What MP3 is to music, DivX is to video: a form of encoding that manages to make movies relatively small while retaining high quality. So it makes perfect sense that, just as more and more DVD players started including MP3 compatibility a few years ago, we're now seeing a good portion of them boast the ability to play back DivX videos on CD-R discs.
The simplest way to get hold of DivX content is via your PC, and appropriately enough it's Packard Bell, the PC manufacturer, that has come up with the DVD-DivX 350, an affordable DVD deck that is fully au fait when it comes to playing back that content.
We burnt a small selection of DivX movies on to CD-R, and the player welcomed them in. In fact, it welcomed them in with open arms, a cup of sweet tea and a plate of French Fancies. Pop a disc in and a menu screen appears, displaying the available folders and file names.
You select your movie and away you go. We even managed to get an XviD movie playing, although oddly without any sound But DivX isn't the half of it; the player is also compatible with SVCDs, digital photos and HDCDs. Granted, there aren't a lot of the latter around, but we managed to dig a couple of them out of our CD rack (Joni Mitchell's a big fan of the format, apparently) and found them to sound pretty darn good through the player's analogue stereo output, with the slight bit rate increase over a standard CD giving a distinct bump in clarity.
Despite this flexibility, most users are probably going to be spending more time watching DVDs on this thing than doing anything else, and thankfully it's no slouch in this department either. You wouldn't expect the likes of DVI or HDMI outputs here, and you don't get them, but there's a progressive scan-capable component video output that's ideal for larger screens, as well as the ubiquitous Scart socket outputting RGB video. Both of these provide a fairly detailed, crisp image; it's nothing spectacular, but it's fine for a fifty quid product.
We're not particularly sold on the player's design. Yes, it's might be almost slim enough to be slid under a door, and there's a pretty cool little disc tray that pops out, but the whole thing looks a tad flimsy, and rather cheap. Which it is, we suppose, so fair play.
Of course there's a remote control. In this case, it isn't a particularly good one: the design is fine, but we found it to be very unresponsive, sometimes requiring several attempts at button pressing and a dash of bad language to get the player to do anything.
Overall though, it's a nice, well-equipped package for a reasonable price. We tip our hat to Packard Bell for its successful first foray into the consumer electronics market.