Now that DVD players have become £30 commodity items selling through supermarkets, big brands are attempting to make their more expensive products stand out from the crowd by adding features. Philips' DVP 5100 sells for £40 more than than the typical unbranded player, but gives you unexpected features like a progressive-capable component output, 'slide-in' bare disc mechanism and MPEG4 (XViD/DiVX) playback.

The use of a slide-in mechanism as opposed to the usual tray has allowed Philips to make a DVD player that's less than 40mm tall. And there's no ominous 'scraping' noises to be heard when something's placed on top of the unit. But the use of one of these mechanisms - which involves inserting a disc partially, whereupon the DVP-5100 gently takes it into its bowels - sadly precludes compatibility with 3in discs. Owners of DVD camcorders - beware.

Low rider

Because the front panel has such a low profile, there's no space for anything other than the bare minimum of controls and the most basic of displays. The remote (a compact item, spoilt by small buttons that are bunched closely together) is thus an essential item, and should not be mislaid! Also basic is the collection of connectors. There's an RGB Scart in addition to composite outputs, but no provision has been made for S-video. Strangely, there's not even an option for S-video from the Scart connector.

By way of compensation, there's a prog scan component output (a feature of the chipset used). As far as audio connectivity is concerned, you get stereo analogue phonos and a coaxial digital output.

Unfortunately, the latter did not work on my sample - regardless of menu settings. This precluded the enjoyment of 5.1 DVD soundtracks, which is a pity. On the subject of settings, the 5100 is easy enough to configure via a basic set of 'system' menus. In addition to the usual aspect ratio, DRC ('night mode'), language options, screensaver operation and audio output settings are a few oddities - a front-panel display dimmer, sleep timer and the ability to enter a unique DiVX VOD code for downloaded content that you have burned to disc with a PC.

The 5100 has been approved by DiVX for playback of MPEG4 content, and this is announced proudly on the front panel. Overall, the playback of CD and DVD-ROMs containing files encoded in DiVX (and its XviD open-source equivalent) is handled well. Unlike some other MPEG4 compatible players, the cue and review functions work reliably with no freezes or 'lockups'. But non-standard MPEG4 files aren't guaranteed to play properly. With a recording made with an Archos personal media player - which employs ADPCM for its audio - there's no sound.

Rather more serious is that many 4:3 MPEG4 files are squeezed anamorphically when the player is configured to output in 16:9. Great for convenience, but not good for horizontal resolution. 4:3 DVDs, mercifully, don't suffer the same fate! On the audio front, the 5100 is compatible with both WMA and MP3 formats. Seeking with sound is possible, and there's even the ability to upsample CDs from 44.1kHz to 88.2kHz or 176.4kHz. Very unusual for a sub £100 DVD player, but perhaps pointless considering the player's budget audio DACs and the type of equipment it's going to be partnered with. But good specmanship, nonetheless!

For what is a rather inexpensive player - certainly by the standards of some of the hardware reviewed in HCC - the 5100 does a decent enough job. Intricate details and textures are conveyed well, while the player's dynamic range is sufficient to convey subtle background visuals as well as the more obvious ones. Putting aside for a moment the aspect ratio issue, a fine job is also made of MPEG4 playback. I encountered none of the lip-sync problems that plague lesser hardware, although a noise reduction feature wouldn't go amiss.

Sonically, the 5100's analogue outputs fare adequately - but a decent amp and speaker system is likely to show the improvement a more expensive player can deliver in terms of imaging and scale. The audio upsampling feature made no noticeable difference, even with excellent recordings (if anything, dynamics would suffer slightly). What a shame I couldn't try 5.1 soundtracks through my audio system! The player's other features - like the six-step zoom - were found to be rather more reliable.

The DVP 5100 is an intriguing low cost DVD player with an eclectic range of functionality. In some respects it has been hampered by excessive specification chasing (basic connectivity), but its attractions as a widely compatible playback device are all too obvious. In the world of low cost MPEG4 compatible players, this model has much to recommend it.