We've all taken our iPods to parties to share our music with a room full of drunken revellers, but what about taking all your movies around instead? The Mvisto can store 15 DVDs or 80 DivX movies in a box that's smaller than just one DVD case. It plays video as a standalone unit plugged into a regular TV, so there's no need to drag an ugly laptop around with you.
The Mvisto is similar in shape and size to the previously reviewed BNI Mediabox. It's the kind of thing you could easily slip into the back pocket of your jeans. But here the comparison ends -- the Mvisto has an infinitely slicker interface than the Mediabox and supports a greater variety of video formats. It's DivX certified and is happy to play back anything from the lowly MPG to an ISO ripped from DVD. Whether that means anything to you yet or not, take it from us: this is one foxy little hard disk.
Wire-brushed aluminium is definitely in vogue at the moment, and the Mvisto is encased in the stuff. There's a DivX and Dolby Digital logo etched into the underside and an Mvisto logo on the top. Curiously, the Mvisto logo features an old reel-to-reel tape player -- hardly the height of technology at the moment.
The front of the Mvisto is a serious-looking tinted black fascia with a single green LED which illuminates during operation. Somewhere behind this tinted panel there's also a IR receiver that communicates with the bundled remote. As remote controls go, the Mvisto's is minimalist. It takes a watch-style battery, which means an extremely low profile for the remote chassis. The remote is almost exactly the same size as a credit card. This makes it absolutely ideal for losing down the back of the sofa or, uniquely, between two floorboards.
Hard disks have never been the most glamorous looking bits of kit, but the Mvisto is at least inconspicuous and tasteful. Measuring 132 by 80 by 17mm and weighing 215g, it's perfect for slipping into a jacket pocket without drawing attention to your movie stash.
Transferring movies to the Mvisto is a basic drag and drop operation. The drive mounts on your Mac or PC like any external USB drive. There are a series of obviously named folders on the drive which provide storage for different types of media. You're free to reorganise these folders; the Mvisto's on-screen navigation uses a standard tree structure.
While you're transferring files from your PC or Mac, the Mvisto suckles power from your computer's USB port like a docile lamb -- we didn't need to attach the power cord. When we played back video on a TV, the Mvisto -- like all hard disk players -- demanded to be plugged into a wall socket and power off the grid. We'd like to see manufacturers providing USB power sockets on their TVs to save companies like Mvisto the hassle of bundling power transformers.
The Mvisto is a joy to use, especially if you're used to more cumbersome interfaces like the Mediabox's UNIX-inspired directory lists. The graphics are flashy but not garish, and it's rare to see such an attractive looking interface in a hard disk player. A lot of thought has been put into the way the Mvisto's on-screen menu system looks -- Microsoft should be jealous, as the Mvisto menus might lack the animation of Windows Media Center, but it looks a lot more sophisticated.
We had no problems plugging the Mvisto into a TV and playing back video. Composite inputs plug into the back of your screen and, on the other end of the cable, a proprietary AV plug attaches to the hard disk itself. You're unlikely to notice a big difference between the Mvisto and a regular DVD player. The interface is smarter than most DVD players, though, and playback quality is excellent. Composite video isn't our first choice of video cable, however, as it's prone to a degree of interference. We'd love to see DVI on the Mvisto -- perhaps this will be introduced in a future revision.
The Mvisto played every codec we threw at it. Apart from a couple of proprietary formats -- Windows WMV files and some Quicktime files -- everything played faultlessly. The player is DivX certified, so it will play every DivX movie you'll find lurking on the Internet. We tried formatting the drive in a mix of different standards like HSF+ and FAT32, and it was equally happy to play video media from both. This is especially useful if you plan to use the drive on both Macs and PCs. Mac OSX is compatible with almost every drive format, so format with the pickier PC in mind.
As with all our hard disks, we knocked the Mvisto around on trains during rush hour, jammed it into a pocket, took it to friends' houses to play movies, and generally treated it like a movie buff might. Tests on the player revealed this to have caused absolutely no damage to the drive -- there were no bad sectors detected after three days of heavy use.
The quality of image the Mvisto presents on your TV depends mostly on how your video source was encoded. We found DVD VOB files played back exactly like the original DVD. You would expect this, as VOBs are the raw MPEG-2 data files ripped from a DVD. This means they're not recompressed, so they're as sharp and detailed as the original movie. MPEG-4 movies were also crisp and clear. As we said earlier, composite is not the best video lead to use for playback, but as long as you're a few feet from your TV, the Mvisto looks as good as any DVD player using the same composite connection.
We played a THX demo in ISO format and the image was impressive -- as was the sound. The Mvisto provides a Dolby Digital output, which made scenes like the pod race from Star Wars Episode I come alive with rumbling engine noises that shook our testing labs like a giant messing up a snowdome. Of course, you'll need a decent stereo system to get the full effect from the Mvisto's sound output.
For the moment, there's little in this niche to beat the Mvisto's performance and style. There's the option to swap out the internal 40GB drive for a bigger one if the whim takes you. The Mvisto will accommodate a hard disk up to 120GB -- that's space for a hell of a lot of DivX movies.
Edited by: Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by: Nick Hide