Editors' note (February 17, 2010): Panasonic has affirmed that this 2008 model will remain in its product line for the 2010 model year.
As gadget categories go, the portable DVD player is a rather commoditized lot, with plenty of no-name brands available for $100 or less. To rise above the sea of mediocrity, a player needs some distinguishing characteristics: say, a large screen, improved digital file support (something beyond plain old DVD and CD), or long battery life. The Panasonic DVD-LS86 offers all three: a fold-down 8.5-inch wide-screen display; the capability to play DivX and MPEG4 videos as well as WMA and MP3 music files; and a battery that Panasonic claims will deliver enough juice for 13 hours of playback time. Alas, it didn't come close to hitting that number in our testing, but it still went longer than any player we've tested in recent memory.
The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the DVD-LS86 is its size. It's by far one of the widest portable DVD players we've reviewed--primarily because Panasonic chose to mount the speakers on the sides of the screen as opposed to below or above it. Weighing 2.5 pounds, the player is covered in a black plastic casing while the top of the screen is coated in a faux-leather design.
Speaking of the screen, Panasonic has taken an interesting approach in allowing it to essentially collapse and fold back onto the unit rather than swivel around. While the articulated hinge behind the 8.5-inch screen can be adjusted to a variety of vertical angles, the screen hides most of the player controls when it's completely folded down in the tablet-style display. Meanwhile, even the accessible buttons suffer from unintuitive placement. You'll find yourself fishing for the volume buttons on the player's right side, for instance. And the "play" and "stop" buttons--located on the player's front edge--double as the "on" and "off" switches. As a result, we found ourselves accidentally turning the device off when we held the player in our hands. However, we were happy to see on-the-fly screen brightness and size adjustment settings as well as fast-forward and rewind functionality just a button click away.
On the left side of the unit you'll find the dual earphone jacks as well as the AV input (for using the player's screen as a monitor) and output jack (for playing DVDs on a larger TV), for which Panasonic includes the necessary AV breakout cable. Also in the box is a power supply and a car charger--but you won't find any accessories to mount the LS86 on a car seat headrest. The only accessory we wish Panasonic would have included is a remote control. We know the idea of a remote for a portable player seems trivial, but the majority of players we've seen recently all include one.