the first players in this price range to offer gapless playback. Unfortunately, it’s not quite gapless. There’s a 500ms delay between tracks, which is small enough to not be annoying, but large enough to be noticeable. The gaps between purchased/subscription tracks are considerably larger at 1100ms because the NS-DV must confirm that you have the license to play the file first.
The NS-DV will play audio files (both protected and unprotected), photo files and video files from a microSD card. All playable files are seamlessly integrated into the library. You can also browse the card independently via the file and folder browser. As far as I know, SDHC is currently not supported.
MSC/MTP OS Selectable
The player is both UMS/MSC and MTP compatible. It automatically selects which protocol to use depending on what operating system it communicates with. If you are running Windows Vista/XP and despise the MTP protocol, the NS
-DV has got you covered. If you slide the hold switch to the on position before connecting the player, it will force the NS-DV to communicate using the MSC protocol.
If you want a more permanent solution Insignia recommends you change the driver, which is actually simpler than it sounds–just remove the MTP driver in the device manager. When Windows says it found new hardware, tell it to install the MSC driver.
You can adjust time in increments of 30 up to 120 minutes. This is another place where a shortcut menu would have been beneficial, because as with other features, you must travel all the way to the settings menu to enable it. The sleep setting defaults to ‘Off’ when the player is restarted.
This, of course, allows you to directly browse through files and folders on the player’s memory, bypassing the database. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it hides file types that it can’t play. Therefore, you can’t quickly check if you have still that important document or program stored on there before you head off somewhere else. Using the folder browser, it is possible to create an on-the-go playlist containing both music and videos, if for some reason you wanted to.
As the name implies, when browsing through the photo list you can see a thumbnail preview of the photo. This is extremely useful for those who don’t rename their images to something meaningful. Instead of the usual grid layout, Insignia chose to display a thumbnail beside the filename. This isn’t the most efficient use of space, because in order to keep the thumbnails at a practical size and still display files names, it can only fit three photos per-page.
Scroll wheel scanning
This allows you to use the wheel to scroll to an exact point in a track. To engage, you simply hold the play/pause button down until the icon in the upper left corner changes. It makes short work of finding a spot in longer tracks such as audio books, as it rapidly accelerates the longer you scroll. With this feature, it is possible to scan through a 3-hour audio book in seconds.
The NS-DV can read .pla files generated by Windows Media Player and Real Rhapsody. It also supports the far-more universal .m3u format, which can be generated by just about every other media player under the sun.
The NS-DV is Microsoft PlaysForSure certified, meaning it will work with any music store or subscription service who claims to be PlaysForSure certified as well. The NS-DV seems to work great with protected music. I used it with MTV’s URGE service without a problem, but the “sync tracker” feature is annoying to say the least. When your licenses need to be renewed, the player warns you three days in advance. It starts this three-day extravaganza by briefly flashing a message at you when you turn the player on. I was only able to read the first line as it flashed by, but from what I gathered it was telling me to sync with Windows Media Player or something bad would happen to one of my family members. It then begins to make a high pitched beep through the headphones, akin to a smoke alarm every time you start a new song, which is definitely excessive. A beep as it displays the message would be fine; at the very least they should change the tone.
The player is amongst those in the ever-growing list of players which support audible.
I found listening to audible books to be a pleasant experience. Like music, cover art is displayed on the left side of the screen, and can be displayed full-screen. Pressing the wheel up allows you to skip chapters using the left and right buttons. You can also scan to an exact position by holding the play/pause button down and rotating the wheel.
One of the great things about the NS-DV is the Insignia developers are very in-tune with what their users want. Thanks to a certain Insignia/Best Buy rep who is constantly scouring various digital audioplayer related forums on the internet (including our own) gathering feedback from users. Firmware version 1.200 added many features which were requested by users, as well as numerous bug fixes. You can check out the official feature request list in our Insignia forum for more information on changes that were made.
The process of updating the firmware was easy enough, although I was slightly annoyed by the two step process (I know, I know). To update the firmware, you download the firmware updater from Insignia’s site and run it, then connect the player and click the update button, which merely copies a .rom file onto the player’s root directory. When you disconnect the player, it will update itself with that .rom file, after which you must connect the player again. This time you click the font update button and once again disconnect the player and let it reboot. Update complete.
The only real problem I have is the update program is it uses Windows only, leaving Mac and Linux users high and dry. It is possible to copy the .rom and font files over manually, but Insignia has yet to release those files alone. So for no, you’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers to extract those files from the Windows .exe and upload them to the web—or find the nearest Windows machine.
I usually tell people to immediately toss the included earbuds in the trash. That’s where most of them belong and these are no exception. I must say, though, that the mids are surprisingly full and warm. Not surprisingly, however, is the total lack of bass and almost painfully sharp highs.
Thanks to the Texas Instruments codec, the player is able to output a respectable 46mW (23+23) of power. This is enough to power most headphones you can throw at it. The NS-DV sounds very good for player in this price range; lows are nicely balanced, mids aren’t too bright and highs are clear, although perhaps a tad on the sharp side. Overall, it outputs very clean, well-balanced audio.
The NS-DV offers 5 EQ presets: Normal (flat), Rock, Jazz, Classical and Pop. Unfortunately, the presets are terrible. Most of them try to boost some frequencies too much, causing major distortion. Luckily, a 5-band custom EQ is available, allowing you to tweak your audio by adjusting the 60, 360, 1K, 6K and 14K bands from -12dB to +12dB. Taking the low end bands much past +3 dB will cause distortion, so it is always best to lower the higher bands if you desire more bass.
As far as system noise, it is virtually non-existent. Using IEM’s (JVC HA-FX33) with nothing playing, I was able to detect an extremely mild constant hiss. It was so mild, in fact, I thought it was just my ears until it disappeared upon powering the player down. The player emits a fairly loud pop sound when powering up. I assume this is because it engages the amp before system voltages have had a chance to stabilize. This is a tad irritating, but you only have to listen to it once per session.
The player can only natively display baseline JPEGS. It supports just about any resolution you can think of, thanks to the hardware based JPEG decoder. It will display anything from 1×1 to a whopping 21600×21600 (yes, that’s 466 Mega-Pixels) and beyond. But be prepared to wait a while for anything over 1024×768. A 4MP image can take up to 6 seconds to load, and just in case you were wondering, a 466MP image takes approximately 1 minute, 2 seconds to load. Not too shabby.
I have encountered a few odd-ball resolutions, and the NS-DV will actually display a thumbnail preview of them, but will then say, “File format not supported” when attempting to view it full screen. Another bug to add to the list, I guess.
Photos on this thing are stunning. They’re sharp, detailed and colors are very accurate, but due to the 18-bit display, you may notice some rough color gradients. That’s because it simply can’t produce enough colors to step between certain shades smoothly. This tends to make some photos look kind
of muddy. Fortunately, it’s only noticeable in photos with a lot of one color—a picture of the blue sky, for example.
If a photo is oriented incorrectly, you can rotate it 90° by pressing the wheel up. You can zoom in by pressing the play/pause button, and pan around the photos by using the directional buttons. Photos can be viewed while listening to music or the radio.
Noticeably absent is a slide show function. This can give your thumb quite a workout if flipping through a lot of photos. I must say, this is one the first players I’ve used that offers photo capabilities, but doesn’t do slide shows.
Unlike the video feature of some other players in this price range, this one is actually very usable. I found videos to be decent—or as decent as video on a 2.2” 18-bit display can be.
The NS-DV lacks a hardware-based video decoder and must do everything in software. This isn’t a bad thing as the NS-DV’s processor is certainly powerful enough to handle it. The firmware can natively play WMV9 and MPEG4 SP videos. Although, most, if not all, videos will need to be run through the included media conversion software as the NS-DV requires videos to be a specific audio/video bitrate and frame rate. They also must have a resolution of 320×240 (although vertical resolution can be less than 240).
Though undocumented, I found the MPEG4 codec supports video bitrates from 64Kbps, all the way up to a downright absurd 5Mbps, with audio streams from 32Kbps up to 320Kbps. Amazingly, the codec will also play videos at 60 frames-per-second–but anything above 35-40fps starts to tax the processor pretty badly, and video will start looking more like 15fps anyway. The WMV9 codec supports video bitrates from 16Kbps to 2Mbps with audio streams from 48Kbps to 192Kbps. Max framerate for WMV tops out at 30FPS.
Even at 5Mbps, videos probably won’t take your breath away. Like photos, videos suffer from quantization artifacts, again due to the 18-bit display, and because MPEG4 videos exhibit scaling artifacts around the edges of objects, regardless of video bitrate. WMV videos don’t seem to suffer from this problem quite as badly.
The rechargeable lithium-ion battery is user-replaceable. Changing the battery in this thing is literally as easy as changing the batteries in your remote, making it very practical to carry around an extra battery on long trips. When the first one is exhausted, simply pop it out and put the fresh one in.
The battery takes about three hours to fully charge from empty. The official specs say you should get up to 20 hours of playback time, making it about average for a player of this type. Most manufacturers exaggerate these ratings a bit, but in my informal testing (letting it play 192Kbps WMA files all night long, at volume 12…) the battery gave out at around 19:40 which is close enough for me! Keep in mind, this was with the backlight off for the majority of the testing period. The average user can probably expect that to drop to around 18 hours—which still isn’t too bad.
As for video, much like audio, battery life depends on bitrates as well as frame rates. If all of your videos are 512Kbps MPEG4 at 25FPS, you can expect around 4-6 hours of playback time. If you take that down to 96Kbps (which actually doesn’t look half bad), you should be able to get 8-10 hours of continuous play out of it, more than enough time to watch a few movies on a long trip. (That is, if your eyes can handle it.)
The included Acrsoft Media Converter 2 is straight forward and easy to use. Select either MPEG4 or WMV from the “Conversion Parameter” menu, drag and drop the files you want converted into the window and click Convert. When finished, if you have the NS-DV connected it will then sync the converted files to it. Otherwise, it’ll dump them into a folder in My Documents or any location of your choice.
Like the firmware updater, this is another Windows-only program which makes that “Mac compatible” statement seem ever more mythical. Fortunately, there are alternative converters. iriverter is a popular choice and is both free and Mac compatible. I’m confident Linux users will be able to figure something out on their own.
Although not required to load music, included with the player is rebadged version of Real Rhapsody, dubbed the “Best Buy Digital Music Store”. Catchy, huh? It does what it’s supposed to, and that is to allow you to sync music, purchase music and create playlists, but I find the interface to be cluttered and cumbersome–overall, nothing special.
Using Audible with the NS-DV was a fairly painless process. Insignia includes a coupon for a free book, but you must choose a book from Best Buy’s list, which is mediocre at best. The program works much like any other music management software, although Audible could stand to streamline their download process a bit. First, you must go to audible.com and purchase the book you want, which adds it to your online library. Then you must go to the library and click the download link (which may or may not launch the Audible download manager). Once it downloads, it will launch the Audible software so you can then sync the book to the player. In the future, hopefully they will integrate their store into the Audible Manager.
House brands like Insignia usually consist of products built by various manufactures. Some are good, some are bad. Fortunately, the NS-DV came from one of the good manufactures, a Korean company called Joytoto–who also manufactures the NS-DVs cousin, the iRiver X20. A beautiful 2.2” 18-bit LCD, better-than-average audio quality, dual headphones jacks and line-in recording make the NS-DV a fairly respectable player.
It does have a few minor flaws, the biggest one being the lack of a shortcut or context menu, which I find takes from the user experience just a bit. Also, because Insignia went with a middle-of-the-road 18-bit display, videos are more than acceptable but certainly not eye-popping. NS-DV does lack some of the more superfluous firmware features as seen on other players in this price range, such as wallpaper, themes, games, a text reader and visualizations, but the majority of people by a music player to play– music.
Bottom line- the player has its flaws, but it is still a great player for the price.
- UMS/MSC compatible
- Above average audio quality
- OGG Vorbis support
- Audible support
- Good battery life
- Battery can be swapped out as quickly as the batteries in your remote
- Easy to obtain warranty service, simply take it to the nearest Best Buy
- Suffers from amnesia, only remembers menu history until you tap the menu button
- No bookmarking
- Lacks a built in microphone
- No context or shortcut menus, making frequently-used features difficult to access quickly
- No slide show function
Insignia is a Best Buy house brand, therefore the NS-DV can only be had at Best Buy locations in the U.S., Canada and of course at bestbuy.com.