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Review: Philips PET824 Portable DVD Player

12/03/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Reviews

Link: http://www.consumer.philips.com/consumer/catalog/tree/PORTABLE_ENTERTAINMENT_GR_CA_CONSUMER/PORTABLE_DVD_PLAYERS_CA_CA_CONSUMER/product/PET824_37_CA_CONSUMER/catalog.jsp?language=en&country=CA&catalogType=CONSUMER&proxybuster=OEH0XYTCGEZELJ0RMRESHQNHKFSEK

Summary: Portable DVD player with an 8.5" LCD screen

I picked this one up to be my seven year-old niece's Christmas present this year. As we're still in the pre-Christmas period, I'm hoping that she won't find this blog and read that. Anyway, the Philips PET824 is a portable DVD player with an 8.5" screen picked up from CostCo for a shade under $200. I compared it to its little brother, the 7" version, which was about $149. The screen on that thing was terrible and the overall dimensions not terribly different. Its bigger brother with a 10" screen was $100 more and looked pretty similar. So I went with this one.

The unit is about 7" deep and just under 9" wide with a height of about 1 1/4"; it's not that small but it doesn't look ungainly. With a silver finish to the plastic and matt black everywhere else it's quite an attractive unit. The screen itself fills out the whole width of the unit so looks properly balanced. The controls are laid out in a logical fashion so should be easy to use. They cover whether the playback is in the native widescreen mode or matted 4:3, the usual playback and DVD control options, volume and so on.

Some of the setup functionality is available only through using the supplied remote control such as whether it runs in PAL or NTSC mode, the displayed language, the SPDIF format and so on. It's surprisingly wide although thin and plasticy, but it does supply all the needed functionality.

The unit has built in stereo speakers on the front. At maximum volume they're still pretty quiet, but they don't distort. On the downside, the sound produced is very very thin. You won't be using them much as on the side there are two headphone jacks. This means it can be shared by quarrelling siblings, so long as they both want to watch the same film. You'll need to supply your own as the unit doesn't include any with the bundle. The visual drop off from side-to-side is actually neglible so it can sit between two watchers and remain acceptable. There's also a cable supplied that will allow this to be used to drive a TV with composite video in; a button on the unit enables this and simultaneously disables the internal screen. There's also a video-in on the unit which I guess can be used to use the built-in screen and speakers; I reckon that won't ever be touched. There's also a coaxial output for sending 5.1 sound to a remote amp; again, I doubt that'll ever be used.

The unit is supplied with an auto-switching US 2-prong power brick with the typical 100v-240v range. Unlike most other portable units I've seen, the Philips lacks an internal battery. This keeps it light which is nice, but obviously makes it a little hard to use on the road. It is supplied with an external lithium-ion battery which clips onto the back and tilts the entire unit. I think it's clumsy and ungainly. There's also a supplied car-adaptor unit which is pretty much essential these days.

Instructions are perfunctory at best. A folded piece of paper lists operating and troubleshooting instructions in the usual umptillion languages. There are reasonable graphics showing what the various functions are but I suspect you'll never use them. As mentioned earlier, the design of the system is such that everything is pretty obvious.

In addition to regular DVDs, the PET824 also supports DIVX movies and MP3 CDs. I didn't try this functionality out.

There are a number of negatives to this thing though. The resolution of the screen is not as good as I would have hoped. While it's ok for video, any text that appears looks horribly blocky, such as that in the main menu of a DVD. The LCD display doesn't do a terribly good job of hiding the individual pixels but unless you're sitting only a couple of inches away from the display it's not that bad. Another deficiency is that the lid covering the DVD can be opened while the disc is still spinning; it does spin down the DVD within a second or two in the machine is on but there's still an opportunity to stick little fingers onto a very fast rotating piece of plastic. There's no standby mode, so if the unit is powered off part way through a movie, it'll start over again from the beginning. If you close the lid it pauses the movie so that's something at least. There is also no support for hard-matted widescreen; while it's fortunately becoming quite uncommon, if you want to watch a movie in this format, you have to watch it in the old 4:3 fall back and end up with black bars all the way around the picture.

The big problem I have with the unit is the motor. It's noisy. My goodness, is it noisy. When a DVD is inserted, the disc spins up with the most amazing gronking noise. Initially I thought I'd forgotten to remove a piece of plastic or something used for shipping, but apparently not. It's just really, really noisy when it gets going. For the first movie, it's noisy even while watching. The good news is that it quietens down to just a low hum for subsequent movies after a few minutes and then isn't really noticeable.

Once you get over the starting roar, this actually isn't a bad unit. Battery life is about six hours (not tested) which is good enough for most plane trips and the car power-adaptor will keep it chugging away indefinitely if driving. The screen quality is quite acceptable and the sound is just fine through headphones. I'll update this post in a couple of months with the durability rating...

Here's another review of the unit, including some stress tests I wasn't willing to do (deliberately scratching the screen? EEeeek!)


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