Australia is a vast country and those who travel it by road know that there are only so many games of "I spy" that you can play before inspiration runs dry. Portable DVD players have been a godsend for many families, but the drawback has been that usually only the person directly behind the small LCD screen could see the picture properly in a sunny, moving car. Philips has resolved that particular dilemma by producing a portable DVD player that comes with a second screen, so there's no arguing over who gets the best viewing angle.
As you'd expect from a Philips product, the PET708 is a well-designed unit with a solid build quality. It sports an iPod-esque white exterior with completely black surrounds on the inside/screen-side to enhance the video image. The main unit opens up just like a laptop, with a seven-inch TFT screen on the top half and the DVD drive and controls on the bottom half. The ancillary unit comes as a spare screen only, so there's no way to protect the screen (i.e. close it) when it's not in use, except for the very thin cloth travel cover that comes with the unit. All the settings and controls are on the main unit, but you can independently adjust the volume, brightness, contrast and aspect ratio on the second screen.
Accessories in the package include an AC power adaptor, 12V car adaptor, a rechargeable battery pack, an AV cable and a remote control. While the remote control does work, it's unlikely that you'll be sitting far enough away from this seven-inch screen to need it.
The PET708 plays DVDs, video and audio CDs, WAV/MP3 music files and displays JPEG images. For flexibility, there is a coaxial jack on the main unit for digital audio output to other devices such as a TV and you could also easily hook up the auxiliary screen to a camcorder to view footage on its seven-inch screen instead of the camera's small LCD.
The success or failure of these types of players usually boils down to how well the car mounting system works. The PET708 thankfully avoids any dubious hanging straps, instead using a plastic mounting bracket that wraps around the base of the front seat headrests. This in turn holds an adjustable DVD mount bracket that simply clips in and out of the headrest bracket. You screw the adjustable bracket directly into the back of the DVD player, so taking the player out of the car at the end of your journey requires you only to press the release button to unclip the DVD bracket from the headrest bracket, which remains in the car. There is also a node on the side of the DVD bracket that you can tighten to adjust the viewing angle of the screen.
It's a well thought out system, but here comes the caveat -- the mounting bracket may not fit across the headrest of your car. Four screws fasten the two sides of the mounting bracket around the headrest, and unfortunately, the spacing for the middle two screws did not align with the width of the headrest bars on my seven year old Honda, making it nigh impossible to affix securely. I did manage to make the mount work with only one end screw in place, but it was pretty wobbly. The mounting unit would work a treat without this problem, but for cars that it doesn't fit -- perhaps European-based Philips didn't consider Japanese designed cars -- a long term solution would require longer screws, duct tape or some other jury-rigged idea.
Set-up issues aside, the performance of the PET708 is impressive. While the DVDs do not load as quickly as in a home theatre-type player, the images on screen -- when the LCD viewing angle is correct -- are sharp and bright.
The audio works as well as you can expect from small speakers in a unit this size, but the movie experience is definitely more immersive if you plug in a good pair of headphones into the headphone jacks found on each unit.
There are three power options: AC mains, the rechargeable pack which should last for 2.5 hours of playback, and the car charger that plugs into the cigarette lighter. There are a couple of issues to note with regard to power. Firstly, you must use the car charger if the screens are in the car mount system, as its brackets cover the battery pack connection port.
The second quirk we encountered is that there is no DC out on the main unit. You have to connect the power, AC or 12V directly to the secondary screen and connect the included power cable back to the main unit to watch both screens simultaneously. As the battery pack fits only on the main unit, this lack of DC out means that you cannot watch both screens on battery power.