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iLuv's i1055 is a portable video player designed for watching DVD videos and video from fifth-generation (5G) iPods. (The i1055's DVD player also plays video CDs, music CDs and MP3 CDs.) What makes the i1055 different from other iPod/DVD players is that instead of a clamshell design with a flip-up screen, the i1055 uses a single-piece design with the screen -- 7 inches in size -- on the front and an iPod dock on the back. It's sort of an audio/video tablet, if you will. However, this innovative design is marred by several usability issues.
The iLuv is a bulky 10.1 inches wide by 6.1 inches deep by 2.6 inches thick, but feels light at just 2.6 pounds. Included with the player are an AC adapter and car adapter, a strap for installing the iLuv for in-car (back-of-seat) viewing, two AV cables (3.5mm-to-RCA and 3.5mm-to-3.5mm), a remote control, a carrying case, and a comfortable set of headphones.
You insert your video iPod into a nicely-designed, enclosed slot on the back of the unit, similar to the way you would insert an audio cassette into a cassette Walkman in the old days; it's a tight fit, which is good because the iPod automatically docks -- there's no wiggle room. The slot fits 60GB and 80GB iPods bare; an included plastic adapter provides a perfect fit for 30GB iPods. DVDs and other discs are inserted by pressing a button to lift the LCD screen, which reveals the loading slot.
This design allows for dual inputs, but operating an iPod is awkward: you must turn the iLuv around and navigate the iPod's menus from behind, then flip the iLuv over again to watch. This isn't a problem if you're viewing a TV show or movie, but can get tiresome when you want to browse your most recent batch of podcasts. Philips's DCP750 (also reviewed here on Playlist) manages to get its DVD player and an iPod dock side-by-side on a unit that's about an inch narrower, and the difference in usability is considerable.
The i1055's 480- by 234-pixel screen is crisp enough, and its colors are rich and vivid. The screen is also large enough for laptop viewing. The basic controls for the DVD player are to the sides of the screen: pause, forward, and back to the left; and start, stop, and eject to the right. Also on the front are buttons for adjusting the screen's brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation, and two small speakers that provide satisfactory sound.
Other controls are on top edge; this means you need to tilt the screen toward you if you want to adjust the volume. Other inputs located along this top edge, such as the power input for charging the unit, two headphone jacks, and video- and audio-out jacks, as well as the system's power switch, are used less frequently and don't present a problem, but I wish the volume control was on the front along with the other playback controls.
The iLuv includes a plastic, fold-out stand that lets you place the player on a desk or table. Unfortunately, the stand isn't adjustable, and I its viewing angle is puzzlingly near-vertical. This would come in handy only if you wanted to place the player on a flat surface that's precisely at eye-level; for more-common viewing environments, such as the tray table of an airline seat, the stand is nearly useless.
iLuv claims that the i1055's built-in, Ni-MH rechargeable battery will last for 2.2 hours before needing a recharge (which takes about four hours). In my testing, this was about right for DVD playback; the unit played a two-hour DVD on a single charge with a bit of charge remaining. However, iPod playback time is considerably longer (since your iPod powers itself; the i1055 doesn't have to power a DVD player). In fact, with my 30GB iPod, which lasts up to 3.5 hours when playing video, the i1055 still has juice after the iPod dies. The included AC power adapter is lightweight, making it easy to carry along; combined with the included car adapter, it's easy to find a power source when traveling.
More-sophisticated controls for DVD and VCD viewing and listening to CDs and MP3 CDs are accessible only on the iLuv's remote control, which is poorly designed and almost impossible to use in all but the brightest viewing conditions. The black remote features tightly-packed and only slightly raised buttons; even worse, the symbols, numbers, and writing on the remote are in a shade of gray that blends almost completely into the black background. If you're watching a DVD that enables you to, say, change the camera angle, whatever you want to see at that different angle will long be over before you find the correct button.
Overall, although the i1055's video and audio quality are very good, I found the system's overall design to be mediocre at best -- sometimes confusing, sometimes counterintuitive, and, in the layout of the controls, wasteful. For example, the DVD controls that take up an inch on each side of the screen could have been placed above the screen, and the speakers placed to the sides, allowing the i1055 to be considerably narrower, like Philips' DCP750. (One could argue that the i1055's tablet-like design warrants wider sides to act as "handles," but if that's the philosophy behind the design, it's not a good tradeoff, in my opinion.) And connecting the iLuv to a TV requires two cables, a feat that similar players manage to accomplish with only one. Finally, I found that the DVD player seemed to default to Spanish-language subtitles, and that each time I inserted a new disk I had to use the iLuv's controls to change back to my preferred non-subtitle viewing mode.
All of this means that iLuv's better-than-good functionality is marred by poor design. Although I enjoyed watching videos on this machine, I quickly tired of its awkward interfaces and was frustrated by its terrible remote. Other players I've tested, which cost about the same as the iLuv, provide much more satisfying viewing experiences.--Jeff Merron
Portable DVD and iPod video player.