In the past year or so, a handful of electronics manufacturers have started producing what this reviewer has long clamored for: an inexpensive portable DVD player that's styled like a portable CD player (think Sony Discman) with a screen built into its lid. No longer content to leave this seemingly natural evolution of the portable DVD player to scrappy no-name upstarts such as Coby, Philips has become the first major consumer electronics brand to release a palm-size DVD portable with the PET320.
Weighing a little more than a pound with its removable rechargeable battery attached, the Philips PET320 is nicely styled with a silver face and blue trim. It looks and feels like one of the early portable CD players--or a current $19.95 model--which means it's thick compared to Sony's and Panasonic's high-end superslim portable CD players. Also, since video saps more power than sound, the PET320 can't run on AA or AAA batteries; you have to clip on a somewhat beefy rechargeable lithium-polymer battery pack to the back of the unit. Philips has conveniently built a little flip-out stand into the back of the battery pack, which allows you to prop the unit up like an easel. But that stand is arguably flimsy at its hinge and would probably be the first thing to snap off if the player took a fall.
The other major downside of the PET320 is that it's not optimized for wide-screen viewing. The built-in 3.5-inch, 320x240 screen is a 4:3 display, whereas the ideal screen size for this type of player would be a 4-inch wide-screen display--the PSP's, for instance, would be perfect. As it stands, if you play a wide-screen movie, it's appears pretty small, with black letterbox bars on the top and bottom--and there's no zoom function available. At these display sizes, it's important not to waste screen real estate.
That said, particularly when you're watching 4:3 material (such as older TV shows), the Philips PET320's display provides an adequate picture so long as you sit or stand within 2 or 3 feet of it. The sound is also OK--the speakers are built into the lid and belt out more sound than you'd think them capable of. (To be clear, we said more; we didn't say good.). We would have preferred the addition of some sort of hand strap, such as those you see with some of Sony's Sports CD Walkman models, for those times when you don't have a table to prop up the unit; in its present form, the player is unwieldy to actually hold in your hand. The PET320 does not ship with a protective carry case, but you do get a car adapter and an inexpensive drawstring cloth pouch to protect it--from scratching, at least.
As for battery life, Philips rates it at as much as 2.5 hours, but we managed closer to 3.5 hours with our tests of the Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl DVD. Battery life will vary depending on your brightness and volume settings, but all in all, the PET320 is average in this department.
It's worth noting that the unit does offer support for a full panoply of discs, including standard audio CDs, MP3 and WMA CDs, JPEG and other picture discs, and the various recordable CD and DVD formats. You also get picture adjustments for brightness and color, though we doubt you'll stray far from the default settings. And lastly, the PET320 is equipped with A/V outputs, so you can hook it up to a TV--cables are included--on the road. That's a nice plus, considering it doesn't take up much room in a suitcase or backpack--though once again, you're limited to 4:3 output, not wide-screen.
Bottom line: Philips's PET320 is an example of the potential--though not the complete realization--of the palm-size portable DVD player concept. We hope Philips makes the effort to continue improving it.