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An Affordable Portable DVD Player Worth Taking a Chance On

by Jack Sommersby

I know, I know. You've seen those portable DVD players out there and thought, "Gee, it'd be nice to own one just for the hell of it, but surely some of these are crap." Well, I can't attest to the others, but this one from Polaroid manages to make a passing grade.

The Polaroid PDV-0700 Portable DVD Player isn't necessarily the greatest thing since the vice-presidential nomination of John Edwards, but for its acceptable $199.99 price tag, it succeeds in emerging -- flaws and all -- as a recommendable product. If one is wishing for some DVD viewing on a portable, on-the-go basis and has scrubbed any prospect of obtaining a laptop with a DVD drive, then this sometimes-wondrous device should suffice and please; if, however, one is inclined to view DVDs in the comfort of their home or is satisfied with the DVD playback on their laptop, then it'd clearly make for an impractical purchase. There are many portable DVD players on the market right now, manufactured by companies as wide-ranging as Sony, Initial, Panasonic, GoVideo, Samsung, and Audiovox, with prices ranging from $120 to $900; the screen sizes start at 4 inches and make their way toward the 10-inch mark, with the prices, of course, increasing in accordance with the increase in screen size. Amazingly, in light of the first two generations of low-end DVD players lacking a built-in Dolby Digital decoder, even the lower-end portable DVD players -- with the lowest rung on the ladder currently occupied by the Mintek DVD-5860 -- possess this, yet you do have to shell out a few more dollars for one with a DTS decoder. And if you're wanting to use this type of player for home-video use by hooking it up to your television, then you can make due, too, with a low-end model, which possesses 1 video and audio composite output but lacks the S-video and composite-video outputs a high-end model has. The Polaroid PDV-0700 is definitely in the low-end category, but it does manage to suffice and even surprise in a couple of unexpected ways.

The formats the player supports are DVD, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3, Photo CD. The design of the device makes it very easy to tote around in a pocket of a backpack (the height is 1-1/8", the width 7-7/8", the length 5-3/4"), and its weight of 1.8 lbs. won't burden you (however, it is encouraged to tote it along with either a fully charged battery or the power cord -- carrying around both does add unnecessary weight). As for the lithium battery pack, to charge it you attach it to the bottom of the plugged-in player; battery life is good at about 3 to 4 hours, but the battery itself has a frustrating habit of not snapping securely enough to the player -- one wrong shift of movement can sever the power supply, and this, coupled with the other liability of only a few seconds warning on screen of a low battery life (which doesn't give ample-enough time to attach the power cord if not fully prepared), results in the player shutting down while watching a DVD. And if you have a desire to watch DVDs in an automobile (while you're not driving, preferably), there's an AC power converter that fits into the cigarette lighter compartment that supposedly protects against electronic shock protection; the playback from this is indistinguishable from playback from the battery and AC power cord. An ideal use for this would be on a family trip, with the converter cord long enough to reach to the back seat, with the splitter-equipped headphone jack allowing for simultaneous use of two pairs of headphones. The infrared remote control is a blessing and a curse: it's lightweight and small enough to be placed in a shirt pocket; but while the functions on it are good (Angle, Slow, Zoom, along with the usual ones like Chapter Search) it's literally indispensable due to its many crucial functions (like Setup, A-B Repeat for CDs) unavailable on the player itself, so if the remote gets lost you'll still be able to forward with chapter stops but not fast-forward within those chapters. (Note: The fast-forward speed goes up to an impressive 16x, and it's smooth, so you can easily follow the action forward or backward to a desired point.)

Concerning the video quality, the screen display type is a 7" LCD display TFT active matrix with a horizontal-line resolution of 500 lines. What's amazing is that for a $200 player from Polaroid, which isn't exactly a name associated with DVD players, it actually offers up better colors and smoothness than even the upper-middle-level DVD-playing laptops from Sony and Toshiba. Flesh tones aren't exactly excellent -- try as you might with the Color and Contrast buttons, getting them consistent is quite a chore -- but the colors are much brighter and vibrant than those on laptops. And a back-to-back showing of the two Kill Bill films, which showcase Robert Richardson's extraordinary cinematography, revealed two things: very bright, hypersensitized colors tend to bleed quite profusely; yet, quite impressively, in light of the wall-to-wall action sequences, there are no ghosts or streaking -- the movement is solid and fluidly rendered (which, again, can't be said for the playback on a good many laptops). Grain in the picture is a problem. Even if the grain isn't inherent in the DVD, the fact that the player, unlike a TV, lacks a digital comb filter means you're still going to get grain, and also a fair amount of video noise. Also problematic is the very bottom of the screen and the lower areas of the sides being overly bright; if you're watching a DVD that takes up the full screen, the lower part of the image will appear washed-out, but if there's a black letterboxing bar there, it's still noticeable but somewhat tolerable being that it isn't affecting the film image itself. Speaking of letterboxing, because of the wide shape of the screen (which has been designed to accomodate 16x9-enhanced, anamorphic DVDs), and a true widescreen-shot film of a 2.35:1 ratio will display a 1.85:1 letterboxing, which is nice being that your eyes won't have to contend with such a deep letterboxing on such a small screen.

As for the audio, it packs a surprising amount of punch. Even on a Sony laptop, the sound through the headphone jack is tinny and monochromatic, even when cranked up all the way; through the one on the Polaroid, though, it's not only louder but also delivers some surround-sound effects, so the use of channel separations on the DVD isn't wasted. Through the external speakers, the sound is perfectly acceptable. If you're traveling, not only does the player come in handy in the automobile, but at a stay at a motel with a TV with A/V inputs you'll be able to enjoy an excellent picture and sound by connecting the player to it; this validates that the components within the player are superior to its screen. In fact, viewing the screen up close and sideways is a bust: the brightness washes the picture out in spades. And some of the control buttons on the player can be stubborn: pressing a button more than twice is not an uncommon occurrence, with some of the buttons on a player I wound up exchanging flat-out unreceptive to repeated pressings. But for the most part the player delivers consistently and pleasingly. If you're purchasing this merely as a product of convenience, with your expectations low and demands not overly demanding, then you should be sated at just how much quality you end up getting with such a neat device at such an affordable price. I can't attest as to the longevity of it myself being that I've owned mine for only a month, but some consumers have complained that the screen has conked out after only a couple of months, while others are still posting favorable remarks even after a year of ownership. Is it worth taking a chance on, even with a limited 90-day warranty for labor and a year only for parts? I'd say, absolutely.

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originally posted: 09/08/04 02:41:25
last updated: 07/19/14 01:31:55
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