Perhaps even more than their living room counterparts, portable DVD players are among the ultimate commoditized consumer electronics products out there. The problem, then, is finding one that's a step up from the semidisposable models littering the shelves at the discount store. With its large screen and long battery life, the Insignia NS-PDVD10 makes a good case for itself. It's available at Best Buy for about $200 (Insignia is one of Best Buy's in-house budget brands.)
Apart from its remote control, the Insignia NS-PDVD10, with its understated all-black rubberized finished, looks fairly stylish at first glance. Alas, a deeper examination reveals that it's a fairly cheaply constructed portable DVD player (just like the vast majority of sub-$200 players out there). The control buttons are completely flat and apparently splash-resistant, but they offer the appearance of something you'd find on a kid's toy. (Fair enough: A lot of folks are using these players for the wee ones in the backseat on long car rides.) However, that rubberized finish is a real magnet for fingerprints and other greasy residue that's hard to clean off.
The main control buttons are front and center just below the screen, which lets you pause/play and skip chapters forward/back, and (often curiously missing from many players nowadays) fast forward and reverse when you have the screen folded down in tablet mode. That's right: This model has a generous 10-inch wide-screen display that swivels 180 degrees and folds flat on top of the unit much like a tablet PC.
While the swivel feature has become more prevalent in portable DVD players, it does offer a degree of flexibility when it comes to viewing options, especially when it comes to in-car viewing. However, Insignia doesn't include a cheap canvas carrying case that could double as a headrest mount for backseat viewing when the player's in tablet mode. Some inexpensive tablet-style portable DVD players (namely, the Mustek MP100) ship with just such an accessory.
One small design feature also worth mentioning is the slot toward the front of the unit for storing the somewhat lengthy credit-card-style remote. While we didn't think much of the remote (too many buttons that are the same size), it's still worth keeping around, and having a safe place to store it inside the player is convenient.
As with most 10-inch models, this model isn't light, weighing 3 pounds, 12 ounces with its detachable battery clipped on (it attaches to the bottom of the unit). But it isn't a tank, either, which is good. While the battery bulges a bit from the underside, it doesn't protrude from the rear of the player--an annoyance we've seen on many smaller competing models we've recently seen.
The Insignia NS-PDVD10 has all the requisite features, including a set of AV minijack connections (a breakout cable for plugging in composite video/stereo audio cables is included), a cigarette-lighter adapter for in-car use, and a whopping three headphone jacks. There's no memory card slot or a USB port, but considering that the player doesn't offer digital-file compatibility--there's no support for MP3 music, JPEG image files, or DivX videos--their absence is no great loss. One connection we had a little trouble figuring out was the 5V DC-out--we assumed at first that it was for charging something like a PSP or cell phone, which would have been kind of cool. But all the manual says is, "Plug a power-connecting cable into this jack and into the DC-in on the optional TV tuner to watch playback on a TV." We're still not sure what that means.
As far as the picture goes, it's on par with what we've come to expect from players that cost about $200 or less--which is to say, not great. The screen is quite watchable for almost everybody, but discriminating viewers won't necessarily be satisfied. While the color is accurate enough, the picture's a little soft, and if you're sitting too close, there's enough space between pixels to give you the impression you're looking at a movie through a screen door (ideally, you should ideal sit about 2 feet away). The NS-PDDVD10 offers some picture control options, but like other models in this price range, shadow detail isn't a strong suit, so you might want to crank the brightness on darker movies. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, for example, has a lot of night racing scenes, and we had to take the brightness up from 8--the middle setting--to 11. Likewise, 4x3 (standard) program material can be stretched to fill the 16x9 wide-screen, but there's no zoom option available.
Normally we don't say a whole lot about a portable DVD players' sound quality, but it is worth mentioning that the NS-PDDVD10 plays plenty loud at its higher volume settings. The sound is mediocre through the player's small, tinny speakers, but it's loud. Naturally, if you connect a pair of decent headphones, sound quality will improve dramatically. If you have the correct cable, you can use the coaxial output to connect the player to an AV receiver and get surround sound.
As for battery life, Insignia rates the NS-PDDVD10's battery life at 2.5 hours (with the display turned on) and our tests came in much better than that mark, at close to 4.5 hours: On one charge, we got in back-to-back full viewings of the The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Carlito's Way, plus a look at some of the special features on one of the discs. That's slightly above average for today's 10-inch portable DVD players. One gripe: We would have appreciated some sort of battery life indicator, but didn't notice one.
If the 10-inch model is too large, note that Insignia also makes a model with an 8.5-inch screen, the Insignia NS-PDVD8. Except for its smaller size, lower price (about $160), and the apparent lack of the hideaway remote bay, it appears largely identical to the larger model reviewed here.
All in all, the Insignia NS-PDDVD10 isn't a bad portable DVD player. It's relatively well designed and its picture quality measures up to most of the other players in its price range and class. The lack of digital media support and a case for headrest mounting hurts its value, but if that stuff doesn't bother you and you like the idea of the three headphone jacks and a 10-inch screen, there's enough positives here to give this one a moment of consideration. However, it would be nice if Best Buy could shave another $50 off the list price. That would make the NS-PDDVD10 easier to recommend.