Tearjerkers to Go

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I had an epiphany recently as I watched the movie Life Is Beautiful: certain DVDs ought to carry a warning that they're unsuitable for consumption in public. There I was, viewing the Oscar winner on a portable DVD player and sobbing like a freshly minted Mafia widow. The last time I cried so hard at a movie was as a kid when Old Yeller bought it at the end. Only this time, instead of containing my grief by burying my head in a bucket of popcorn in a darkened movie theater, I was bawling on a 7:30 a.m. train to Manhattan. People, understandably, were staring.

As the price of portable DVD players continues to drop, I suspect that public displays of over-the-top emotion (crying, laughing, shrieking in terror) will soon be common on mass transportation and in other places where folks with electronic toys are forced to kill time. There are few better time killers than movies, few experiences so immersive. And just wait until you try a portable DVD player with headphones. Those headphones, by the way, are key; since this is DVD, the sound is CD quality. That makes the overall effect more powerful than what you get at the multiplex with their ever shrinking screens and overtaxed sound systems. Plus, no more sticky floors (unless, of course, you're on the Long Island Rail Road).

To get the full flavor of the experience, I sampled two machines from opposite ends of the price spectrum: Sony's new, state-of-the-art DVP-FX1 ($1,500) and Aiwa's older XD-DW1 ($650). Given its price, I didn't expect the Aiwa machine to be in the same league as the Sony. I was wrong. Indeed, if your portable DVD needs are like mine, you probably shouldn't even consider the high-end Sony.

What are my needs? I want my machine to plug into my TV so I can use it as a DVD player at home, but also be portable enough to use on the train or even in the car--without headphones--in which I am facing too many hours of family road trips this summer.

It was that last criterion that stymied the Sony. Its external speakers, even when turned up full blast, weren't loud enough to compete with the ambient noise of my station wagon, three Quittner girls and Otto, the brown dog. The Aiwa, on the other hand, could easily be heard by my kidlings in the back seat of the car. While the sound quality of the Sony's external-speaker system is way better than the Aiwa's for, say, sitting quietly and alone on your bed, it's too mellow for car trips and howling Quittners.

That said, the Sony machine is swell in virtually every other respect. Its 7-in. lcd screen and 4-hr. battery time were clearly superior to the Aiwa's 5.8-in. screen and 2-hr. battery time. Also, it was better engineered for usability. It is solidly built (it has a metal case) and surprisingly trim, while the Aiwa is mostly plastic and clunkier; its battery pack clips on, adding weight and bulkiness. Sony's rechargeable battery, by contrast, is built in.

Both machines performed extremely well under bumpy conditions, which surprised me. We were able to watch Bowfinger while driving over railroad ties without missing a frame. And both machines easily attached to my home television, bringing the intense, digital clarity of DVD to the larger screen. Life is indeed beautiful.

Find out more about these DVD players at and . Questions for Josh? E-mail him at jquit@well.com