Portable DVD Player Buying Guide

A portable DVD player can make a long trip much more bearable. There are lots of brands and styles to choose from, so you won’t run out of choices. Here are some tips on choosing the best portable DVD player for your needs.

Nothing solves the travel blues like a good movie to take on the road. That’s why many parents owe a lot to the portable DVD: it provides just the right on-road entertainment to keep kids from throwing those annoying travel tantrums. But as luck would have it, portable DVD players don’t come cheap: you can easily get a new cell phone or camera for the same price. Here’s a quick buying guide to help you make the most out of your purchase.

Size and weight. Bulk shouldn’t be an issue if you plan to keep the player in your car, but if you’re like most users, you’ll want to take it out once in a while. The standard screen size for a car player is 7.5 inches; you can find models up to 10 inches wide for a considerably higher price. It’s all a matter of how much portability you can give up for a better viewing experience. Look for something within the middle weight range—too-light players tend to be flimsy, and too-heavy ones may heat up too fast.

Audio and video quality. If you’re after top video quality, you may have to sacrifice a bit of sleekness for a larger screen. A 10-inch screen should produce images close to TV-screen quality, although color settings and resolution may affect sharpness. Most players have built-in speakers, some with average sound quality and others offering virtual surround sound. You can plug in a pair of portable speakers if you want better audio quality. 

Screen placement. You’re probably most familiar with the notebook-style fold-up screen. This is a very versatile style, but it’s not the only one out there. Some screens are inverted (that is, they fold downward) so that you can hang them from the car ceiling; this makes it visible from any point in the car and is great for larger viewing screens. Others are can be reversed and hung from a seat headrest, offering better stability but limiting the view to those in the backseat.

Power options. This is a common yet often overlooked problem in portable DVDs. Since you’ll be taking it on the road, you want something that will last at least the full length of a movie. Most models will connect to your car’s power; others relay only on the rechargeable battery pack. Generally, the more power options, the better: choose a player that will run on AC, car power, and batteries. That way, you can save the battery power for when you really need it.

Formats supported. Most DVD players are backward-compatible, which means they’ll play older formats such as CDs and VCDs. If you have home videos or homemade DVD copies, make sure the player recognizes the file format and disc type you use. It should at least support common file types such as .mpeg, .avi and .wmv. Look for compatibility with common disc formats, including DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, and DVD+RW.

Durability. Your portable DVD will take a lot of abuse during the trip, so make sure it’s up to the challenge. There’s no surefire way to tell how sturdy a player will be in the long run, but a good product should feel solid and sturdy in your hands. Features like anti-shock and anti-skip help keep video quality smooth during bumpy trips.

Connectivity. If you want to use the portable as your main DVD player, you’ll want more ports so you can hook it up to your TV, computer, camcorder, and other video sources. Some models come with one or two USB ports, which allow you to play videos directly from a camera or even a flash drive.