This model's Freestyle LCD is its distinguishing characteristic; it attaches to the main unit via a short, articulated arm, giving you additional flexibility when positioning the screen. You can make the display sit almost flat against the top of player, which increases your viewing-angle choices. Cosmetically, Panasonic went with a glossy-black finish on the display element, and while it looks cool, you'll find yourself regularly wiping the player off after you--or your kids--handle it.
Though none of the buttons are backlit, we had no complaints about their positioning; they're logically laid out, and the key-transport controls--next chapter, previous chapter, and pause--are easily accessible, even when the screen is flat. Panasonic also gets kudos for including a nice remote with small but tactile buttons. This remote is a little bigger than the credit-card-sized units that ship with most portable DVD players. Around the LV50's side, you'll find a couple of minijack outputs--including a Dolby Digital and DTS-compatible optical-audio output (cable not included)--that allow you to connect the player to your TV or surround-sound A/V receiver. You get a minimal set of picture-adjustment options; we kept the brightness and color settings at moderate levels to preserve battery life. This Panasonic also offers basic DVD features, including the ability to scan forward and backward at multiple speeds up to 200X. The player supports DVD-RAMs, VCDs, CD-Rs, MP3 CDs, DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, and DVD+RWs, but it can't handle DVD-RWs.
As noted, the LV50 lacks the SD expansion slot found on the LV65. This slot is used for adding memory cards filled with MP3s, MPEG-4 clips, JPEGs, and voice recordings. However, it is worth reiterating that you can play back MP3 CDs, though track titles are limited to 25 characters, and no ID3 tags are displayed.
In the audio department, Panasonic throws in a couple of extras: Dialogue Enhancer and a virtual-surround mode for headphone listening. All in all, we had no major gripes with the display and found that we could still view the movie from an off-axis position, which means that someone sitting next to you on a plane won't have a problem watching the DVD with you. That said, a more expensive portable player, such as Toshiba's SD-P2000, has a sharper screen.
The LV65's 5-inch screen is shaped for wide-screen movies and includes Full, Zoom, and Normal modes to accommodate anamorphic, nonanamorphic-letterbox, and 4:3 movies, respectively. This Panasonic automatically sized the Predator 2 DVD to fill the screen. Detail was adequate but--as you'd expect from a smaller LCD--we did notice some blurring of facial details and stair-stepping along high-contrast edges. These issues can be seen in Danny Glover's silhouette when he stands on the edge of the building. Like most LCDs, this one tended to display a dark gray as opposed to a true black. On the plus side, colors looked vibrant, and the screen was plenty bright for viewing in a well-lit room.
Besides using the player on a few coast-to-coast flights, we took the time to hook it up to a 30-inch, HD-ready Samsung TXM3098WHF, as well as to an analog Sony set. Viewing Predator 2, we thought that the picture and the sound quality were about what you'd expect from a $120 home player--that is to say, quite good. Plus, the unit's top volume is loud enough to drown out most of the background noise encountered on a plane--if you're using over-the-ear headphones. While you do get an S-Video output, there's no component-video connection for optimal picture quality.
Aside from a more compact design, the other main advantage to having a smaller screen should be increased battery life. However, we were a little disappointed that we could get only 2.5 hours from the included detachable lithium-ion battery pack with brightness set to the lowest level. That's about average for portable DVD players these days, but the older LV60 hit 4 hours.