When Sony released the DVP-FX810 in 2007, the biggest complaint about the portable DVD player was the lackluster resolution of its screen. For 2008, the company has addressed that issue in a big way: the 8-inch screen of the DVP-FX820 boasts an 800x480 resolution, up from the paltry 480x220 found on its predecessor. The result is the best viewing experience we've seen on a portable DVD player in a long time.
The DVP-FX820 has a smooth plastic housing that Sony sells in a variety of colors--the one we tested was accented in dark blue. The player is one of the heaviest we've seen, weighing a sturdy 2.7 pounds. We liked the placement of the unit's battery that runs along the entire bottom of the player. It may be large, but it doesn't protrude at all, unlike the Toshiba SD-P71S, which has a small bump on the rear.
All of the DVD controls are located below the screen, making them easily accessible even if you take advantage of the swivel hinge and watch the unit in tablet mode. The screen can flip a complete 180 degrees and fold back on itself to be held in your hands. We were happy to see that most DVD controls were represented here, including the sometimes forgotten fast-forward and rewind functionality (just use move the four-way directional pad left or right during playback). The FX820 also ships with a remote control that expands on the playback options. It's among the larger remotes we've seen packed in with a portable DVD player, but there's no reason to leave it at home. The two IR sensors let the player respond regardless of its orientation.
On the right side of the unit, you'll find all the connectivity options available. In addition to dual headphone jacks, there's a switchable video in/out port (for using the player's screen as a monitor or playing DVDs on a larger TV, respectively); Sony includes the necessary composite AV breakout cable as well. Also on board is a digital audio output, for surround sound playback (when connected to an AV receiver). In addition to a standard AC adapter, Sony throws in a car charger--but the FX820 does not come with any mounting straps for mounting on a car seat.
The Sony DVP-FX820 delivered on the two most important aspects of a portable DVD player: picture quality and battery life. By doubling the resolution of last year's player on the same size screen, the FX820 delivers a much more detailed image--and it's all very noticeable, thanks to your close proximity to the screen. This was most apparent when we watched an action scene from Aeon Flux that took place in a garden. The fine detail of the grass and flowers was better than any screen we've recently tested. Battery life, meanwhile, was also impressive: the player hit Sony's rated life of 6 hours right on the nose. That falls far short of the 9 hours we got from the competing Panasonic DVD-LS86, but it should still let you get in about three full movies per charge.
So what's not to like? The Sony DVP-FX820 just doesn't boast any other additional features. You can play back MP3 files and JPEG photos burned to discs (in addition to CDs and DVDs, of course), but that's about it. There's no compatibility with DivX or other digital video formats. Also absent is a USB port or flash card reader.
Of course, none of that is going to be a deal-breaker for anyone who's just looking for a standard portable DVD player. The impressive screen, long battery life, and slick design makes for an overall winner, with the comparatively hefty 2.7-pound weight being the only notable drawback for most users. Widely available for $180, the Sony DVP-FX820 is well worth the premium over "bare-bones" portable DVD players from no-name competitors.