Its most distinctive characteristic is the adjustable "free play" 7-inch wide-screen LCD panel, a feature previously found only on the company's more expensive models. The screen swivels up and down 180 degrees, slides forward and back, and can be laid almost flat, adjusting to whatever viewing angle you find comfy.
At 1.75 pounds with the lithium battery pack and measuring 7.5 by 6.5 by 1.2 inches, the LS50 is not much larger or heavier than an airport-bought paperback. The cosmetics seem a bit Klingon, but we like the concentric circles milled into the DVD cover flap and the matching function buttons, which add a certain elegance. Even though the DVD flap is thin plastic, it seems firmly attached and able to withstand rough treatment from the young 'uns.
If we had a design gripe, it was that we had a hard time telling apart the identically shaped function keys--and the small label font didn't help. Also, the volume buttons are awkward to reach when the screen is in anything but normal position.
Panasonic's high-speed Smooth Motion Scan lets you scan forward and back at up to 100X in five steps--nice. For home use, minijacks on the spine enable connectivity to a TV or an A/V receiver, using the breakout cables. Panasonic includes a cable for analog audio/video, but you'll need to buy special cables if you want to use the S-Video or optical digital audio connections. Panasonic has eschewed its usual credit card-size remote in favor of a more standard, full-size version.
Thanks to dual headphone jacks located on the right spine, two can watch and listen to music or a movie simultaneously (the player supports a variety of media formats, including MP3 and WMA CD-Rs, DVD-R/RWs, DVD+R/RWs, though not DVD-RAM discs). The LS50 offers two enhanced modes for both the speaker and the headphones, including a Dialog Enhancer that boosts center-channel volume. However, we discerned little difference between the normal and enhanced sound modes listening both through headphones and through the player's external speakers, which played adequately loud and defined the soundstage well.
We found the quality of the picture uniformly excellent, with plenty of brightness and more detail than we've seen in most interlaced DVD portables. Desert vistas in Lawrence of Arabia were rendered as accurately and as powerfully as one could expect on an interlaced device with such a small screen. Little detail was lost even on zoomed, nonanamorphic DVDs such as Titanic, although there was some minor stair-stepping visible on Kate Winslet's otherwise smooth skin line while Leonardo DiCaprio was sketching her.
The DVD-LS50's screen delivered around 300 lines of resolution according to the Avia test disc; this bests most other 7-inch screens we've seen. It accented red by an acceptable 10 percent, and greens, while well-balanced against other colors, looked a bit limey--typical of LCDs. We recommend turning brightness all the way up to avoid losing detail in the shadows; the Cinema 1 preset was particularly dark.
Today's entry-level portable players generally offer only 2.5 hours of battery life, and this model tapped out at 2.75 hours, or just enough to squeeze in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Summing up, the LS-50 may not offer all the bells and whistles of Panasonic's step-up portable players, but it represents a good choice if you're looking for better video quality and a cooler design than those of budget entry-level models.