Our biggest gripe with most portable media players is their cliquey attitude to reading video. Most will only play either WMV files or MP4. WMV is a patchy experience and you'll often have to contend with copyright restrictions. Although MP4 is slightly more forgiving, we resent having to stick to just one or two formats.
There are scores of other video types out there, not least DivX, which is the feature-length movie format you're most likely to come across on the Internet. So, it was with a girly shriek of glee that we discovered the mPack plays almost every video format you can imagine. Unlike other players -- the Samsung YH-999 and Goodmans GPDR40, for example -- the mPack won't force you to re-encode your video either. Lucky you: in the case of a feature-length movie, this process would have taken several hours.
This was a trip back in time. If you ever had a Sega Gamegear back in the 90s, you'll feel a creeping nostalgia when you hold the mPack. It's slightly thicker than the Gamegear, but the overall feel of the chassis is the same.
Two analogue pads on either side of the screen sit neatly under your thumbs when you're scrolling through video, these feel dainty but not flimsy. On the downside, they're not as sturdy as the analogue pads on the PlayStation 2 controllers, and they don't offer any clear advantage over a standard digital joypad.
Silver plastic across the chassis of the mPack gives it a smart but not overwhelmingly stylish look. It feels extremely solid for a plastic-cased player, and in some ways its thickness is an advantage -- you'll be able to hold this in your hands for a long time before it begins to feel uncomfortable. There's something reassuring about a chunky handheld, but you're not going to be able jam this into your pocket unless you're MC Hammer.
Where the mPack really castigates the competition is in its support for different video formats. Everything from AVI to MOD is playable on the P800. If you're a fan of downloading content from the Internet, you'll find DivX support essential and the mPack can display all revisions of this up until the latest release. It will also play raw VOB files ripped from a DVD. Check out the specs page for a complete list of the mPack's abilities.
Image support is also excellent. JPEG, GIF, PNG and a whole range of other more obscure picture formats are supported. Viewing these on an 89mm (3.5-inch) screen isn't a huge improvement over the average digital camera screen, but there's always the option to hook up the included AV cable and play photos back on a television, projector or plasma screen.
Although the mPack's internal screen is capable of a respectable 320x240 resolution, this is obviously well below what HD or even a DVD is capable of generating. Plugging in the AV cable will let you view full-resolution video via an AV cable at the maximum supported format of the medium. This is ideal for entertaining yourself in a hotel room or for taking to a friend's house to stun them with some rare HD content. Of course they'll need a high definition television to see it properly -- but stop complaining, the future is never easy.
The mPack mounts as a standard USB drive on your Mac or PC. There's no messing about with format conversion -- native support for most video formats is available.
The navigation interface on the mPack is horrendous. You'll be driven nuts by the dual joystick setup. The second stick is essentially pointless, because the mPack's navigation flits between requiring you to use one and then the other. It would have been a better idea to provide a single joystick and sidestep the problem completely.
Navigation problems aside, the mPack has a luxurious screen -- it's bright, sharp and, at 320x240, around the same resolution as the screen on the Sony PSP. It's also extremely well back-lit, which means it devastates the poor LCD on players like the Samung YH-999.
Playing movies on the mPack is a delight. Watching Col Kilgore napalm the beach in Apocalypse Now was as exhilarating as ever and the notorious chest-burster scene in Alien was vivid enough to have us dry-retching in horror. The mPack lost no fine detail -- saliva dripping off the alien's teeth looked delicious.
For clarity and contrast, the mPack is one of the best handhelds we've looked at so far. Couple this with native support for every video format you're likely to stumble across on the Web and it's easy to forgive the flaky navigation controls.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide