- Review Price: £289.00
DVD has been the most successful consumer electronics product in history. Even the big corporations behind it were amazed at how quickly and how whole heartedly the general public accepted these shiny movie discs.
Now that a DVD player is pretty much a prerequisite in a modern home, consumer electronics companies are having to find new ways of getting the public to buy into the already saturated DVD market. One of those new angles is the portable DVD player.
Portable DVD players have been around for a while, and if you’ve spent any time in an international airport over the past few years you will have seen them stacked up in shop windows, in a desperate bid to lure the impulse buyer who’s already contemplating a long boring flight. However, all the previously available portable players, or at least all the ones I’ve seen, have been clamshell designs.
The clamshell design is a logical form factor for a portable DVD player. Just like a notebook computer, you open the lid to reveal the screen, place on a table in front of you and watch your favourite movie. But what about when you don’t have a table in front of you, or any surface on which to place the player? It’s at this point that the clamshell design becomes a little cumbersome.
This is a situation that Next Base is well aware of and it’s the basis for the design of the Walking Cinema portable DVD player. The Walking Cinema is a tablet shape unit so it’s easy to hold while you’re watching, and it’s light enough not to become uncomfortable after prolonged use. But before I delve too deep into the usability, lets take a look at the specification of this mobile cinema.
Dominating the front of the unit is the 7in widescreen TFT display. Now, 7in may not sound very big, but for personal use, this is pretty much perfect, and the 16:9 aspect ratio means that you can make the most of your collection of anamorphic DVDs. The quality of the screen is very good and although the viewing angle is quite narrow, that’s not really an issue for a personal display system like this. I quite happily watched several movies on the Walking Cinema, and soon found myself forgetting that the screen is only 7in. Even though the response time of the screen is only 30ms, it didn’t suffer from any noticeable smear effects.
If you’re worried that the screen will get scratched because it’s not protected as with clamshell players, fear not. In the box you’ll find a sturdy sleeve with a screen protector sewn into it.
Below the screen is a row of control buttons. From left to right there’s a play/pause button that doubles up as the On button. Next to this is the stop button which also doubles as the Off button. Next along are the chapter skip backward and forward buttons, while the mode button cycles through the adjustments including screen aspect ratio, brightness and contrast. Adjacent to the mode button are + and – buttons which control the selected mode adjustment. The eject button is set slightly apart from the rest and is round and grey instead of oblong and silver.
On either side of the buttons are the two stereo speakers. These produce reasonable sound effects for their size, but I always opted for headphones when watching movies as they created a far more immersive environment.
On the left side of the chassis you’ll find sockets for headphones, video out, audio out, optical digital out, and power. There’s also an analogue volume wheel that makes getting the right sound level both quick and simple, with no need to mess around with on screen displays.
With the AV output facility you could, in theory, use the Walking Cinema as a conventional DVD player by connecting it up to your TV and surround sound system. That said, anyone who buys a product like this is going to already have a DVD player, although it does give you the option of using it with your secondary TV in the bedroom or kitchen.
The right side of the case is taken up by the DVD tray that ejects in exactly the same way as most notebook drives. While the rear is pretty barren apart from a fold-out stand for placing the player on a table for viewing.
Holding the Walking Cinema in your hand, makes you realise that the 202 x 154 x 26 dimensions are perfect. The weight (695g) is also well balanced and it fits even small hands well enough for comfortable use. However, one issue with this device is the fact that there is no internal battery. Instead, a large external Lithium-ion battery has to be attached to the bottom of the device in order to make it work on the move. This adds a fair bit of size and weight to the package, and ultimately spoils what is otherwise a very sleek and stylish product.
Obviously the reason that the battery is external is to keep the size down. But then the question is, what’s the point of having it small and sleek when you can’t play anything? Well, that’s not entirely true. In the box you’ll find an AC adapter so you can use the Walking Cinema connected to the mains, without the need for the battery. But more important than this is the car cigarette lighter adapter, which allows you to use the Walking Cinema in the car without having to worry about the battery running out. Of course, this feature is aimed at passengers rather than drivers.
That said, even with the battery attached I found the Walking Cinema comfortable to hold. I took the unit with me on a trip to Marbella and held it in my hands for the duration of the flight while I watched The Bourne Identity without any problems. On the flight back I watched Pulp Fiction and placed the Walking Cinema on the tray table in front of me. Using the fold-out stand I found it easy to achieve a good viewing angle. I managed to watch until the end of “The Gold Watch” section of Pulp Fiction before the plane started to land and I had to switch the player off. With this in mind it’s clear that you can watch a whole movie on one battery charge, and the claims of 2.5hrs battery life aren’t too far from the truth.
According to the documentation, the battery and the cigarette lighter adapter are optional extras, but Advanced mp3 Players is bundling both with the Walking Cinema.
There’s a lot to like about the Walking Cinema, and I enjoyed using it while I was travelling, but there is one major issue that would stop me from buying it. One of the best things about DVD movies is the non-linear nature of the format. Unlike a VHS tape, with a DVD you can jump to a specific scene, watch bonus material or read background information about the film makers and actors. Unfortunately, unless you’re using the supplied remote control, you can’t access all the features on the disc. Even though the Walking Cinema is designed as a handheld movie machine, it features no Menu button and no navigation buttons to allow you to select the various features of a disc.
The only way that you can jump to a specific scene or view bonus material is to use the remote control. Now, with a home DVD player this makes sense, but with a player that you are actually holding, the idea of using a remote control seems a bit ridiculous. You either have to hold the player in one hand and the remote in the other, or put the player on a surface and use the remote which ultimately negates the tablet design.
Not being able to control all the features of a disc directly from the player seems like a fundamental flaw to me and unfortunately ruins an otherwise promising product. I can only hope that the next generation of the Walking Cinema will have Menu and navigation controls on the player itself.
In use the Walking Cinema is a very good personal DVD player, and you can enjoy your favourite films anywhere, anytime. The price is also very reasonable at £289, undercutting clamshell players with similar size screens. And for those of you who like to show off your gadgets, you’ll enjoy all the admiring stares from fellow passengers and passers by while you’re enjoying the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Next Base has definitely hit on a good idea with the Walking Cinema, but a little more attention to detail would have made it a much better product. An internal battery would be welcome, but the reasons for an external one are valid to a certain degree. However, the lack of navigation controls on the player itself is a serious shortcoming that can’t be overlooked. If Next Base can address this problem in future models, it could have a real winner on its hands.
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