Archive for the ‘Portable DVD’ category

Panasonic Toughbook CF-74

April 18, 2007

Just as you wouldn’t wear cowboy boots to a black-tie ball, you would probably never carry a rugged notebook into a mahogany-paneled boardroom. The
Panasonic Toughbook CF-74 is an exception. This semi-rugged sytem is made for highly mobile people who are tired of replacing less-durable notebooks but want something that still looks, acts, and runs like a mainstream machine.

In fact, except for the sturdy handle that forms this model’s front panel, you would probably never know that this is a rugged notebook, semi or not. The CF-74 has no large bumpers on the corners, and the sturdy magnesium-alloy case is as fashionable as it is functional. We also like the 13.3-inch display, which is relatively large for a semi-rugged system.

 A closer look at the display reveals some special capabilities. The bezel is unusually thick (0.67 inches versus the typical 0.5 inches), suggesting better-than-usual durability for this expensive component. As expected for a notebook unafraid of the outdoors, the screen stands up quite well to direct sunlight, where ordinary LCDs would go black.

There are three aspects of this CF-74’s design we don’t like: One is the bulge on the bottom panel that’s required to house this model’s capacious battery. This bulge not only adds extra thickness, it also tends to press a groove in your thighs while sitting on your lap. Speaking of bulk, its 1.7-pound AC adapter is the heaviest we have seen in quite a while. Finally, we understand that the doors over each of the connectors may deter dirt and moisture, but they may confuse some users. They offer no indication of what’s behind each one.

Creature comforts tend to be lacking on semi-rugged notebooks, but not here. The keyboard has a good feel, the Synaptics touchpad works well, and the touchscreen does not require a stylus; you can use your finger. Of course, if you do want a stylus, Panasonic has supplied one, along with two storage sheaths, thoughtfully located on each side of the notebook. It’s not a unique feature for this class of system, but the CF-74’s carrying handle is particularly useful, even for carrying the notebook short distances. In fact, after a few days, we began to wonder why every notebook doesn’t have one.

Inside, the CF-74 packs some impressive components. Like most newer notebooks, this Toughbook features a 1.83-GHz Intel Core Duo processor supported by a fast 667-MHz front-side bus. The shock-mounted hard drive provides 80GB of storage space. Memory options range from 512MB (included in this configuration) to 4GB. A good chunk of memory (128MB) is shared by the Intel 945GM integrated video accelerator. We suggest an upgrade to 1GB of RAM ($165) to better handle Windows Vista Premium when that OS launches early next year.
This system scored 245 on our MobileMark 2005 benchmark test, well above the average mainstream notebook. Because of Intel’s integrated graphics solution, the CF-74 turned in a low 3DMark03 score of 1,224, although it managed to beat the Itronix Hummer. The most impressive score for this Toughbook was its battery life. In our benchmark tests, the CF-74 lasted 5.5 hours. That’s still short of the advertised seven hours but impressive nonetheless. Although the CF-74 does not offer GPS like the Itronix Hummer, it more than holds its own in the communications department. Standard equipment includes an 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi adapter. Our test unit was also equipped with a new wireless WAN adapter from Sierra Wireless, which forms a slight bulge on the back of the display, used for accessing Verizon’s high-speed EV-DO network (a $600 option). In our tests, this adapter was able to connect at speeds of approximately 425 Kbps, not far from the Dell Latitude D620’s top score. A Bluetooth wireless adapter is also available.Like all rugged and semi-rugged notebooks, the Toughbook CF-74 is expensive. Its list price of $2,999 matches that of the Itronix Hummer, but the Toughbook has a three-year limited warranty, two years longer than the Hummer’s. There’s also a 24/7 telephone support line, which the manufacturer claims has a wait time of less than a minute (in our test, they answered in 25 seconds). After seeing two or three mainstream notebooks destroyed, many forward-thinking buyers would rightly consider this semi-rugged Toughbook one of the best bargains on the market.  



Sony DVE7000S DVD Walkman

March 11, 2007

Sony’s had a number of cracks at the portable DVD player market, and its latest spin on the phenomenon attacks the market from a completely different angle — as far as we can tell, it’s designed almost entirely for the public-transport-minded consumer, whereas most other portable DVD players position themselves as in-car units with the odd bit of deskbound playback thrown in for good measure

The two main components of the DVE7000S are the display screen, which measures in at 193.4mm by 136mm by 27.9mm with a carrying weight of 775 grams. From a design viewpoint, it’s pretty much a PSP that’s eaten all of its Weet-Bix, and then some more; this means it’s a glossy and elegant looking unit that’s also a magnet for fingerprint smudges. The other part of the DVE7000S is the speaker stand, which measures in at 285mm wide, significantly expanding the width of the overall unit. It’s this factor, along with the fact that the player simply sits, rather than slotting or locking into place, that makes it a less than ideal in-car unit. There aren’t many vehicles with that much clearance between the front seats, so unless you want to utilise twin pairs of headphones and put up with lots of grubby fingerprints from the back seat, you’ll be stuck placing the DVE7000S at an angle and praying that it doesn’t fall off while you do so. A car charger is included in the box, as is a thin remote control, standard wall charger and carrying case.

The DVE7000S features a 7-inch 480 x 234 pixel LCD screen. In multimedia terms, it’ll handle standard DVD discs, which load in at the back of the unit, along with DivX material, normal audio CDs, MP3 files and JPG picture CDs, so it can also double as a somewhat chunky picture frame. Sony rates the internal battery on the DVE7000S as being capable of up to 3 hours battery life when watching video material, and up to 7 hours with the display off — presumably that’s either for music listening only, or for if you really hate the visual part of movies.

We tested the DVE7000S as a standalone player in both stationary and moving environments. On a playback front, the DVE7000S performed acceptably well, although there were instances where we found it a little sluggish resuming playback on some discs, especially if we’d either added or taken away power sources recently. The screen itself is bright and very clear, and while we weren’t all that enamoured of the speaker stand on stability grounds, it’s certainly loud enough for most environments without being invasive

As noted, the extreme width of the docking station — which also forms the unit’s speakers — makes it a poor choice for in-car rear seat entertainment, as it precariously wobbles on its stand, and for most cars will be too wide to fit in a straight way regardless. It fared much better as a handheld device with headphones, which is why we’d say it’s a good fit for those who use a lot of public transport. Our tests matched up the rough three hour battery life pretty exactly, which should be good for most people’s daily commute, and you could always recharge it on the sly in the office. Whether you’re willing to risk a AU$429 DVD player on public transport is entirely up to you.

Creative Zen Vision W

March 11, 2007

The Zen Vision W quickly brings Creative up to speed in the blossoming world of portable video. And how could it not, with its splendid 4.3-inch wide-screen display, intuitive control set, removable battery, and CompactFlash slot? Bulkier than the aging Zen Vision, this aggressively-priced 30GB ($479.95) or 60GB ($599.95) portable video player definitely marches to its own beat, forgoing the DVR functionality that makes the Archos 04 series and Cowon A2 so special. But with more sources of compatible video content becoming available via online stores and set top boxes, should we care?

The silver and black Zen Vision:W makes the Vision look and feel wimpy. At 134 by 75 by 22 mm and 276 grams, the 30GB version is much heftier than its predecessor (74.4 by 124.2 by 20.1 mm and 232 grams). The 60GB W is a tad thicker and heavier. It’s substantial in the hand, and while pocketable for sure, it’s more of a backpack device. In other words, you don’t want to be jogging with this thing, though it’s extremely durable, thanks in part to the magnesium skin. Of course the payoff is the gorgeous 4.3-inch TFT screen, which boasts a resolution of 480×272 pixels with 262K colors. Photos and video pop off the screen, and unlike the Vision’s 3.7-inch 4/3 screen, it has an exceptionally wide viewing angle (however, when viewed head on, the Vision’s 640×480-pixel screen is impressive). The antireflective screen is vivid and sharp, and you can adjust its brightness and choose any background image you like. Personally, I think the Archos 604’s screen edges out the W’s, but both are great in my book. I was also impressed with the W’s ability to output video and photos to an external display at a maximum of 720×480. The W’s blue backlit controllers, exactly the same as the Vision’s, are quite intuitive, and the GUI is classic Creative, simple and to the point with conveniences such as the context-driven options and a customisable main menu. A five-way controller plus Back, context menu, and playback buttons lie to the left of the screen — designed for right-handed use all the way. The buttons are tactile and actually offer resistance. Some users may not like the popping sound and sensation of the buttons.

Below these buttons is a built-in mono speaker — some fidelity with very little oomph. The right spine includes the headphone jack and a rubber cover, which hides the DC input, as well as the A/V-out jack. You’ll find a Type
II CompactFlash (CF) slot on the right spine. This is handy for many digital camera users, particularly those with Microdrives. In addition to photos, you can import videos via the CF slot (and you get the option to transfer the latest 10, 20, or 50 of the latest files). Transfers are quick and photos look great onscreen. Though you can zoom, create slide shows, and rotate, I prefer the Archos 604 as a photo viewer, though you won’t get a CF slot.

A standard mini USB and a dock connection port (no dockable accessories yet) reside on the bottom, while up top, you’ll find the power/hold switch, pinhole microphone, and dedicated volume buttons. I love dedicated volume, but I often instinctively use the main up/down controls, which of course don’t work (though Creative could implement this if it wanted).

On the back, you’ll find the thin and easily removable lithium-ion battery pack — a useful and rare design feature (the Archos 604 also has a removable battery). An integrated kickstand for hands-free viewing would have been useful. The bundled accessories include passable earbuds, a wall-wart power adapter, a USB cable, a software disc (with Creative Media Explorer, Yahoo Music Engine, and other utilities), A/V-out cables, and a felt case.


The W can handle MP3, WAV, and WMA (including subscription music) audio files. This time around, the Vision supports album art, albeit as tiny thumbnails. The W is decent as an MP3 player and holds it own in sound quality, and it includes handy features such as playlist creation and the Creative DJ (that is, Album of the Day and Rarely Heard). However, you should justify the unit’s size and weight by using it for video. The Zen Vision:W supports a large number of video formats, including WMV, MPEG-4 SP, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DivX 4/5, and XviD. In most cases, Windows Media Player will do the converting for you, if necessary, though the bundled Creative Media Explorer will do the job (as well as help you create slide shows). The handy bookmarking feature allows you to mark an exact point in a song for up to 10 bookmarks. Videos get bookmarked automatically when you exit the video. You’ll also get a decent FM radio with up to 32 autoscannable and namable presets, but no radio recording. Reception is good. The Microphone feature is decent sounding (16kHz mono ADPCMWAV). I like that you get a visual volume level meter. Finally, the Vision:W continues the Zen support for read-only Outlook syncing, and the MTP device can be used as a hard drive on Windows and Mac machines, though you need to first partition the drive within the menu.
Battery life is rated for 13 hours for audio (mediocre) and 4.5 for video (decent). CNET Labs was able to muster nearly 17 hours of MP3 audio on a single charge; video fared well, too, with a solid 7.6 hours of playback per charge. You can recharge via USB, but it will take twice as long (6 hours vs. 3 hours) to fully recharge. Our sister site in
Asia posts battery results in its review. Overall processor performance is above average (start-up is quick), though you’ll hit occasional one-second delays, especially when scrubbing through video tracks. The Archos 604 feels more precise with video scrubbing. The way a new screen slides into view when navigating on the W seems sluggish to me. Sound quality is very good (though not as good as the Creative Zen Vision:M’s) and the numerous preset (and five-band custom) EQs are effective (as is Bass Boost). I just don’t like having to navigate to audio settings to apply EQs; this should have been included in the context menu. Overall, I think the Zen Vision:W is well suited for those who already have large collections of videos (and those who use TiVo To Go) and for those who take lots of photos. It’s a bulky beast, but an impressive display, good video format support, a sweet price, and nice sound quality make the W a solid playback-only choice.

Top 5 Portable DVD Players

January 26, 2007

Philips PET824/37

The Philips PET824/37 lets viewers enjoy a stylish viewing experience on this player’s 8.5-inch widescreen color LCD display. This player offers special technology to ensure optimal screen quality and gives up to six hours of video playback via its rechargeable battery. Dual headphone jacks and built-in stereo speakers let one share in audio enjoyment. Support is offered for DVD, DVD+/-R and DVD+/-RW, (S)VCD, DivX and MPEG4 movies as well as MP3/WMA-CD, CD and CD-RW music and JPEG image files. 

Mustek MP72

The MP72 from Mustek is a lower priced portable DVD player which sports a 7-inch widescreen color display for viewing of DVDs. It also supports MPEG-4, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, JPEG CD and KODAK Picture CD disc formats. Other key features include a built-in decoder for Dolby Digital playback, built-in stereo speakers, anti-shock protection, a rechargeable battery pack, progressive scan and one headphone jack. The MP72 also comes with a remote control. 

Sony D-VE7000S

The D-VE7000S is also known by Sony as its DVD Walkman. This tablet style player has a 7-inch widescreen color display, built-in rechargeable battery which offers up to three hours of playback and built-in kick-stand for hands-free viewing. Twin headphone jacks allow for audio sharing during playback of DVDs as well as DVD-R/R DL/RW, DVD+R/R DL/RW, JPEG CDs, MP3 CDs and CD-R/RW discs. This player also acts as a monitor for external video sources such as a game system or digital camera.

Panasonic DVD-LS91

The DVD-LS91 from Panasonic has a slim design and sports a 9-inch widescreen LCD display which pivots to different viewing angles so one can get a better view of a playing movie. It supports a variety of CD and disc formats including DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, DVD-RAM/-R/-R(dual layer)/-RW, DVD+R/+R(dual layer)/+RW, CDs, MP3-CD and CD-R/RW discs loaded with MP3 or WMA music files. Other features include six hours of battery life, dual headphone jacks and a built-in Dolby Digital/DTS decoder.

Philips PET1002/37

The Philips PET1002/37 sports a generous 10.2-inch LCD screen with special technology for better screen quality. One can enjoy DVD, DVD+/-R and DVD+/-RW, (S)VCD, DivX and MPEG4 movies as well as MP3/WMA-CD, CD and CD-RW music and JPEG image files. Other notable features include built-in stereo speakers, dual headphone jacks, up to five hours of rechargeable battery life, S-video and component video output for display on a TV and an included car adapter and remote control for in auto enjoyment.