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.