Editors' Note: As of spring 2008, this model has been replaced by the Sony DVP-FX820. That model retains the same basic design, but--because it includes a non-glossy screen with a much higher resolution--it's a big improvement over the FX810 reviewed here.
In years past, Sony's been fairly quiet in the portable DVD player market, ceding it to Panasonic, Toshiba, and a variety of second-tier--and even third-tier--brands. But with the release of two new affordable, slickly designed models, the Sony DVP-FX810 and the D-EV7000S DVD Walkman, the company seems determined to steal some market share.
Eschewing the silver styling of many earlier portable DVD player models, Sony's gone with an all-black look for its DVP-FX810 ($200 list), which sports a generous 8-inch wide-screen that swivels 180 degrees and folds flat on top of the unit much like a tablet PC. Surrounding the screen is a glossy black bezel, and Sony's covered the LCD screen with something called a Hard Coating acrylic panel for a "clear view." It's nice to have the protective coating, but we don't think it makes a difference in the clarity of the picture. It certainly doesn't help eliminate the screen's glare issues--with the unit off, the screen can almost serve as a mirror. On a more positive note, Sony's conveniently placed all the controls right below the screen. While the remote isn't terribly compact, the buttons are clearly labeled, and it's easier to use than most credit-card-size clickers that normally ship with portable DVD players.
Weighing a somewhat hefty 2 pounds, 14 ounces with its detachable battery clipped on (it attaches to the bottom of the unit), the Sony DVP-FX810 has all the requisite features, including a set of A/V minijack connections (you can use the included composite A/V cable as an input or an output, at the flick of a switch), a cigarette-lighter adapter for in-car use, and dual headphone jacks. The player accepts MP3 CDs and JPEGs burned to CD-Rs, but there's neither DivX support nor a Memory Stick slot. Also, it would've been nice if Sony had thrown in a cheap canvas carrying case that could double as a headrest mount for backseat viewing when the player's in tablet mode. Some inexpensive tablet-style portable DVD players (namely, the Mustek MP100) ship with just such an accessory.
As far as the picture goes, it's OK, though not great, which is what we've come to expect from players that cost less than $200. As we said, the screen has some glare issues, but overall, the picture simply suffers from lack of resolution. In other words, the screen is quite watchable for almost everybody, but discriminating viewers won't be satisfied. The picture is pretty soft, and if you're sitting too close, there's enough space between pixels to give you the impression you're looking at a movie through a screen door. The Sony DVP-FX810 offers a good amount of picture control options, but you probably won't stray far from the default settings. The exception: Shadow detail isn't a strong suit, so you might want to crank the brightness on darker movies.
Aside from its attractive styling, another one of the Sony DVP-FX810's assets is its battery life. Sony says you can get up to 6 hours of battery life if you keep the brightness settings down and listen through headphones. That's a stretch, but we managed around 4 hours with the brightness setting cut down a bit from the default--better than average for portable DVD players.
Sony's done a good job of designing a player that looks more expensive than it really costs. Throw in good battery life and an OK picture, and you're looking at a decent value, especially if the DVP-FX810 sheds a few dollars from its list price.