Long journeys aren't fun, especially if you're a parent. Fortunately, portable DVD players offer some respite for all involved. If you're an adult, pop in your favourite movie and ignore everyone around you -- unless you're driving, of course. If you're a child, nag your parents silly until they relent and buy you one.
The Toshiba SD-P91S is a large, widescreen DVD player with support for DivX and XviD files either played from disc or USB memory stick. For its £150 price tag, it even has the ability to be connected to a TV when you're away from home.
The first thing that will strike you about the P91 is how big the screen is. The bigger the viewing area on a portable DVD player, the better, we say, and 9 inches is reasonable. Of course, this does mean that the whole unit is fairly large. That said, our criteria for judging size on these devices is how easily they'll fit on the seat-back of a short-haul aeroplane. We don't think the P91 will present any problems in this area, especially given the flexibility of the screen.
You can twist the screen and even flip the display, so you can have it mounted upside down. The idea of having such a manoeuvrable screen is that wherever you are, no matter how non-existent the leg room is in cattle class, you'll somehow be able to bend the screen into a position where you can watch it.
In every other regard, the P91 is a nice-looking machine, finished in smart black with silver trim. It feels sturdy and well made and could possibly last for some time before your children manage to break it. The only aesthetic criticism we can level at it is that once the battery is connected, the unit is very deep and heavy.
On the right-hand side of the machine, you get a volume control, two headphone outputs -- trust us, this can really help with train/plane spousal arguments -- plus digital audio output and AV in and out. The AV connections are the headphone-style, mini-jack connectors, but a cable is supplied. There is also a DC input for connecting the supplied power adaptor.
The P91S is certainly a flexible little beast in more ways than just its twisty-turny screen. It can play quite a number of files; in addition to the obvious DVD support, it can handle MPEG-4 video such as DivX and XviD.
Even better, the P91 can happily read video files, photos and MP3s from a memory stick. This is a great feature if you have a lot of video you want to watch and can't face burning it all to DVD. It should also help to extend the battery life, as the player doesn't have to spin a disc constantly.
With AV in, you can hook up a camcorder or other device and watch its output on the P91's built-in screen. This is handy if you're an amateur filmmaker on location who needs to see the last scene played back.
The P91 might also interest you as a regular DVD player too. It can be connected to a TV via a supplied cable, which would enable you to use it on holiday in a hotel room or -- if you're one of those people who likes sitting in a fibreglass box -- your caravan.
The P91 supports all the main audio codecs, including DTS and Dolby Digital. You even get a digital bitstream output for connecting this machine to a home cinema system, if you so desire.
The screen on the P91 doesn't produce anywhere near the quality we would expect from a company like Toshiba. We put in our X-Men test disc and were immediately distracted by some very clear lines that ran across the picture. It's possible that this is caused by a reasonably low resolution -- the screen is only a QVGA model with a resolution of 640x220 pixels -- but it's rather distracting. It's certainly not ideal in a product designed primarily to be used with the built-in screen.
On the plus side, the colour reproduction is good and the contrast ratio is also pleasing enough for most of the material we tested on it. Of course, dark movies like X-Men will never look ideal on a small screen in anything other than pitch blackness, so picking an aisle seat might be preferrable.
The aspect ratio gave us some difficulty, as the player never seemed to want to quite hit the correct resolution. Eventually, after some fiddling, we got it to behave properly and even our widescreen XviD files filled the screen.
When it came to sound, we weren't very impressed by the built-in speakers. With headphones, though, everything sounded great. Speech had clarity and a test CD proved that the player was capable enough in the audio department. That may make it appealing to people who want an all-in-one video and music system that they can plug a set of external speakers into wherever they go.
We also had some concerns with the operating noise of the unit. When either a data DVD or a movie disc was playing, the noise of the disc spinning was audible. Changing tracks produced much more noise, but that's not likely to be a problem for most people. When you're wearing headphones, the operating noise is unlikely to be bothersome.
We liked the fact you get a supplied remote control and this works well. Indeed, it's essential for accessing some of the player's features. The only tiny niggle we had with it was that the top panel needs to be open to use it. That's fine when you're using the player's built-in screen, but it becomes more problematic when you're using it as a DVD player with an external screen.
To be sure of its sturdiness, we gave the machine a jolly good
shaking while it was playing a DVD. It didn't miss a frame of video. We
also played some of our more worn and scratched discs and the Tosh had
very little trouble reading them.
The battery can, according to Toshiba, last around five hours.
That's quite a claim, but then the battery is rather large, essentially
adding a quarter of an inch in depth to the unit and stretching across
the whole base.
As much as we really wanted to like the P91, we just weren't that impressed. The LCD quality is quite disappointing and we expect better these days. Sound is good, though, with plenty of volume when listening through headphones. We also think the flexibility of the screen will be useful for frequent travellers.
There are other portable DVD players out there and some of them considerably more expensive than this £150 Toshiba. But does the modern traveller really need one of these? Surely they would be better off paying a little more for a portable media player like an Archos 605 WiFi or iPod touch? Still, for travelling, this machine might not be the highest quality, but its long battery life and flexible screen will be a huge draw.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday