Whether you’re watching movies on the go or keeping grumpy back-seat passengers busy, these are the best portable DVD players
We know what you’re thinking: aren’t DVDs a bit passé these days? But many of us still have a decent collection, and while there’s plenty of streaming content to watch on the big screen, it’s nice to revisit old favourites while you’re lounging in bed or cooking in the kitchen.
A portable DVD player is also perfect for the car, especially if you’re driving with kids. Sure, you could set up a tablet for offline playback, but a DVD player keeps everything nice and simple – and you can even run twin screens from a single player. DVD players are also popular with the caravan and camper van contingent: they’re perfect for a rainy evening on the campsite, with no need for Wi-Fi.
How to choose the best portable DVD player for you
What should you look for in a portable DVD player?
Don’t get hung up on brand names. The likes of Sony, Panasonic and Samsung have all abandoned this market, and the best players today come from manufacturers that aren’t exactly household names. There’s still plenty of choice, though. Screen sizes range from 7.5in to 15in and above, with resolutions up to 1,366 x 768. There’s no need for anything more than this: the discs themselves only have a native resolution of 720 x 576, although some players may use upscaling to add a bit of extra sharpness.
There’s also a choice of form factors. Clamshell designs open up like a laptop to reveal a top-loading DVD player and screen, while those designed for in-car use often let you mount the screen on the rear of a headrest, allowing the kids in the back to watch their favourite films on long journeys.
When you’re choosing between players, watch out for the way different models are being described. Normally, devices with a screen are listed on Amazon and other retailers in terms of the corner-to-corner size of the screen, so a tablet with a 10.1in screen is listed as a 10.1in tablet. With portable DVD players, however, manufacturers are increasingly listing the size of the unit as a whole and then the size of the screen, meaning a 12.5in portable DVD player might only have a 10.5in screen. Sneaky.
Batteries and anti-skip
Some units draw their power directly from an in-car power point (or “cigarette lighter”, as we used to know it). For other models, it’s important to check the battery life as it can vary considerably. A single charge could get you just two hours of viewing or it might stretch to six.
Another important feature to think about is anti-skip technology. DVDs tend to skip when jolted, which can cause the movie to glitch or even skip to a different chapter. If you only ever plan to use your player on a static tabletop, this won’t be a problem, but if you’re driving up and down bumpy roads then anti-skip is an absolute must.
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Is there anything else worth looking out for?
A headphone output is a given, but some portable DVD players go that little bit further when it comes to connectivity. As well as the old-school, low-quality composite video output, some are now packing an HDMI output, with which you can connect them to a modern TV screen. We’re also seeing some with HDMI inputs, which means you can plug in a streaming stick or even a games console and use your DVD player as a screen. USB ports and SD memory card slots enable you to play downloaded video files as well as DVDs. Meanwhile, certain in-car models also support multiple screens, so you can watch one disc on two displays at once – which can save a lot of fights over who gets to watch Encanto and who gets lumped with Peter Rabbit 2.
Can’t a tablet do much the same job?
It’s true – for not much more than the price of a portable DVD player, you could buy an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, download a few movies and watch them on that instead. You can also add a microSD card to expand the storage space and even buy a headrest mount for the thing. However, downloading video files requires more planning than simply grabbing a wallet full of discs; and if you have to buy two, things get more complicated – and more expensive.
How we test portable DVD players
We test portable DVD players by using them to play a range of scenes from DVDs, including blockbuster action movies, animated family movies, children’s TV shows and nature programmes. We evaluate the quality of the playback, the resolution of the screen, and how well a particular model handles colour, contrast and detail. We also look at how the screen works in brighter, sunlit conditions, and check the viewing angles to see whether you need to sit directly in front to get a decent picture, or whether the screen can be shared.
We assess the sound, both through speakers and via a pair of headphones connected to the player. While testing, we also check how easy the controls and any menus are to use, and we take the player out on the road to see how it copes with the bumps and motion you might experience on a long car journey.
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The best portable DVD players you can buy in 2023
1. DBPower 12.5in portable DVD player: Best all-around portable DVD player
Price when reviewed: £70 | Check price at AmazonHere’s another model listed as a 12.5in DVD player, despite having a 10.5in screen. Still, at least that screen looks beautifully crisp, and this one’s every bit as versatile as the Apeman’s, capable of twisting around through 270 degrees or folding back tablet-style for your viewing or holding comfort.
It’s better-equipped for the road too, thanks to built-in anti-shock protection – and if you buy two, you can connect the second to the first using an AV cable and enjoy a single disc on both screens at the same time. Slot in an SD card or USB flash drive and you can also watch video files in MPEG-2, AVI and DIVX formats. If there’s a catch, we would have to say that the sound isn’t amazing, but it’s fine for casual low-volume entertainment.
Key specs – Screen size: 10.5in; Screen resolution: 800 x 480; Power: 12V car/AC adapter; Anti-skip: Yes; Remote control: Yes; Ports and sockets: Headphone, USB, SD card, multi-AV in, multi-AV out; Weight: 1.4kg
2. Nextbase Car 7 DVD Player: Best in-car DVD player
Price when reviewed: £65 | Check price at HalfordsThe players clip onto the rear of your car-seat headrests with a tilting mount provided, the clever slimline design leaves the screen and all controls easily accessible at the front, and the built-in anti-skip feature should keep playback smooth.
Built-in USB and SD connectors, meanwhile, allow you to play downloaded movies as well as physical discs, and you can link the two screens together using the provided cable to play the same media on both. The Nextbase Car e9 Dual gives you all you need in just one box – and, for a quieter ride, you can also buy wireless infrared headphones at £15 a pop.
Key specs – Screen size: 7in; Screen resolution: 480 x 234; Power: 12V car (mains adapter sold separately); Anti-skip: Yes; Remote control: Yes; Ports and sockets: Headphone, USB, SD card; Weight: 2.4kg
3. Fangor Portable DVD and Blu-ray player: Best high-end portable DVD player
Price when reviewed: £270 | Check price at AmazonWhile the Fangor’s price may seem high, what you’re getting for the money is a 2-in-1 device that plays both DVDs and Blu-rays, which makes a big difference if you have a library of HD discs. Without question, the best thing about this portable player is the sheer number of connectivity options and supported media files for playback, with both composite (AV) and HDMI sockets, the latter working both as an input and an output. It also has a microSD card slot and a USB connection, so you can play the supported 13 file types – including MP4, MOV and MKV – in HD resolution.
The Fangor is unusual in having a 1080p screen, meaning you can watch Blu-ray discs at their native resolution; older portable Blu-ray players often stopped at 720p. Throw in shock resistance and anti-skip tech, and this little unit keeps on trucking on rough journeys. You’ll struggle to get much impact from the Dolby Audio tech through the built-in speakers, but it sounds better through a pair of headphones, and there’s an S/PDIF if you use a soundbar back at home. What’s more, the Fangor can be operated using a car’s battery power, the mains, or its own internal lithium ion battery. To be honest, if you want to watch Blu-rays on the go, you’re not exactly spoilt for choice, but if you can justify the cost and live with the lightweight plastic construction, the Fangor is a decent option.
Key specs – Screen size: 12in; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Power: 12V car/AC adapter; Anti-skip: Yes; Remote control: Yes; Ports and sockets: Headphone, USB, SD card, AV in, HDMI in/out, S/PDIF out, LAN; Weight: 816g
4. Bush 7in Portable In-Car DVD Player: Best budget portable DVD player
Price when reviewed: £100 | Check price at AmazonWhile this portable 7in DVD player from Bush has a smaller screen than its pricier counterparts, it’s nevertheless a solid, affordable option for parents looking to keep the kids occupied on long journeys. It’s shock-resistant, has decent built-in speakers, a headphone jack and a handy remote control. If you fancy taking a trip down memory lane, away from music streaming apps, this player also plays CDs. The 800 x 480 resolution is all you’ll need for a screen of this size and, just like the other players on this list, the screen can swivel round to give you the perfect viewing angle.
The player can be charged from the mains or using the in-car adaptor. It only has a two-hour battery life, however, so make sure you’ve got a charging cable handy if the running time of your movie goes beyond 120 minutes.
Key specs – Screen size: 7in; Screen resolution: 800 x 480; Power: 12V car/AC adapter; Anti-skip: Yes; Remote control: Yes; Ports and sockets: Headphone, USB, AV out, 3.5mm headphone jack; Weight: 600g
5. Boifun 15.6in Portable DVD player: Best big screen player
Price when reviewed: £130 | Check price at AmazonWorried about the battery life of your portable DVD player? This premium HD model from Boifun has a whopping six-hour battery life, allowing you to easily watch two or even three movies on the trot without running out of charge. When access to power is limited – on a camping trip, for example – this is the player you’ll want on hand for movie nights. It recharges fully via the mains in about two hours, and will also charge up inside the car while you’re on the move.
Another bonus of the Boifun is its sizeable 15.6in 1,280 x 800 display, which is big enough for a group to enjoy watching flicks on the screen together. It’s got all the standard features you would expect from a pricier model, such as anti-shock protection, memory functions, two USB slots, an SD card reader and a bundled AV to RC cable that lets you hook up the Boifun to a larger screen at home.
Key specs – Screen size: 15.6in; Screen resolution: 1,280 x 800; Power: 12V car/AC adapter; Anti-skip: Yes; Remote control: Yes; Ports and sockets: Headphone, USB, SD card, AV in/out, 3.5mm headphone jack; Weight: 2.5kg