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While Panasonic may have pioneered the swivel-screen design for portable DVDs (see the car-friendly, tablet-style design to distinguish its entry-level player. It's actually a pretty good strategy.
The DRC618N, available for less than $300 online, is a 7-inch wide-screen model that eschews the more common clamshell design for a hingeless unit that fits into an included car-headrest case and straps--you guessed it--onto the back of your headrest. In the car, you'll most likely power the DRC618N with the included cigarette-lighter adapter, although the player ships with a detachable battery that screws onto the bottom of the device. The DVD tray opens from the right side of the player and pops out just like the tray on a laptop computer does.
Out of the car, in what we refer to as Easel mode, the DRC618N uses an adjustable leg that allows you to prop up the player at various angles. At 2.2 pounds with battery or 1.5 pounds without and measuring 8 by 6 by 1 inches (W, H, D), the unit is about average size for a portable DVD player. Since the DRC618N is a tablet, it's actually easier to carry around than a standard clamshell portable, and we were impressed that the DVDs we played didn't skip, even when we tossed the unit in the air and made it do a couple of flips (we have Senior Editor David Katzmaier to thank for this risky maneuver). Speaking of flips, you can invert the picture on the LCD at the push of a button.
The only major design flaw we noticed was the black-gloss finish. Yes, it makes the player look a little slicker, but it really attracts fingerprints and the natural oil from your hands. Also, a clamshell design would have shielded the screen more, but RCA does include a protective carrying case.
The DRC618N's feature set is fairly standard. Its picture and aspect-ratio controls are basic, and you can play back a wide variety of recordable media, including CD-Rs (but not DVD+/-R/RWs) filled with MP3, WMA, or JPEG image files. The unit was compatible with the majority of recordable DVDs and CDs in our collection, although older, more difficult discs tripped it up. In terms of connectivity, the player has only one headphone jack, while most of today's portables have two. The DRC618N comes with composite-video and stereo audio cables for hooking up the player to a TV, and an optional optical cable is available if you want Dolby Digital surround sound. Chances are, you won't bother connecting this portable to a home-theater system, but if you do, the credit card-style remote will come in handy.
With some small adjustments to the limited picture settings, we were able to put a passable image on the 480x234-pixel LCD. It was softer than some we've seen, measuring around 230 lines of resolution on the Avia test disc. Colors were inaccurate (with limey greens and significant red push), but the DRC618N was capable of displaying the full range of black to white. Its picture won't impress videophiles, but the kids in the backseat, sitting three to four feet away from the screen, will be quite happy with it. The player's external speakers don't put out a ton of volume but plenty enough to hear from short range. Battery life was more impressive, as we managed to surpass the rated 3-hour limit by almost 40 minutes. During a Ben Stiller torture test, we got in two viewings of the rather short Along Came Polly and were halfway through a third when the juice ran out. God, that guy's good. Why isn't he in more movies?
Summing up, we were pleasantly surprised by the DRC618N. It's hard to say how it will hold up over time, but its tablet-style design makes it a good solution for those who mainly want an in-car player. Thumbs up.
Editor's note: Though this model is available from RCA, we've also seen similar-looking versions, such as the , the Audiovox D1750T, and the Acomdata PDVD7. These models appear to be identical to the DRC618N and may cost less, but we tested only the RCA version.