"PalmTheatre" Portable DVD Player
who believe the one with the most toys wins
By Jim Bray
Talk about your ultimate
toy! Panasonic's "PalmTheatre" is the sort of gadget for
the person who has to have everything - and will pay for the privilege.
It's a slick little handheld DVD player that's perfect for those long
plane rides where you don't want to watch the airline's movie. It's great
for car trips, too: throw the thing in the back with the ankle biters
and you'll never hear "are we there yet?" again!
The L10 is totally
impractical except as an indulgence - but as such is a marvelous machine
and we wish we owned one. Except for its $1999CDN ($1395US) price...
Okay, I can think
of another legitimate use: for travelling salespeople to use for demonstrating
their product. But that'll have to wait until they get their videos transferred
onto DVD, which probably won't take long.
This tiny little sucker
is about twice the size of a portable CD player, and I would have thought
that would have meant it was squint city when it comes to watching a movie.
Such is not the case, however. I was amazed at just how great a viewing
experience the L10's widescreen LCD screen gives. Oh, sure, it can't beat
a huge screen, but you'd be surprised how much you can enjoy a flick on
this beastie - especially when you're plugged into it via a set of decent
Headphones are recommended
because, just as with notebook computer audio, the built in sound leaves
a tad to be desired. You can't turn it up loud enough without it distorting
and the sound quality is as befits tiny little speakers. Besides, you
don't want to disturb everyone else on the plane, do you?
That said, you can
plug the unit into your home theatre, too, which means you can make the
player double as a home unit and a portable unit - which is probably the
only way one can justify the price!
Unfortunately, I had
a big problem when running the PalmTheatre through my TV, in that I couldn't
access the unit's "aspect ratio" control, which tells the machine
if you're outputting to a widescreen or squarescreen TV. I can't even
be sure there is such a control; I sure as heck couldn't find it, though
it could be accessible via a remote control. We didn't have a remote,
however (our test unit was a preproduction prototype that didn't have
all the final features included - and all the menus were in Japanese,
which didn't help us a lot!), so can't be sure.
If that aspect ratio
switch is missing it's a real flaw in this machine, because my widescreen
DVD's (which looked terrific on the unit's built in screen) would be all
stretched out of shape on the regular TV, like widescreen movies are on
TV sometimes during the opening and/or closing credits when they take
off the Cinemascope lens to make the lettering fit from side to side on
the screen. This is totally unacceptable, especially for two grand, but
I'll give Panasonic the benefit of the doubt by assuming it'll be addressed
in the final release model.
The screen, which
flips up like that on a notebook computer, is in a very cinematic 16:9
aspect ratio. It's a 5.8 inch LCD that displays 280,000 pixels, and to
be honest it's one of the best pictures I've seen from an LCD, though
it certainly doesn't hurt having it display DVD
images, which are about as good a source as you can get. We noticed some
noise, and some horizontal "bars" could be seen rising on the
screen during dark sections, but on the whole we were mighty impressed.
And who knows, the minor flaws we saw could also have to do with the prototypical
nature of our sample.
There's a switch below
the screen with which you can switch from Normal to Full or Zoom, depending
on the source DVD. We found this came in handy with our copy of "the
English Patient," which was not only letterboxed on the little
LCD, but which was also "keyholed" (not filling the screen from
left to right, leaving black spaces around the picture: pressing "Zoom"
made the movie fill the screen perfectly.
And despite the limited
buttons, you can still do freeze frames, forward and reverse scans, jump
to chapters, and mess around with a lot of other parameters. It seems
like a relatively fully featured unit, but (as mentioned) since the menus
were in Japanese we can't be absolutely sure.
Speaking of fully
featured, the PalmTheatre even has an optical digital audio output, which
is nice to see. And of course the unit puts out its audio in Dolby Digital
(AC-3) sound, as befitting the DVD standard.
The life of the rechargeable
battery pack is said to be 2 hours (so you'd better bring spares for that
cross country trip!), but the battery in our prototype didn't work at
all, so we couldn't run it down. I'd like to see a car cigarette lighter
adapter, too, though not for front seat use: drivers in our neck of the
woods are bad enough already without giving them the added challenge of
driving and watching "Titanic" at the same time!
Oh, and talk about
a conversation piece! Everywhere I took the PalmTheatre, people were coming
over to rubberneck at the outrageous little gadget. It not only made me
feel very artificially important, it taught me the importance of trying
to keep my movie selection quite innocuous when in public...
Although this is undoubtedly
as much an exercise in technical bragging rights as marketing, Panasonic
has really pulled off a nice coup with this L10 portable DVD player. I'm
hooked - though I wouldn't buy one unless they fix that aspect ratio problem
- and I'm confident that any shortcomings mentioned here (including the
aspect ratio) will be addressed in the production model.
Or, as is sometimes
the case, in next year's model...
Well, done, Panasonic!
Panasonic's L10 "PalmTheatre"
Portable DVD Player
weigh: 2.01 pounds (without battery)
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