The days of ugly but functional electronics are pretty much through. It's hard to pinpoint any particular company responsible for this trend, but perhaps it has been driven by us, the consumer.
At the same time, there is also a desire for our products not only to look good, but to sound good too. Philips has cottoned onto this desire with its new MCD908 mini DVD theatre system. It blends audiophile-grade features with good looks. Is this the ultimate blend of form and function?
Apart from the solidity of the build, the unit is certainly distinctive looking. Turn the Philips on and you'd think you've been transported to the set of the latest Fast and the Furious flick. This is a seriously bling-tastic piece of equipment -- from the blue strip lighting to the faint red glow from the valve tubes (more on this later).
The remote is also very distinctive, with a real leather finish in the hand and a machine-cut metal keypad reminiscent of the Motorola RAZR V3.
Vacuum tubes were quite popular up until about the '80s and were the main source of amplification -- before their functions could be duplicated by solid-state electronics. They have enjoyed a resurgence recently, as their proponents will tell you the sound is more natural and less "digital". In this particular instance, Philips have used them to counter the effects of the digital amplifier, but does it work? The amplifier itself is rated at 2 x 75W RMS -- so able to drive the speakers very loud!
For the videophiles, there is also upscaling to 1080i via HDMI, and compatibility with a wide range of formats, including DiVX. This is a DVD player only, so obviously it lacks support for either Blu-ray or HD DVD.
While it would be perfect for a party, it wouldn't be suited for critical listening -- a three-piece stereo system at the same price would knock its socks off. It did perform better in this regard, though, than the other Philips at a similar price -- the SoundBar HTS8100.
But as the SoundBar was focused on video performance, it naturally outshone this mini-system when playing DVDs. The MCD908 lacks its siblings advanced video processing and it shows -- for example, watching the children's flick Happy Feet showed that it wasn't able to handle moving, contrasting edges. There were visible interlacing artefacts during movement -- even when employing the upscaling capabilities. Yet, HDMI and upscaling capabilities in a deck this small and this cheap are at least a bonus.