Product review: Philips PD9016 9-inch Portable LCD Dual DVD Player.

While Lara and I had thought and rethought about the “no TV before they’re two” policy, there was one related topic on which we had total clarity. There was no way we were going to put Jack and Emme into a car for 22 hours round trip without some sort of video distraction. I’ll worry about the zombie effect of TV and movies on children when they’re old enough to pick up a book. For now, a little zombification is just what the doctor ordered for car rides that last more than a hour.

Lara’s steadfast Subaru Forrester had given up the ghost in March, so we had to buy a new car. Lara did a ton of research and found that one of the biggest bangs for the buck was the Kia Sorento. Like most cars these days, it comes in several different flavors, from bare bones to super deluxe. We chose a modest set of features for our new ride, and we’ve been extremely pleased with it. The bad news is that it didn’t come with the video package with the screens built into the headrests. The good news is that the kids are in rear-facing car seats, so, for now at least, it would have been a waste. Three cheers for being frugal!

So the number one factor in shopping for a car DVD player was for it to be able to be attached to the head rest instead of permanently installed. Shopping around finally brought me to the Philips PD9016. It’s a dual DVD player that allows each screen to play its own disc or allows one disc to be displayed on both screens. The latter feature is perfect for our situation; since the babies can’t use headphones yet, Lara and I will be listening to whatever they’re watching. Competing soundtracks would likely drive us insane on a long car ride. And yet it has the flexibility to be used in dual player mode when they get a little older and are more particular about their viewing pleasure.

The shared, single player mode requires an analog cable to be connected between the two players. The cable is fairly lengthy and should work in the same row with all but the most monstrous of minivans. However, if you want to connect the two players in two different rows, the increased distance may pose a problem. Some user reviews have also complained that the picture quality of the “slave” DVD player is significantly worse than the “master” DVD player when in shared mode. I think that’s an overstatement. There is a notable but minor decrease in brightness and sharpness on the “slave” screen, but it’s nothing that’s going to bother the average viewer, much less a one year-old child.

The picture quality on the slightly larger the average 9-inch screens is adequate for the circumstances. Video enthusiasts who think they’re going to find anything that provides reference-level quality in an uncontrolled environment like a car are fooling themselves (which is part of the reason why a car Blu-ray player is huge waste of money unless you’ve already chucked all of your DVDs). Being such an enthusiast, though, I’m disappointed that content in the roughly square 4:3 aspect ratio (older TV shows, for example) is automatically stretched out to the native widescreen resolution of the screen (the rectangular 16:9 aspect ratio). There is a setting in the options menu that appears to allow for letterboxing (black bars on either side), but selecting it doesn’t do anything.

A sound level indicator either on the volume dial or on the screen would have also been welcome. And while this is marketed as a portable DVD player system, it has no AC adapter. It is clearly meant only for use in the car.

But these a minor points compared to the one huge flaw for people in my demographic: There is no remote control. This means that restarting a disc in transit means turning around and stretching for the menu buttons on the face of the player. And when you have rear-facing children, it means you have to take off your seat belt to reach the backseat headrests. This does not feel particularly safe as you’re barreling down an interstate with semi trucks passing you every three seconds.

But this is mitigated in part by some of the PD9016s other features. The strap system attached the screens to each headrest with a minimum of fuss. The speakers are loud enough to overcome the noise of the open road. Best of all, the player has a “resume” function: When you turn off the car to, say, fill up your gas tank, the player will remember where the DVD left off when the car is turned back on. This is exceptionally helpful since the DVD will not start over and force you to fast forward through the disc to get back to the right place.

Despite a few quirks and the lamentable absence of a remote, the Philips 9016 is a good bargain for the price. For around $170, you get a decent picture, good sound, and two screens that can work together or separately. We found it was just the thing for episodes of The Muppet Show and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Janie Hightower - February 13, 2012 - 10:52 am

A+++++

Katie - February 13, 2012 - 1:41 pm

You should be getting paid for your reviews!

A good educational, yet totally entertaining for the parents (you’ll be singing along, I promise,) is They Might Be Giants: Here Comes Science, and Here come the ABCs.

Robert M. Hightower - February 13, 2012 - 2:04 pm

Very interesting review J.

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