Some of you may remember DIVX as a sinister plot by Circuit City and Hollywood studios to create a pay-per-view DVD business. It failed, but its spiritual opposite, DivX, is going strong. DivX is a popular video encoding and playback format that's used primarily to compress DVD movies and play back the files, which are often downloaded with file-sharing software such as BitTorrent or Kazaa, on a PC. Now, with products such as the Philips DVP642 and the , those files can be played back in the living room.
The DVP642 enjoys a slick, silver skin and a small footprint: 17 by 1.7 by 9.3 inches (WHD). The fetching front panel is interrupted by a blue LED display that conveys only the most basic information and has even fewer buttons than the : just Stop and Play. You have to rely on the remote for any other functions, and that's unfortunate, because we found the stumpy wand to be poorly laid out with a couple of particularly nonintuitive quirks. For example, you have to use the left and right cursor keys for forward and reverse search, and you have to hold down Stop to get the tray to eject.
This player's claim to fame is disc compatibility, and it did fare quite well in our tests. It played the majority of standard DVD content from DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW discs, although a couple of difficult older discs and one otherwise easily played DVD-R (created on the ) gave it problems. It did play DVDs filled with MP3 files, something few current decks can handle. Regardless, it seemed to like plus media better than minus, which we'd expect from Philips, one of the big proponents of the +R/RW format.
The operating system is decidedly un-Philips-like, as evinced by the graphically uninspiring setup menus (we've seen the same menus on other budget players), a well-known "hack" that allows the DVP642 to ignore DVD region codes (much sought after by people who don't live in the United States), and the player's ability to handle DivX files. We tested it with a variety of DivX movies and trailers, in various encoding rates, and for the most part, it delivered on the promise. We did experience audio dropout on one file and breakup on another--both played fine in the --but overall, the Philips played more files more reliably than the Bravo. Naturally, we had better luck with our PC DivX players, but for a set-top solution, the DVP642 is relatively solid. Since it has upgradable firmware, the door is open to future upgrades via Philips's Web site.
Other performance aspects, in particular the unit's progressive-scan video processing, were more disappointing. We noticed jitter on still images such as DVD menus, and the chroma bug, which appeared as combing along the edge of solid colors such as red, on some DVD material. The player's 2:3 pull-down processing worked in most situations but had a hard time keeping up with difficult sections that required dropping in and out of film mode. If your TV has solid progressive-scan processing, we recommend you leave the DVP642 in interlaced mode.
Given its paltry price tag and ability to handle all kinds of media, it's hard for DivX fans to go wrong with a player such as the DVP642. (Those who want DivX compatibility along with network support will have to spend considerably more for the likes of the aforementioned .) On the other hand, people who just want a good progressive-scan player or something that's easier to use would probably do better spending a few extra bucks on something such as Panasonic's or Sony's .