Compared with some so-called portable DVD players, the Philips PET 821 is very compact and amazingly light (940g), with an attractive, flip-up cover that's not too dissimilar to a Mac laptop. However, take care when tilting back the screen: it's heavier than the player and could, on an uneven surface, tip the unit over.

The layout of the disc player panel is simple to navigate with clearly marked buttons. But, the instruction manual is poorly laid out, and the size of a broadsheet when unfurled.

Powered by a 9V DC transformer (which automatically charges the battery pack when connected), the power on/off switch is discreetly tucked out of sight on the left hand side of the unit. This leaves the right hand side free for all the necessary connections including two headphone sockets, AV input/outputs and a coaxial (digital audio out) jack. No component video connections or a built-in digital tuner, though.

The PET 821 also includes OSD (On Screen Display), a Monitor selection button for adjusting brightness, colour and aspect ratio (16:9 or 4:3), and a setup button. The onscreen setup options are clearly marked although the remote control takes some mastery to navigate the display.

Divided into sections for picture, audio, preferences and password, you can select mono or stereo Dolby digital output, 3D surround sound settings as well various picture tweaks, like zoom, repeat, slow motion, still picture and mute. Press the AV select button on the main panel and you can easily route a DVD signal to a large flatscreen or monitor via the single jack/composite cable supplied.

Free as a bird

The amazing sights and (Dolby Digital) sounds of Monument Valley from the credits of our test disk Breakdown, looked vivid and colourful on both the Philips built-in screen and an external (Sony) 28in monitor. The DVD images lost none of their sharpness, although onscreen text was slightly soft.

The PET 821 also benefits from Philips' Zero Bright Dot technology - a process that eliminates annoying blank spots on the picture. And, while the sound from the stereo speakers sounds a bit tinny, just slip on a pair of headphones and you'll be amazed at the audio clarity and stereo separation. If you press the AV button again, you can hook up an external DVD player or satellite source via the AV input socket.

This DVD player is also compatible with region-free NTSC discs, video CDs, audio CDs, MP3 and WMA CDs. JPEGs can also be viewed along with DiVX video discs. The player is a bit noisy, which is probably due to its compact dimensions. Also, the disc mechanism is a bit clunky with a discernable clicking and whirring sound while in the Play mode. Admittedly, at £180, the PET 821 is expensive, but it's the superb picture quality, amazing stereo sound and ease of use that ultimately wins us over.