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-LS83 nails most of these: a fold-down 8.5-inch wide-screen display and the capability to play DivX and MPEG4 videos as well as WMA and MP3 music files. Battery life isn't bad, either, clocking in about 6 hours.
The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the DVD-LS83 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, and 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 LS83 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.
In terms of performance, the DVD-LS83 works well. We weren't overly impressed with the video quality; we'd have to label it as just average compared with the other players we've tested. We were happy to see that the LS83 had no problem playing our DivX-encoded video files, MPEG4 videos, MP3 and WMA audio files, and JPEG photos. However, you'll need to burn all of these files to a disc (DVD-R, DVD-RAM, or CD-R); had Panasonic added a USB port or flash card reader, the digital file support would've been far more attractive and convenient. Sound quality from the two onboard speakers was good, but like with all portable devices, you'll probably be using headphones in most viewing situations.
The battery rests below the screen's hinge and doesn't protrude excessively from the player's body. Panasonic claims the device will give you 6 hours of playback after a normal charge, and we found in our testing that this was spot on. It's worth noting that the step-up model, the Panasonic DVD-LS86, is essentially the same player that promises up to 13 hours of playback, but in our testing it yielded only 9.
A few design and functionality caveats aside, the Panasonic DVD-LS83 is an all-around good portable DVD player. Its unconventional width may deter some buyers who are looking for the ultimate in portability, while some may be put off by the screen's unusual collapsible hinge. The LS83 does boast a decent amount of playable file formats, we just wish it came with a USB or flash card reader as well. Some may find the asking price of $180 a bit much, especially with other comparable players on the market (some with even more features like the iPod-compatible Philips DCP851) priced even lower.