Looking for a laptop for DVD viewing.
January 2, 2006 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a laptop for DVD viewing.

I'm looking into buying an inexpensive low-end laptop notebook for use when travelling. The primary purpose for this would be to watch DVDs and basic web browsing/email access. Other than that the only critical feature is a healthy battery life (at least 5 hours). I don't need to play games, do photo editing, or any CPU-intensive tasks on this system as I have a good home system for use otherwise.

Any recommendations for a system/brand to purchase? I notice a lot of Acer laptops in my general price range, does anyone have experience using those for DVD viewing?

Mac heads please note - I'm not opposed to an iBook but a) low end iBooks seem to be about $400 more expensive than a corresponding PC laptop, and b) watching a DVD on my friend's 17" PowerBook, the picture had frequent noticeable lines during action sequences. If you're recommending an Apple product please let me know what makes them worth the extra $$$ and if there are any ways to improve picture quality on an iBook/Powerbook (I've seen references to Apple's default DVD software not being the best?).
posted by Gortuk to Technology (13 answers total)
 
I'd suggest something like a Dell Inspiron, even something a year or two old is acceptable. The only thing an Inspiron doesn't qualify for is battery life; especially when playing a DVD, it can suck the life out of a battery very, very quickly.
posted by itchie at 8:20 AM on January 2, 2006


Battery life in that range while running the optical drive is going to be tough to find. If you are open to the idea of ripping to the internal hard disk you'll get closer to the time frame you want. Based on what I've seen, the super-mega battery lives out there are achieved by using low performance processors, slower video chips and ultimately turning down the display brightness (which might work against DVD viewing). I have a strong suspicion that for long DVD viewing sessions you might be better off considering a dedicated device instead.

BTW, I am a mac head generally speaking and I doubt seriously that with the current line up you can get even close to five hours. This might, of course, change at Macworld next week...
posted by shagoth at 8:25 AM on January 2, 2006


How about something like the Averatec 6200 series which can be used as a DVD player without having it turned on?
posted by eatcake at 8:25 AM on January 2, 2006


What is your "general price range"?

I don't need to play games, do photo editing, or any CPU-intensive tasks on this system

Playing DVDs is CPU intensive, and eats up laptop power like Skittles. Also, there's no such thing as a laptop that's lite on all specs except battery life. If you want maximum battery life, you generally have to buy a premium-brand machine -- you know, the ones that cost the same as a comparable Apple.

I think you'd probably be far better off getting a portable DVD player than a laptop. It'll deliver the battery life you want and be far cheaper.

shagoth: My "low end iBook" reliably gets about 4 1/2 hours.
posted by jjg at 8:33 AM on January 2, 2006


My Dell Inspirion gets 5 hours on its regular battery and 8 on an extended battery.

If the ONLY thing that you need your laptop for is watching DVDs, why not buy one of those portable DVD players for a few hundred bucks?
posted by k8t at 8:36 AM on January 2, 2006


My sister has a portable DVD player (Sony). It gets about 5-6 hours (it's a year old and still does), charges up very quickly, is very light, and has a great screen (as long as you are out of direct sunlight). I am sure it was cheaper than even low-end laptops as well.
posted by honeyx at 8:59 AM on January 2, 2006


Thanks for the suggestions so far. I've been looking at portable DVD players but as I said, I also want to be able to do some basic web browsing/email checking while on the road, so I'm not looking for a single-function device.

In terms of battery life, I hadn't considered the battery-consuming powers of DVD playback, but that makes sense - I'll definitely rip movies to the HD for watching on the plane.

For battery life, I noticed that the iBook boasts 5-6 hour battery life and some of the other small notebook vendors as well; I was hoping that's not an unreasonable expectation (even if that's for just hard-drive access).

Additional laptop-specific recommendations appreciated!
posted by Gortuk at 9:36 AM on January 2, 2006


I hadn't considered the battery-consuming powers of DVD playback, but that makes sense - I'll definitely rip movies to the HD for watching on the plane.
That won't help unfortunately. The power draw doesn't come from spinning the DVD but from the CPU power rquired to decompress the movie on the fly.

jjg is right. Long-battery-life is a premium laptop feature. The cheapo's that you cite cut costs by using desktop components which waste power. I take issue with your "iBooks cost $400 more than a corresponding PC" figure, but that's another discussion. If you can't spend more than $500, I third a portable DVD player.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:01 AM on January 2, 2006


I have two new Acer laptops in my family. One high-end and one low-end, but both are excellent. I was surprisingly impressed with her machine, which was a $450 Black FridaY loss-leader at Staples. It's a Celeron 1500 with 256 Mb RAM and performs quite well.

But with any low-end machine, battery life IS the first thing to go low. You 'might' get one movie watching out of the battery, or you might not. I have to agree with everyone who suggested a portable DVD player is that is really all you want, otherwise the Acers are excellent, and you can conder an upgraded battery or an alternative powering solution.

I use mine plugged in most of the time, because the number of charges on a battery are supposedly limited, but I can get 4-5 hours on the 8-cell battery that comes with it.
posted by JamesMessick at 10:26 AM on January 2, 2006


Gortuk: I think you'll find everyone's recommending portable DVD players because all the features you're looking for - long battery life, DVD playback and presumably small size and relatively robust since you're going to be travelling with it - are exactly those of a high-end laptop. The only way I can think of getting around this problem is to, yes, get a portable player, and also buy a used laptop on ebay - there's not point in paying for a new laptop with a rippingly fast processor and boatloads of RAM if you just want to browse and mail. I have a Thinkpad X22 with a P3 850 processor and 256Mb RAM that I got on ebay for $400 and it's super small, super robust and will easily perform the tasks you desire. Except the DVD playback of course :-)
posted by forallmankind at 11:11 AM on January 2, 2006


How about going for a low-end laptop and buying a spare battery? It would probably add in the ballpark of $100 to your total price...
posted by mr_roboto at 11:34 AM on January 2, 2006


For watching DVDs while travelling in a plane or bus, the seat in front cramps how far you can unfold the screen of a normal laptop. I've found a convertable laptop (tablet-pc) is much better for DVD viewing in these situations, as the screen can be rotated so the axle is facing your hips instead of your knees, giving comfortable viewing no-matter how tight the space. Conveniently, these machines also put much more empasis on long battery life and light weight than normal laptops. Not so conveniently, they cost a little more, but I think you can get good used models for under $1000.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:42 AM on January 2, 2006


I'd suggest posting your question over at http://forum.notebookreview.com/

Click over to the "notebook forums" and in the first forum section listed, "Hardware" you'll notice the subtitle saying something like, "post your what to buy questions here". Just let the huge community add their $0.02 and I'm sure they'll offer some great advice. It's also a tremendous resource for all other notebook owners.

Best of luck.
posted by joseywales at 1:23 PM on January 2, 2006


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