Polaroid PDX-0073, $130 For this price, what's not to like? I bought this on a lark, and found it surpassed expectations. Light and compact, with easy navigation and two headphone jacks (a must on a smaller player), the unit has a screen that renders brights and darks more cleanly than some other players. The sound, though not particularly loud, is adequate, and its casing comes in blue or red—excellent for people who derive pleasure from color.
Overall, it's an average player at a below-average cost, making it a decent choice if you prefer not to drop $50 extra for more-advanced file support or a bigger screen. (Note: A couple of customers on Target's Web site complain that it breaks after some months. Save your receipt.)
Sony 8-inch DVP-FX810, $200 This would be the obvious winner if your hands alone were making the decision. The slim, sleek player might literally fit in your back pocket and features two headphone jacks, varied file support, two remote sensors, and a six-hour battery that attaches neatly to the bottom of the unit. The navigation's clean. The screen swivels 180 degrees along the x- and y-axis, and has an acrylic coating that allows quick fingerprint wipe-away.
Alas, its performance is not quite as dazzling as its features. The picture is nothing special, and gets alternately blown-out or too dim if the angle is wrong, like a laptop screen. And it's more expensive than other comparable players. Still, this is the best candidate to slip into a satchel, especially if you have decent headphones. I love the portability—and with a better screen, this would have been my favorite. But that's not quite enough to carry it higher.
Panasonic DVD-LS82, $260 The best feature of this player—a screen that can nod almost 270 degrees around the x-axis—may be enough to make it the airline carry-on player of choice. That 8.5-inch screen is also plenty big, but not particularly sharp on bright-dark contrast. The speakers are substantial enough that when the dog whined in the car-crash scene in Snatch, my terrier ran downstairs to see what the fuss was about.
It accommodates just about any file format you'd want, including DIVX, and offers two headphone jacks and intuitive navigation. The electronic skip protection is good enough that I couldn't jump the disc even as I simulated a train derailment with my knees.
Basically everything you'd want it to do, it does, and in a snappy little package. But it's pricey, and ought to render a prettier screen for the penny.
Memorex 10.2-inch Widescreen Portable DVD Player, $180 The big screen's resolution simulates the feel of film, avoids blowing out high-contrast images, and makes other players look like GameBoys. As with other large-screen units, it also carries more substantial speakers that almost impersonate a television.
It should have been the perfect player. After all, it supports most file formats (except WMA or MPEG video), features a dial volume control, offers two headphone jacks, S-Video, and four hours of battery life, and comes with all the requisite cables. Two flaws hold it back. It's built with light, thin plastic that feels highly breakable. More egregious, though, is that there's no fast-forward or rewind function on the console. To have to fiddle with a remote control to access basic functions on a device on your lap is mildly dehumanizing.
That said, among the players I watched, it's absolutely the prettiest screen for the price. Wide and loud, it would even be a solid player for someone wanting to set it on a coffee table to watch from a love seat.
LG 8-inch DP781, $160 Until you've watched several of these players, you might not appreciate how faithfully this player renders bright whites, sunlight, and darkness. And it's uphill from there. It hosts myriad formats and includes a USB port for music and images. The screen can spin around and lie against the main panel. It even displays subtitles during fast-forwarding, a thoughtful addition.
It's frustrating, though, to see a player this good fall short on a couple of counts. The speakers are average, at best. Its occasionally maddening feather-touch navigation feels designed primarily for designers, and the smooth plastic case picks up fingerprints faster than the candlestick in the conservatory.