(CNET.com) -- We thought we'd seen it all until we came across the jWin iLuv i1055, which is designed to be both a portable DVD player and an extension screen for the iPod with video.
Yes, this tablet-style, portable DVD player with a 7-inch widescreen display has a slot in the back that you can slide your video iPod into. Once docked, the videos on your iPod will play back on the DVD player's larger screen, which makes them a whole lot easier to watch, especially for multiple viewers.
This isn't the first portable video player to enlarge iPod videos, but it is the first to combine DVD playback with video iPod playback for a relatively affordable price: it's widely available for less than $180 online. jWin, the maker of the unit, is known for making budget media players and accessories, and while the player certainly has a budget feel to it, it's no cheaper looking than other budget portable DVD players we've tested. We also appreciated that it's available in black or white, so you can match your iPod color accordingly.
From the front, the iLuv i1055 doesn't look any bulkier than other tablet-style, portable DVD players, but look it at it from the side, and you immediately see that it's got some extra girth around back. That's the price you pay for having an iPod dock included. The unit measures 6x10.25x2.75 inches and weighs in at 3 pounds with the 80GB video iPod attached (2 pounds, 10 ounces sans iPod).
While it's quite apparent where to dock your iPod (it charges if you have the iLuv's AC adapter plugged in), the DVD tray is hidden behind the screen, so you literally have to lift the screen to insert a DVD. All in all, this is pretty nifty design, thought it is a little difficult to get to the latch that unhitches the screen because it's tucked away on the bottom of the unit.
You can either choose to prop up the iLuv as you would an easel (the player stands on its own but a flip-out stand on the back adds support) or you can use the included Velcro strap to secure the player to the back of car headrest. A car adapter and a fairly nice carrying case are also included, along with a long, slim remote and a pair of inexpensive, white, over-the-ear headphones that aren't terribly comfortable but sound OK.
For better or worse, all the connectivity is on the top of the player. There are two headphone jacks, which is good, and outputs for A/V playback on a television (a composite A/V cable is included but the optional S-video cable is not). The system can be used as a video monitor for external A/V sources, using the same jacks and cables, and you can select DVD and iPod video playback on the unit's integrated screen or output video to a TV. Besides iPod videos, you can also play iPod music (or CD-Rs filled with MP3s), though the system's little internal speakers sound pretty bad when playing music.
We had no complaints about the user interface. As is the case with most budget players fabricated in China, the menu system isn't slick at all, but navigation is pretty straightforward. A few picture adjustments are on hand, though we barely strayed from the default settings to obtain what we felt was the optimal picture this player could produce.
That picture is on par with what we've come to expect from portable DVD players with 7-inch screens that cost less than $200 -- which is to say, perfectly acceptable. Since it isn't a high-resolution display, the image isn't super sharp, but the colors are fairly accurate and well saturated. That said, the picture got noticeable worse (and sometimes unwatchable) if we were looking at the screen from too high a viewing angle. Ideally, you should watch the iLuv from 3 to 4 feet away at eye level or slightly below eye level. In other words, backseat watchers should have no complaints.
As for iPod video, on-screen image quality will vary according to the resolution of your source video. But if you download a 640x480 iPod video from iTunes, you can expect your videos to look as good as what you get from a DVD, because of the resolution constraints of the iLuv's display. However, just remember that if you download a video recorded in the 4:3 aspect ratio, you'll have to stretch it to fill the iLuv's widescreen display. Likewise, it's important to note that to play iPod videos, you have to turn around the iLuv to navigate your iPod's menus, using the iPod's scroll wheel, while it's sitting in the dock. The buttons on the front of the iLuv won't control playback on the iPod, nor will the remote. While not a deal breaker, it is a significant drawback.
jWin says the built-in NiMH battery -- it isn't replaceable -- provides up to 3 hours of operation, which our tests confirmed (we got slightly more than 3 hours but that was with a completely new battery). Three hours of battery life is about average for portable DVD players with 7-inch screens, though you can find some models that top 4 hours.
Since the iLuv i1055's release, it's been joined by at least two other DVD/video iPod portables, the Philips DCP750 (7-inch screen) and DCP850 (8-inch). For essentially the same price, the Philips models offer several improvements over the iLuv: a more traditional folding design (the screen can also flip down, tablet-style); iPod and disc trays on one side; better file support, including DivX; and an SD slot. Until iLuv answers those step-ups, the i1055 is a hard recommendation. In the meantime, though, we have no problem recommending this over dedicated iPod video-enlargers like the Memorex iFlip. E-mail to a friend
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