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A portable DVD player for less than $200

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I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve been longing for a portable DVD player for years after seeing people use them on airplanes, but I thought prices were way too high. That was until I saw one for sale at I realized it had a small screen — but the price! I had to try one to see if it was worth it.

InsertArt(1672908)A FEW WEEKS AGO, I was finishing my column on the sub-$200 Lindows computer for sale on the WalMart Web site, when I saw an ad for a portable DVD player for sale at nearly the same price. After a few calls, the kind people at Shinsonic agreed to send me an Initial DVD-9510 player. But not without asking, “Wouldn’t you like a better model? With a bigger screen? Screen size makes for a big difference in price and viewing quality.”

I explained that larger ones might be worth the price, but I was fascinated with the idea of a portable that sells for $197.64. I was not disappointed.

First, some specifics.

The 9510 is not the smallest or lightest DVD player on the market. It measures 6.8 by 6 by 1.6 inches with the rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack attached and weighs 1.5 pounds. The TFT LCD screen is measured at 4-inches diagonally, small compared to many of the portable DVD players you might see at the local store or at the airport. As you can see from the picture above it only takes up about half of the upper part of the device. When you need to take the machine portable, you hook the battery pack on to the back of the device.

The 9510 comes with an AC adapter for charging the battery or powering the DVD player; you can’t do both at the same time. Shinsonic also includes an audio/video cable, a cigarette lighter adapter for car use and a full-featured remote control (which is actually larger than the screen).

The device can handle DVD, VCD, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3 and Kodak Picture CD discs. Video playback can perform a 2x or 4x zoom, fast-forward or reverse play at 2x, 4x or 8x speeds and slow forward/reverse play at 1/2, 1/4 or 1/8 speed. There are built-in stereo speakers for sound as well as an analog stereo output, digital co-axial output for Dolby and DTS surround sound and a stereo headphone jack. A composite video output lets you attach the 9510 to your home TV.

Throw in a built-in parental lock and an anti-shock system and this is a quite complete machine, especially for the price.

VIDEO QUALITY IS FINE — REALLYHow does it work? I have to say, pretty well. A few hours to fully charge the battery (it can take up to six, Initial says) and I was on my way. I took out my copy of the first “Lord of the Rings” movie, sat back and enjoyed. The user’s guide says the battery lasts up to two hours with the screen on (four hours with it off), but I was able to watch all 178 minutes of the movie without a problem.

Audio quality was pretty good from the built-in speakers, but since this device is intended to provide a quality movie-watching experience for one, I suggest stereo headphones for ultimate enjoyment. I highly recommend a pair of Koss KSC50 portable headphones which retail for $19.99. They sound fantastic for movies and music reproduction. Actually, they’re the best inexpensive headphones I’ve ever encountered.

I also watched a few of the Video CDs I’ve collected over the years. While not as high quality as some DVDs, they looked just great on the 9510.

I tried the 9510 plugged into my LCD-screen television and DVD reproduction quality was very good, easily the equivalent of the $90 stand-alone DVD player that I usually use in that room. Sound quality of the 9510 through my stereo sounded like many of the low-priced CD decks I’ve heard in my lifetime.

As for screen size, it was fine for one-person viewing. Contrast is good, color saturation is good and readability of text and subtitles is pretty good. Watching movies on it was fun, not a chore.

Would I have liked a larger screen? Sure, who wouldn’t!

Do I think it’s necessary? Not really.

For me, the thought of adding at least $100 to the price of the 9510 to get a slightly larger screen is somewhat criminal, even with my lousy eyes. Yes, if I had a bunch of kids in the back seat of my car and wanted all of them to see the picture, I would consider a player with a larger screen. Another alternative would be to buy an inexpensive laptop computer and get a 10- or 12-inch screen for around $800.

When I showed the 9510 around in the newsroom first reactions were “small screen” and “screen is small — they usually have bigger ones.” When I revealed the price everyone — and I mean everyone — wanted to play with it. After watching for a few minutes the price was right!

What more can I add? After testing it for a few weeks, I’m happy to report Initial DVD-9510 is well worth the asking price. It could make for a wonderfully affordable stocking-stuffer for the upcoming holiday season.