Since its introduction in the 1990s, DVD has been the most popular format for Hollywood movies and has become the de facto choice for video gamers, software installation and now music and audio too. Even at its most basic, the DVD player is a technical wonder. The DVD is a high-density optical disk that can hold up to 4.7GB of data and supports multiple and often incompatible technical formats, including audio CDs, and is available with a wide array of features in a variety of shapes, sizes, and price ranges ($50-$1,000). How do you know which one to take on that flight to China or keep the kids occupied on the drive to grandma’s? Pronto's DVD Buying Guide can help you determine which one's for you (see also DVD Player Buying Guide, DVD Recorder Buying Guide, Combination TV Buying Guide).
Expect your portable DVD player to feature a screen that’s between 6” and 11”. Larger than 11” and the player might be too bulky to be truly portable. If you want something smaller than 6”, consider a video iPod instead.
Most of the portable DVD players will promise 4-5 hours, but probably deliver between 3-4. Some come with car adapters and/or a backup battery. Whichever yours comes with, make sure it’s convenient for where you’ll be using it.
Know the format of the most likely DVDs you are going to play. Most portable DVD players support the standard DVD formats including DiVX and AVI, but some double as CD players or photo viewers, too. Blu-ray and HD DVD are less prominent but available.
If you’re buying this for the car, make sure you get the car adapter. Additionally, you’ll want the secure mounts necessary to display the device properly and keep it from becoming a flying weapon in a car accident. And Velcro the remote; otherwise you’ll lose it.
Whether it’s DTS or Dolby 5.1, you’ll want the nearly-always standard dual-jacks to share the sound with a friend or for your children to share. Some come with headphones, but for better sound, purchase headphones separately and be willing to invest in them—they make all the difference (see Headphones Buying Guide). High end models feature an output that allows the sending of the signal to a receiver, so check that out if you’ll be transitioning the unit from home to car.
The most popular formats of alternative video production. Their names are often acronyms that represent these ‘codecs’ descriptions. All are methods of video compression. Many portable DVD players are called “DivX Certified” which means they can play videos encoded in this codec, often ‘ripped’ from other video sources. If you plan to view lots of non-Hollywood produced fare, make sure your portable DVD player can handle it.
Refers to the ability of the screen to turn to nearly any angle to accommodate multiple viewers. The best portable DVD players have a rugged swivel feature though older and cheaper models may lack this.
These are the two kinds of OUTPUT cables most likely to come with your portable DVD player. Unlike HDMI (High-definition multimedia interface) that provides a single, high-definition digital signal from your DVD player to your television, component cables (the three RCA jacks, often red, yellow and white) carry analog video signals from your DVD to your TV. Composite is a single RCA jack (often yellow) that also carries analog information.
Unlike its non-portable counterpart, the portable DVD player comes with its own screen. The best have screens that pivot or swivel to ensure excellent viewing from all angles and let’s face it: the portable experience is all about the screen. Buy the best screen quality and size you can afford. The Panasonic DVDLX110 11" DVD Player offers a great widescreen and has the resolution to match. However, the bigger the screen, the more the player weighs, which makes it more likely the players will take a tumble if they’re being balanced on a car seat or lap.
Most DVD players utilize progressive scan technology. The consensus is progressive scan technology provides better overall picture quality than its predecessor (interlaced pictures). Look for progressive scan in descriptions of the players. Interlacing is the process of just displaying all the odd lines and not the even ones in a picture-scan, while progressive scan displays them all. The upside to progressive scan is an increase in sharpness that improves most current films, but the small downside is older films and home movies may suffer poorer picture quality as a result of this new super-clarity. None of this will make much of a difference if you’re going to be watching your videos on a sunny bus ride or at a rainy campsite, but it’s important to think about when making your purchase decision.
If your only worry is how to play your Finding Nemo DVD over and over again in the car, then you needn’t worry much about the formats your portable DVD player can handle. If however, you regularly use your computer to make amateur videos (DVD or VCD), slide shows using JPEGs or mix CDs with MP3, WAV or WMA technology, you should buy carefully—make sure that the DVD player you choose supports those technologies. Advanced users will be familiar with various other computer formats such as MPEG, AVI or DIVX file formats as well as MPEG-4 and other codecs (compression schemes that reduce the sizes of video files) currently in use.
Blu-ray and HD DVD are two major emerging technologies that are vying for the title of ‘successor to the DVD’. They have yet to make themselves widely available in the portable market, where universal most often refers to the mounting equipment or power supply. If you’re building a Blu-ray or HD DVD collection, make sure your portable DVD player supports the format.
Most purchasers will be happy if their portable DVD player can play movies in the car and then transition to the house to play DVDs on their existing television sets. Nearly all the portables can do this, although revolutionary changes in the way you connect your entertainment device to your display device means your two-year old television may not have identical slots and ports to match your new portable DVD player. RCA jacks (the red, white and yellow cords) were replaced by S-Video and DVI, only to then be succeeded by HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) and in some cases, USB and Firewire. Most portables come standard with component or composite video cables, so make sure they match your television or you’ll be watching DVDs on your small portable screen instead of your larger television screen.
If you need a specific connectivity, whether composite or component, make sure you know that before you proceed to click the ‘buy now’ button. Portable DVD players with low prices won’t offer all connectivity options while top-line models may feature USB, Firewire, Ethernet, Component Video, Composite Video, S-Video and Standard RCA jacks. Most portable DVD players don’t come with cables, so read the ‘comes with’ line carefully; make sure you have everything you need already or plan to make a separate purchase.
The same consideration you give to your laptop or cell phone should extend to your portable DVD player. Will it be lugged on family vacations and campground settings where the station wagon will do the lifting or will you be carrying it on a plane along with three days of clothing? The answer to that question will guide to either the lighter or heavier models, however, right now light and cheap still go together when it comes to portable DVD players, so proceed with caution if you’re on a budget.