- Review Price: £159.00
Panasonic recently launched the world’s first portable Blu-ray player but that doesn’t mean the company is turning its back on good old DVD. Tucked away in its latest range is this portable player with a sizeable 8in, 16:9 screen and a novel way of watching it, which Panasonic calls ‘Free Style Viewing’.
Allow us to explain. Once you’ve flipped up the screen in the traditional way the bottom edge unclips from the back support, allowing you to tilt it upwards and bring the screen down onto the base. This tablet-style configuration makes it nice and compact and comfortable to hold, and there are little rollers on the bottom corners of the screen that let you slide it back and forth to find the optimum viewing angle. It’s quite useful but it’s a pity the screen can’t be swivelled to give you even more viewing flexibility.
Otherwise, the design of the LS84 isn’t a patch on players from the likes of LG and Toshiba, with a downbeat charcoal grey finish that lacks the ostentatious flourishes of its rivals. But what it lacks in pizzazz it makes up for in build quality – this is a sturdy piece of kit, and with the lid closed it’s remarkably slim too. Even the lithium ion battery pack, which clips snugly onto the back, doesn’t bulk it up significantly thanks to its discreet size.
The built-in speakers are located on either side of the screen, and on the base you’ll find a flip-up disc tray and a comprehensive array of buttons, which is important given that the LS84 doesn’t come with a remote. Among these keys is a pair of buttons for adjusting the brightness and aspect ratio of the LCD screen (or turn it off).
Connections are fairly limited, and disappointingly there’s no USB port or SD card, which would have made it much easier to playback digital media files – as it stands you have to play them from DVD or CD. Apart from the twin headphone outputs for shared listening, the only socket is a minijack input/output that sends composite video and stereo audio to a TV using the supplied adapter cable, as well as allowing you to watch an external device on the screen.
In the box you’ll find a mounting bracket that clips onto the headrest for in-car use, but unlike most brackets this one is made from plastic, and the player slots into it with a satisfying click. When in place the screen can be tilted up to 30 degrees.
The supplied cigarette outlet adapter also means you don’t have to worry about losing power on long journeys but you might not need it, as the quoted battery life figures are pretty impressive. You can squeeze up to seven hours of playback time out of it, although to achieve that you’ll need to set the screen brightness to -5 and use headphones. Set to ‘0’ you get 4.5 hours, at +5 the figure is 3 hours and with the screen turned off you can listen to music for 9 hours. If none of that is enough, you can buy batteries that further increase playback time.
True to form, Panasonic packs the LS84 with a decent range of video and audio features. You’ll find a selection of picture presets – Normal, Cinema 1 and 2 – which offer different levels of contrast and brightness, plus there’s a User mode that lets you set the levels of Depth Enhancement and MPEG Digital Noise Reduction. Additionally, a pair of buttons on the unit enables you to adjust the brightness and colour levels of the picture or switch between ‘Daylight’ and ‘Moonlight'(!) modes. On the audio side, you’ll find a bass booster (H.Bass), virtual surround modes for headphones and speakers, Dialogue Enhancer and Sound Enhancement.
Elsewhere the Just Fit Zoom mode offers a choice of American Vista, Cinemascope 1 and 2 presets, alongside the regular 16:9 setting – Cinemascope expands letterboxed movies to fill the screen. There’s also a manual zoom mode if none of these fits the bill, as well as Advanced Disc Review, which scans the first 10 seconds of each title or scans in 10 minute intervals.
Disc compatibility is excellent. The unit plays DVD-RAM, DVD-R/-RW, DVD+RW/+R, dual-layer DVD-R and DVD+R, Video CD and CD-R/-RW. The player also supports HighMAT discs, DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG.
In action, the LS84 is a very user-friendly machine. The onscreen menus are easy on the eye and well-structured for the most part, although getting to the main setup menu is rather long-winded. Text is easy to read and there are some handy displays during playback that give you info about the current disc and even the bitrate if you enable it in the setup menu.
In terms of picture quality, the LS84 is a tad disappointing. We’ve reviewed a clutch of players with insufficient resolution to display DVDs properly, and the Panasonic is yet another to fall foul of this. We thought that that 8in screen may have necessitated a higher resolution but the 480 x 234 screen leaves our ”Spider-Man 2” disc looking short on detail, jagged along diagonal edges and suffering from a noticeable chicken wire effect.
But the problem runs deeper than a lack of pixels. The other flaw is the awkward colour balance – skin tones (particularly Kirsten Dunst’s) have an overly reddish tinge, which improves after some fiddling around with the screen settings but it still can’t quite resolve the image’s slightly unnatural look.
There are some plus points to report, such as the punchiness of the picture, the solidity of blacks and the general lack of noise, but on the whole the images offered by portables from LG, Philips and Toshiba have been more impressive. We normally point out at this stage that these flaws might not matter to some users, as the pictures are fine for casual viewing in the back of the car – but even still it would be nice to see more portable DVD decks with sharper screens.
Through a good pair of cans the LS84 delivers crisp and punchy sonics with movies and music, and the headphone virtual surround mode does a reasonably effective job. But through the speakers, the sound lacks bass and the tinny sound gets fatiguing after a while, particularly with high-octane action scenes – pretty much par for the course as far as portables are concerned. The various sound modes don’t make a great deal of difference to the sound characteristics either, although on the plus side dialogue is clearly reproduced.
Finally, searching for and playing digital media files from disc is a hassle-free experience thanks to the clear onscreen displays, and the unit loads all the supported files with pleasing speed.
The DVD-LS84 has many things to admire, namely its novel viewing options, all round usability, wide media support and long battery life. But its underwhelming picture quality and lack of USB/SD card slots make it a less appealing proposition than the Toshiba SD-P73S or the LG DP391B, particularly at this comparatively high price.
Score in detail
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