Panasonic has decided to break new ground in terms of the appearance of its portable DVD players and opt for something different.It's gone for a two-tone shell - sliver base and gunmetal grey lid - and a hinge mechanism that,frankly, looks a bit weird.We loved it.

The changes don't stop there and when you open the player up,don't be alarmed if you hear a clicking sound.The reason is because you can either open the lid and lean it back in the conventional way,leaving it as it is,or you can then pull the base of the screen towards you so that the screen pivots and the odd looking hinge becomes an arm - clever eh?

Aside from the standard 9in LCD display, the disc bay and buttons are set into the base of the player.There is a whole row of playback buttons across the bottom edge of the unit. Those used for accessing menus and volume settings are on the right of the disc bay.This means that the only things on the side edge of the player are the sockets - two headphones,an audio/optical out and a video out.

When it comes to playback,it will cope with most formats,including DVD-RAM - the only player to do so in this group test.But it won't play any of the MPEG formats.

The best way to describe the performance is 'hit and miss'.The audio output is the best on test here. The Panasonic combines good balance with good volume,even throwing in surround effects for both speaker and headset profiles. You can also choose settings to enhance dialogue and other audio characteristics if you want these more to the fore.

The picture turned out to be a disappointment.Pictures on screen looked slightly grainy and were prone to some shimmering.They also looked quite soft and lacked sharpness.The Panasonic does have two cinema settings to sharpen images,but they don't eliminate the problem altogether.Motion wasn't as clean as we'd have liked either.

Another problem revealed itself with colours.They just didn't look right without a serious amount of tweaking the settings.Skin tones appeared too florid,while the picnic scene in Vanity Fair posed difficulties. Both reds and greens looked too garish and clashed noticeably.Things improved slightly when viewing Racing Stripes,but not by much.

You can alter colours and brightness,but this only helps if you take the colour setting down to the lower end of the scale.Brightness also turned out to be an issue in some cases,with scenes looking dark unless shot in bright daylight.The brightness had to be set high to counter this.Dark shades weren't handled that well,lacking detail and leaving black holes in the picture.But detail in brighter scenes was much better.Our final gripe relates to screen styling.

While it's great to have flexible viewing angles,you can end up obscuring the control buttons and disc bay.It took a while to find a good viewing angle for the best picture. Ironically,the brightness issue resolves itself once the screen is in an almost unviewable position facing down towards the disc bay!

For the price,we'd hoped for a better performance.While there are good things here,they're outweighed by the bad