- Review Price: £129.00
”The best 7in DVD portable Philips ever made” boldly proclaims the sticker on the company’s latest disc-spinner, which means we could be in for a real treat if its previous portables are anything to go by. At first glance the PET744 certainly seems like a terrific proposition, with a healthy feature list and a design so desirable it’ll make even the most ardent hard-disk devotee suddenly want to start taking DVDs on their travels.
The PET744 is conveniently compact, supermodel slim and clad on the top and bottom in a high gloss black finish. You might question the logic in using such styling on a device destined to be fondled by sticky fingers in the back of the car, but it looks great all the same.
Flip open the top section and you’re faced with a 7in, 16:9 screen that can be swivelled 180 degrees and laid flat on the base section. The speakers are located just below the screen and kick out a mighty 660mW of power (headphones advised, in other words) while all of the controls are located on the lower section. These cover most of the frequently used functions, such as menu, playback, volume, source and setup, which means you won’t need to use the supplied remote very often.
The last Philips portable we looked at, the PET712, failed to provide any card readers or USB device support, so the PET744’s SD card slot is a welcome inclusion. It supports SDHC cards too, potentially putting 32GB of music, video and photos at your fingertips. Alongside the card slot is an AV output that lets you send stereo audio and composite video to a TV and sound system, and two headphone outputs for communal listening.
Many portable DVD decks feature snap-on battery packs, but the PET744’s is built in, which means you’re not adding any unwanted bulk. Fully charged, it offers up to six hours of playback time – a good innings by anyone’s standards, although if you’re watching at full brightness and listening through the speakers it won’t last anywhere near as long.
Another spec sheet stand-out is the screen’s 800 x 480-pixel resolution. That’s almost high enough to display DVDs in their native resolution, which means less picture information needs to be discarded and therefore you should get more detailed pictures than most of the 7in portables we’ve tested.
The player’s format support is solid but doesn’t stretch beyond the norm. It plays DivX, MP3, WMA, JPEG and MPEG-4 clips taken on a digital camera, but not DivX HD, WMV or XviD. You can play the supported formats from SD card, CD-R-RW, DVD-R/-RW or DVD+R/+R.
In the box you get a car headrest that’s a cut above the usual pouch holder that accompanies most portables. This one’s made of plastic and clamps onto the metal headrest poles, with a bracket that attaches to the back of the player, enabling you to tilt the screen to your desired position. Also in the box is a car power adapter and a minijack-to-composite/analogue stereo cable.
Philips has made a real effort with the player’s user interface, using the same stylised fonts and icons found on its latest Blu-ray players. Pop in an SD card for example and a funky-looking menu offers a choice of Photos, Music or Videos, and it looks a lot classier than the sub-spectrum graphics found on some rivals.
The setup menu is also easy to work with, splitting the options into sensible submenus and offering useful features like brightness, contrast and backlight adjustments. There’s also a choice of JPEG slideshow transition effects and a frequencies, which means it also makes a decent digital photo frame.
The remote is very easy to use, helped along by a neat button arrangement and a light, ergonomic shape. The volume keys could have been more prominent but that’s the only fault with this surprisingly unfiddly zapper.
The PET744 produces exceptionally good picture quality by portable DVD standards. The key is that 800 x 480-pixel resolution, which ensures sharp detail reproduction with none of the visible pixel structure problems or wishy-washy definition that beset the PET712’s pictures. It makes our ”Men In Black” DVD look terrific – the grotesque alien make-up and Tommy Lee Jones’ craggy face are crisply and smoothly rendered, plus the tight edges give the image a solid, striking look.
We’re also impressed by the Philips’ colour reproduction – skin tones appear natural with well-handled shading, plus loud reds and yellows blaze from the screen without looking like garish neon signs. Blacks are punchy too, as evidenced by the agents’ deep and three-dimensional suits – folds, creases and shadows remain visible and don’t get swallowed up in a ‘black hole’.
On the audio side, the speakers are actually more dynamic and forceful than we expected, but that’s not a huge endorsement – the sound is still thin and hard, and gets fatiguing at maximum volume. As ever it’s designed for use with headphones, and with a decent pair of cans wrapped round your bonce you get excellent movie sound quality, and that goes for CD, MP3 and WMA playback too. It’s also worth pointing out that the high-res screen also makes JPEGs look wonderfully sharp and detailed, plus sideshow transitions are fun to watch. DivX and MPEG-4 clips play without glitches and look great.
Some say that portable DVD decks are on their last legs due to the prevalence of hard-disk portable media players, but if companies like Philips keep making disc spinners as good as this they’ll be around for years to come.
Apart from the lack of a USB port, the PET744 gets it right in every way. It boasts a healthy feature list, solid format compatibility, dashing looks, great onscreen presentation and (most importantly) gorgeous picture quality, all of which makes it worth every penny of its price tag. If you’re torn between this and the Toshiba SD-P73S, the Philips’ longer battery life and higher resolution screen makes it the outright winner in our book.
Score in detail
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.