Home theater to go
Sharp tried to compensate for the DV-L80U's high list price ($1,599) with features that make it worthy as a home-theater component and a portable DVD player. The problem is, Sharp only half succeeds. As a portable, it looks like a sweet deal: Weighing in at 1.86 pounds, the sizable screen can show off 16x9-enhanced wide-screen DVDs for about 3.5 hours before crapping out. And though the LCD does a surprising job of capturing colors in such movies as The Fifth Element, half of the image-tweaking features are all but useless until they're plugged into your home system.
You see, it has the typical TV modes, subtitles, and other basic DVD-player elements found in portables. But the addition of the Gamma Correction option and the Digital Super Picture setting seem almost useless on the LCD monitor. Only the Gamma Correction, which offers three brightness settings, has any real impact while you're viewing. The Digital Super Picture's sharpness settings take effect only when the player's plugged into a television. At least the DV-L80U comes with both composite and S-Video connections.
As with the video options, the audio also runs into similar issues on the road. The DV-L80U, like most portables, comes with shrill-sounding speakers. As a solution, it offers Q-Surround, which does a good job of simulating Dolby Surround through standard headphones, as well as providing Dolby Digital and DTS output for your home theater.
There are also both compression and multichannel audio settings that can be adjusted to the playback, but you won't be able to hear any difference unless the player is plugged into your home theater. Also, instead of offering an optical output that's separate from the coaxial outputs, the DV-L80U shares its digital out with the analog coaxial out and requires that three separate audio cables be connected to the unit for multichannel home hook-up.
The biggest possible knock, though, is that these features get in the way of this portable's convenience. For example, the Sharp's spartan layout and few buttons present will have you tapping multiple times to open up the setup menus. Some buttons serve multiple purposes; to do one thing, you'll need to hit the same button on the player a couple times. Users will be scrambling for the card-sized remote control to get to some of the features that they'd expected to be on the unit itself. For those who plan to sit in an airplane seat and use the player on a folding tray, aiming a remote takes away some of the convenience of portability.
When compared to portable players from Toshiba and Sony, Sharp's DV-L80U has a bigger picture, but it lacks the ease of use that others offer. Larger screens may be part of the future, but for now, though size may matter, it isn't enough.