Portable DVD Buyers’ Guide

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A portable DVD player, typically about the size of a hardback book, with a bright, colourful, TFT (“Thin Film Transistor”) LCD (“Liquid Crystal Display”) screen, can be a godsend when it comes to entertaining yourself, or your family, while you’re on the move. Portable DVD players are compact and lightweight enough to be comfortably tucked away in your hand luggage, but nevertheless allow you to play your favourite films, and music, from a variety of recording media, in a variety of formats, and perhaps even television programmes.

Chosen carefully, a portable DVD player can also prove to be highly versatile, providing connections to your television and other home entertainment systems, as a temporary, or permanent, replacement for a standard DVD player. Advancements in the technology involved, coupled with steadily falling prices, mean that a portable DVD player is now within the compass of many domestic consumers, financially, and has become a real, viable proposition.

Key Features

The size of the display screen, and its resolution, are, perhaps, the key features when choosing a portable DVD player. A variety of screen sizes is available, ranging from 4 inches, or so (measured diagonally, as is customary), up to a massive 17 inches, in the largest models. Do bear in mind, however, that a very large screen – that will obviously, itself, increase the overall dimensions of a player – also requires larger, or extra, batteries, further increasing the size and weight. Larger screens are also more “power hungry”, so, if you cannot do without one, be prepared for a shorter battery life, compared to smaller models. Large screen models are also, unsurprisingly, more expensive. On the other hand, if you opt for a very small model, you may find that squinting at a tiny screen quickly becomes tiresome. Remember, too, that because of the diagonal measurement, a small increase in the quoted screen size will produce a relatively large increase in the size of the viewing area.

Your selection process, therefore, needs to involve a compromise, or “trade-off”, between the dimensions of the screen, the size and weight of the player, and its price tag. An “average” portable DVD player, therefore, may have a screen size in the mid-range – say, 7 inches – which allows for comfortable viewing, but, at the same time, allows the player to remain easily portable, and affordable. The Nextbase DVM235 model, for example, has a pop-up, 3.5 inch TFT screen, while the Optronix PD-070 model offer a high resolution, 7 inch LCD screen.

The resolution of the screen is usually expressed as the number of rows and columns of picture elements, or “pixels”, which it is capable of displaying, and is a measure of the level of definition, or detail (and, therefore, overall picture quality) that you can expect. You may, for example, come across figures such as “480 x 234”, “640 x 480”, and many others – generally speaking, the higher the resolution the better. True, DVD-quality video, however, can only be reproduced on devices with a resolution of 720 x 480 (or 720 x 576, depending on the DVD format) pixels – lower resolutions will produce a certain amount of “fuzziness” in the image displayed. Also, don’t confuse the resolution of the screen with the resolution of the DVD player, itself – the player may be capable of playing higher resolutions than the screen can handle, and, while this may be desirable if you wish to connect it to, for example, a high resolution television set, it is the screen resolution that governs its stand-alone performance. The Xoro HSD 7100 7 inch multiregion portable DVD player, for example, offers a resolution of 480 x 234 pixels.

Large, bright screens, high in resolution and contrast, and deep in colour are all very well, but are of little practical use if the batteries of a portable DVD player only last for an hour, or so – so look for a player with an adequate battery life, typically between two and three hours. If you’re planning to use your player away from mains power for long periods, it’s probably worth investing in a set (or possibly two sets) of Li-Ion (“Lithium Ion”), or Li-Po (“Lithium Polymer”), rechargeable batteries. These are admittedly more expensive, but 40% more efficient, safer, and more environmentally friendly than the older battery technologies.

Media formats matter too. The majority of portable DVD players will allow you to play files in the most common video (MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, DivX, etc.) and audio (MP3, WMA, etc.) formats, and some have the facility for displaying still photographs in JPEG format, but it is worth checking the specification from the manufacturer to make sure that your favourite formats are actually supported. Check, too, that your chosen player supports CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-RW, if you’re in the habit of burning disks of these types at home. The Shinco SDP1735 multiregion portable DVD player, for example, supports all of these formats and also includes an integral FM tuner.

Finally, if you’re looking for a versatile DVD player that will serve you well “on the road”, but also feature as part of your home entertainment system, you’ll need to consider its connectivity options. Some models, for example, include an S-video output, and digital, or optical, output for audio, and can be connected to your television receiver, or digital surround sound system. Again, the manufacturer’s specification should give you all the information you need.


There is a bewildering choice of portable DVD players on the market, many of which are very similar in design, functionality and price – what distinguishes on from another is largely subjective, although usually based on the size, and resolution, the screen (and hence the quality of video playback), audio quality, battery life, and, of course, price. It’s important, therefore, to list, either mentally, or preferably, in written form, all of the absolutely essential features that you require from a player, before you start shopping. This will help you to focus on obtaining value for money, and, hopefully, prevent you from being distracted by unnecessary quirks and gimmicks.

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