Anyone with kids will know it can be a nightmare keeping them amused (ie quiet) during long car journeys.Mustek offers a solution in the shape of the PL8C70, a portable DVD player with a 7in screen that you can strap to the back of the seat, creating an ideal in-car entertainment system.
For around £80, Mustek also offers an additional 7in screen (PL8D70) to strap to the back of the other seat.Simply hook it up to the main DVD player via composite or S-video cable and a second sprog can view the same DVD.
The PL8C70 seems fairly robust, though the silver frame and buttons look and feel quite plasticky. It's a shame the full gamut of playback and menu controls isn't included on the front of the unit,because if the remote packs up (as it did during our test),you're stuck.
To load a DVD, the entire front panel lifts up,a far more reliable method than a mechanical disc slot. There's a useful stand on the rear to prop up the player on flat surfaces, while the ugly-as-sin battery pack attaches to the bottom and provides around 2.5hrs hours of playback.
The impressive array of sockets includes progressive scan,S-video and composite outputs to hook up the unit to other screens and an electrical digital audio output to pipe Dolby Digital soundtracks to an AV receiver.Also provided is a USB port and an SD/MMC card slot, allowing you to view/listen to digital files through the unit.
All of which makes this one versatile little machine,given that it can play DiVX,MP3,and JPEG files,not to mention most recordable DVD formats.Even better,the PL8C70 will play discs from any region thanks to a remote hack.Simply open the disc tray,enter 9735 with the handset and a menu appears that allows you to select the 'Region 0' option.
All the usual playback tricks can be accessed via the fiddly remote, plus you can adjust the screen's colour and brightness settings and switch between 16:9 and 4:3.
The PL8D70 screen is worryingly light and clad in exactly the same silver plastic as the player. It sports colour and brightness dials and dual headphone sockets on one side,with composite,S-video and stereo audio inputs on the other.
A 12V cigarette lighter adapter is supplied allowing you to run both off the car's power.
Unlike many budget portable DVD players,whose screens offer soft, mushy images,the PL8C70 gives sharp and direct pictures. In the opening sequence of Revenge of the Sith,hundreds of small star ships whizz around,but the player resolves all of them clearly,without motion blur or edge fizz.The player's ability to pick out these objects in the darkness of space is testament to its impressive contrast capabilities.
Colours are also impressive.Skin tones,often problematic on portable screens,are presented with natural looking hues,whether it's Ewan McGregor,Samuel L Jackson or Yoda.These picture strengths aren't just reserved for crisp,pristine movie discs either - pop in comedy DVDs like Extras or Seinfeld and the results are just as pleasing.
On the downside, there are some jagged edges and shimmering on some objects and detail can get lost in intensely bright areas,but these are gripes that don't detract much from the overall picture quality.
Sonically the PL8C70 is sorely lacking,with the weedy speakers unable to generate any bass at all. But when using headphones,the most likely scenario, the sound is far more satisfying.
As for the PL8D70 screen,pictures piped via S-video from the DVD player aren't as bright or detailed as the player's own screen,but they are watchable.Avoid using composite video though,as images are muddier and colours look unnatural.
Overall, if you can stomach the below-par looks and build quality, PL8C70 is a terrific bargain.It delivers enjoyable DVD images and a wealth of multimedia options for a very tempting price. Danny Phillips