Movies on the road

Technology finally has an answer to the dull in-flight film: if you don’t like the airline’s, bring your own.

As portable DVD players become lighter and less expensive, more travelers are looking to the laptop-like devices and their personal movie collections to make long trips more bearable. But with so many brands and models on the market, research is a must for consumers who want the most for their money.

Portable DVD players on store shelves range in price from $170 to upwards of $700. The money spent on pricier models pays for exotic features like Dolby Digital surround sound, flicker-reducing progressive scan and S-video outputs that make colors sharper when the player is plugged into a TV at home. All new models offer widescreen, so the edges of your movies won’t be cut off.

But what features will you want most when you’re on the road with your rowdy five-year-old brother?

“A big screen is definitely what people look for,” said Andrew Desantis, a Best Buy sales associate at the Columbia, Md. store. An economical five-inch screen may look sharp and pretty in the store, but its disadvantage will be obvious after emptying a few bottles of eye drops into your head. Weight and battery life are also features worth considering, according to consumer publications.

Among the higher-end models, Toshiba’s SD-P2600 is your best bet. Its 8.9-inch active-matrix screen is a standout among portable players and features progressive scan. The casing and innards hold together through extensive use. And its battery can churn through an entire movie in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. It’s a little expensive at $480, but the price isn’t worth mulling over when similar models cost twice as much. Its four-pound weight is a little heavy, though.

The Toshiba SD-P2000 is $30 less than the SD-P2600 and weighs a mere 1.8 pounds. Its 8.9-inch screen is equal in size, but for the extra portability you give up some picture quality.

Bargain shoppers will find a lot to like about the Minitek MDP-5860, which sports sleek silver casing and costs a paltry $150. But its five-inch screen is on the tiny-side and viewers may curse their thrifty spending habits after an extended viewing session in poor lighting.

With a seven-inch screen, the Polaroid PDV-0700 offers a reasonable screen size for $230, but its workmanship may become an issue. Several Amazon buyers have noted problems with its hinges bursting or refusing to close completely after a few months of use.

Panasonic’s DVD-LV60 is a hardly little machine that packs S-video and optical ports into a very small space. Its high quality output makes it a good choice for viewers who want a portable they can plug into a home theater when they’re not on the road. But its modest 5.8-inch screen and $444 price tag may scare away some buyers.

Shop around online before buying any portable player. Best Buy charges as much as $150 more than Amazon for a given model at regular price. Pricewatch.com and Streetprices.com are great sites for comparing prices of online merchants. And if you’re willing to do some bidding, EBay may have a bargain for you.

But if you own a laptop with a DVD drive, keep your money. Portable DVD players offer little advantage over the slim laptops many college students carry.

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