Mustek, a company known for its scanners, has moved into the portable DVD market. Its latest offering is the rather hefty MP100, which sports a large, 10-inch-wide screen and looks like a minilaptop--and at 3.75 pounds with battery, it weighs more than some ultraportable notebook computers. While its styling is decidedly basic, the MP100 does boast a wealth of features, including a memory-card slot, USB connectivity, progressive-scan output to HDTVs, DivX support, digital audio output, and two headphone jacks. That said, its most appealing feature is the screen's ability to swivel 180 degrees and fold flat on top of the unit, much in the manner of a tablet PC. In this mode, you can tuck the MP100 into its included canvas "frame," which also doubles as a carrying case, and strap it to the back of one of your car's headrests for backseat viewing.
We could spend a lot of time talking about the MP100's impressive media features--how it can play back MP3 music and JPEG images, as well as DivX, XviD, MPEG-4, and AVI files from media such as MMC/SD cards, USB thumbdrives, or home-burned DVDs and CD-Rs. But really, the main reason to buy this player is for backseat viewing in the car, because you'll be better off with a slimmer, lighter player for air travel--this just isn't the type of player you'd want to lug around.
As for the MP100's picture, one of the problems is the player's rather limited viewing angle. It's fine so long as you have the screen flat or at a right angle when in clamshell mode, but if you tilt it a bit, the picture deteriorates. Also, if you're sitting too close, there's enough space between the pixels to give you the impression you're watching a movie through a screen door, and the picture generally appears softer and noisier with less-accurate colors than with many portable DVD players we've reviewed. There's very little point in trying to make adjustments by tweaking the brightness and color settings, because the picture is pretty much at its best at the default settings.
Those knocks aside, the picture is certainly watchable, not to mention a step up from the quality you see on LCDs that are built into the backs of headrests on planes. That isn't saying much, but less-discerning viewers--especially small children--probably won't give you any grief over the mediocre image so long as you provide good programming for them to watch.
As with most large-screen portable DVD players, the MP100's battery life isn't great--it topped out at 2 hours, 20 minutes in our tests. That's enough to watch a long movie but not sufficient for two films--or even a single Lord of the Rings-style epic. Interestingly, the rechargeable battery is built into the unit itself, which is both good and bad. On the plus side, you don't have to worry about attaching and detaching the battery at any point. On the other hand, you can't purchase an extra battery for longer trips. Of course, if you're watching the MP100 in your car, you can use the included 12-volt cigarette-lighter adapter.
In the final analysis, we'd be willing to cut the Mustek MP100 a little more slack if it were priced less than $200, but at $250, it starts to look like just an average deal. Granted, most players with 10-inch screens, such as the Philips PET1000, cost more and may have fewer features. But when you're going with a screen of that size, the picture flaws become only more glaring.