The DVD-LS90 supports most disc formats, including DVD-RAM and other writable formats. DVD-RAM is the golden child of Panasonic's technology family -- it's the most versatile recordable format available and all Panasonic DVD recorders support it. It's good to see a portable player with DVD-RAM in addition to DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW. It's something you won't find on Toshiba's players, and it means you can record TV programmes without finalising the disc and pop them straight into the player for the journey to work. DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW discs still need to be finalised to play, however.
As we mentioned, the package is lightweight on the extras -- there's no digital cable included, nor is there a carry case. If you're travelling around without access to a mains or car power adaptor, you should be able to manage thanks to an excellent six-hour battery life. In fact, the detachable battery offers the best lifespan we've seen from any portable player. In our test, we found that it ran to five hours -- Panasonic's quote of six assumes you're using the lowest brightness setting and headphones instead of speakers. That's still enough to watch two average films, but it's just short of two Lord of the Rings epics. The box includes a mains adaptor that you will be able to use on many modern trains, and a car adaptor.
As for features on the player itself, there are a few practical implementations that will benefit both films and television programmes. The player can automatically format 4:3 material (older TV series, for example) so they stay square on the screen or are stretched horizontally and vertically to look natural on the wide screen. Again, we've not seen this before, despite a similar feature existing on most widescreen TVs. If you're watching a movie and fancy the full cinema experience, you can engage 'Advanced Surround' which will give you a faux-5.1 experience through your headphones. We particularly like the 'Multi Re-Master' mode which adds lost frequency signals to DVD soundtracks and MP3/WMA music. Indeed, the audio performance overall is exemplary.
We often find that staying in a hotel room, it's great if you can watch your favourite film or TV series instead of shelling out for a paid movie on the hotel system. The Panasonic will output via composite video -- not the highest quality connector available, but we're yet to see a DVD player that offers component video outputs or Scart. If you want to link it up to a bigger home cinema setup, you might want to take advantage of the digital audio outputs. The Panasonic even goes as far as supporting DTS audio, which makes for a strange AV combination when you have the worst quality video connectivity combined with the best audio.
The 9-inch screen proves to be the Panasonic's undoing -- its large size results in the same poor picture quality as the Archos AV700. The resolution is low and gives a similar effect to a cheap LCD projector. You can actually see the separation between pixels, something that is sometimes referred to as the 'chicken wire' or 'screen door' effect. It's not pleasant, and given Panasonic's reputation for picture quality it's surprising to see something so weak.
Panasonic features high-speed motion scanning to help smooth the image out, which is useful for camera pans and fast-moving objects in video. Audio playback is also boosted by surround-sound processing when using headphones. The internal speakers are tinny and lack bass, so you'll want to use headphones not only for your enjoyment, but to spare those around you. It's a shame, then, that there are no headphones included in the package. Having said that, the audio performance from Panasonic's player is superb -- we could hear every nuance of background detail from our DVD movies. The performance was much better than on Toshiba's, and you can burn around 7 hours of music to one MP3 CD -- more than enough for most journeys. Panasonic's technology also makes compressed music sound surprisingly rounded.
Edited by Michael Parsons
Additional editing by Nick Hide