We’re all trying to be safer these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t opt for a change of scenery beyond the four walls of your humble abode. According to projections from the American Automobile Association (AAA), more than 680-million drivers will take a road trip this summer. While that accounts for fewer road-going adventures than Americans took last year at this time, down 3.3 percent, it is far more than AAA projects travelers will take by more communal means of conveyance such as airplanes and trains.
Those road trips mean more butts in seats for more hours, and when you’re looking to quiet a cacophony of kiddos, you’ll yearn for some of the comforts of home. While smart phones, tablets, and handheld video games are all but ubiquitous, don’t dismiss the humble overhead DVD player. While it might strike you as a relic of another era, the benefits of a disc in hand become abundantly clear when you enter a cellular dead zone. A ceiling-mounted screen also means fewer gadgets to manage and batteries to charge.
When considering which overhead DVD player to purchase, you’ll want to assess the feature set. Beyond the obvious playback of optical discs, many have the ability to natively display digital media or act as a monitor for external video game consoles and streaming devices. And, just as important as what you see, is how you’ll hear it. Most players give you the choice of your stereo system or, the more blissful option, wireless headphones. We’ve done a full assessment of the products available, so read on for our picks of the best overhead DVD players.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor’s Pick: Alpine 10.1-inch Overhead DVD Player
- 2. Budget Pick: BOSS Audio Systems 10.1-inch Overhead DVD Player
- 3. Big Screen Pick: XTRONS 15.6-inch Overhead DVD Player
- 4. Pyle 13.3-inch Overhead DVD Player
- 5. Soundstream 10.3-inch Overhead DVD Player
- Who Needs an Overhead DVD Player?
- Why Get a Flip-Down DVD Player?
- What Should You Know When Buying an Overhead DVD Player?
- What are the Most Important Features?
1. Editor’s Pick: Alpine 10.1-inch Overhead DVD Player
Alpine is a long-standing name in car audio equipment. Photo credit: Amazon.com.
This flip-down DVD and media player by Alpine sports a 10.1-inch screen with a sufficiently crisp WSVGA display resolution. While neither the least expensive nor largest display on our list, it is one of the few players on the market to be equipped with what Alpine calls an “automotive-grade DVD mechanism” to withstand the rigors of bumpy roads, excessive heat, and vibrational wear on the laser apparatus.
With dual HDMI ports, a pair of USB inputs—one for charging, one for media playback—and RCA jacks for standard-definition analog video, Alpine has provided plenty of options for displaying external media. The player comes equipped with standard fare for the category, such as an FM transmitter to supply wireless audio to the car’s sound system, a remote control, and three interchangeable housing colors to best complement your vehicle’s interior. You can choose from black, gray, or gold, all in a high-gloss finish.
Alpine also equips this unit with an infrared (IR) transmitter, which enables the use of compatible headphones. While any IR receivers will work, the company includes two high-quality headsets with the purchase price of the PKG-RSE3HDMI. This leaves front seat occupants to enjoy their choice of drivetime entertainment in relative peace, which one user described as “pre-children date night quiet.”
Notable misses are the lack of an SD card slot and the absence of built-in speakers. Though perhaps considered redundant by Alpine, both of these are features found on many lower-priced models. Many users also report headaches trying to encode compatible media file formats to play via the USB port, despite the company’s claim that it supports MP4, AVI, FLV, and more.
As aftermarket DVD players go, this product clocks in with a steep price tag. We believe, and users tend to agree, that the established track record of the Alpine brand makes the upcharge worth it in a product category where cheaply manufactured competitors frequently fail after only a year or so of use.
2. Budget Pick: BOSS Audio Systems 10.1-inch Overhead DVD Player
Rear-seat passengers will benefit as this DVD player swivels as much as 270 degrees on its vertical axis. Photo credit: Amazon.com.
For price-conscious shoppers seeking an overhead DVD player with a competitive roster of features, we recommend the BOSS BV10.1 MC. Considerably less expensive than our top pick, it too brandishes a 10.1-inch screen, though this LCD panel has another trick up its sleeve. Once folded down, this display has the ability to swivel on its vertical axis as much as 270 degrees to favor a single rear seat occupant, reduce glare, or allow Mom to preview the kids’ choice of entertainment.
As with our preferred DVD player, this unit is imprinted with a recognizable brand name, which will undoubtedly give some buyers comfort. The BOSS also comes equipped with most of the common creature comforts you can expect in this lineup: USB and SD slots, a remote control, swappable faceplates, FM transmitter, IR emitter, and two pairs of wireless headphones. The BV10.1 MC even comes with a built-in speaker, though owners report its usefulness is limited since it isn’t very loud.
What are you giving up? Well, the biggest omission is an HDMI port, which will leave most modern gaming systems and streaming sticks out in the cold. Users also complain of poor instructions and unresponsive customer service. If you’re a DIYer, you may find the mounting hardware lacking. There are also select reports of good initial performance followed by malfunctions a few months down the road, which may speak to the long-term durability of this affordable option.
3. Big Screen Pick: XTRONS 15.6-inch Overhead DVD Player
The CR1506 touts a 1080p, high-definition screen. Photo credit: Amazon.com.
If you subscribe to the bigger is better mantra, look no further than this 15.6-inch offering from XTRONS, the largest display on our list by a significant margin. The CR1506 touts a 1080p, high-definition screen that can open up a maximum of 180 degrees, though it doesn’t swivel. It is so massive, in fact, that you’ll surely want to keep it stowed for reversing maneuvers. Drivers report that when deployed, it totally eclipses the rearview mirror.
This particular flip-down display is clad in a glossy black finish, no doubt a fingerprint magnet, and unlike other options in this roundup, there are no customizable housings to be had. If your interest extends beyond DVD playback, HDMI, USB, SD, and analog RCA inputs are also on offer. For audio out, take your pick between the FM transmitter, built-in speakers, or IR emitter for use with headphones, which must be purchased separately.
With such ample screen real estate, there’s a pretty good chance there won’t be a bad seat in the house… er, minivan. So what’s to lose? Unfortunately, user feedback on this model is a bit lacking compared to other overhead DVD players. Some of the few who have left reviews point to spotty reliability and inattentive customer support. It’s a huge display. Is it worth taking a chance? Only you can decide.
4. Pyle 13.3-inch Overhead DVD Player
13.3 inches is a lot of screen for in-car viewing. Photo credit: Amazon.com.
Falling within the mid-range, in terms of display size, the 13.3-inch Pyle PLRD146 is a DVD player that looks like it might have been designed in a wind tunnel. With dome lights and a button array that recall an upside-down Ford Fusion, this offering is an affordable choice packed with the features you would expect.
In addition to its region-free DVD player with anti-skip and last-position memory, you’ll find options for USB and SD media as well as HDMI and analog RCA. To match your headliner, you get silver, tan, and black plastic to choose between. It comes loaded with built-in speakers, an FM transmitter, and IR headphone capability.
At a screen resolution of 1280 x 800, the PLRD146 isn’t full HD, but it’s unlikely you’ll notice on a display this size. However, according to buyers, audio is a notable weak point. The FM transmitter reportedly emits an annoying squeal on all channels, and the IR emitter, when tested with headphones (not included), has an unusually limited operational range. Outside of a 3-foot radius, earpieces stop working, which leaves any third-row passengers out of luck. Plan to wire this one into the sound system directly. Luckily, users praise responsive customer service by Pyle.
5. Soundstream 10.3-inch Overhead DVD Player
Soundstream touts this model as “DVD Transport for Extreme Conditions.” Photo credit: Amazon.com.
The Soundstream VCM-103DMH comes equipped with a 10.3-inch screen with 1024 x 600 resolution, and it boasts of more robust “DVD Transport for Extreme Conditions.” As disc mechanism failure is a common complaint within the product category, this is one to watch.
Like other overhead DVD players, you’ll also be able to display external sources via HDMI or RCA in addition to playing media files natively using a USB drive or an SD card. While this Soundstream player is ready for your IR headphones or FM radio, it does not have a built-in speaker. You can choose from beige, black, or gray shells.
This feature set comes at a steep price, one of the costliest on our list, as a matter of fact. It may well be worth it if the durability claims prove out, but including a pair of high-quality earphones would have been a nice touch. Users also complain that the whine of the DVD mechanism is loud and that the FM signal is by no means strong but good enough in a pinch. Overall, buyers seem to feel the unit’s reliability is worth the extra expense.
Who Needs an Overhead DVD Player?
Photo credit: socrates471 / Shutterstock.com
While in-vehicle entertainment tends to appeal largely to families with kids, lots of folks have discovered the usefulness of a flip-down screen, from millennial glampers to retirees.
Overhead displays are particularly useful for kids who are too young to be trusted with handheld devices or appreciate the “thrill of the open road.” A well-timed episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants” can keep eyes forward and hands out of Sister’s hair when the only things to see out of either window are rows and rows of corn. Apologies to Iowa.
It’s true: excessive screen time is no substitute for good parenting and engaging, educational activities, but parents need a break too. Furthermore, constant pivoting from the front seat to the back to police bad behavior and manage spilled crayons can become a serious safety concern while driving. A drop-down screen, in particular one that is out of the reach of kiddos and controlled by Mom or Dad is just one more tool in a parent’s bag of tricks.
And, as young adults continue to prioritize experiences over other expenditures, mobile entertainment makes increasing sense. The trend of so-called “glamping” has travelers visiting rustic locations to relax in relative luxury, so having the ability to watch your favorite feel-good movie is very appealing indeed.
Some empty nesters have found a home for ceiling-mounted players outside of their typical minivan and crossover habitats. A screen installed in an RV, some folks affixing them below kitchen cabinets, is an uncommon use case, but one to consider nevertheless.
Why Get a Flip-Down DVD Player?
First: why DVDs in an age of Netflix and Hulu? Try as we might, we still aren’t living in Google or Elon Musk’s future of a world blanketed in internet. Leaving aside the question of whether that’s a thing that should exist, it does mean there are great swathes of the countryside where cellular internet coverage doesn’t reach. “But my Chrysler Pacifica has a Wi-Fi hotspot!” you shout. Not if you’re outside AT&T coverage zones. Video discs are there for you when Amazon Prime Video isn’t.
But don’t just think of an in-car screen as a way to sedate your screaming brood with Technicolor light waves. As opposed to competing iPads and Nintendo Switches, a screen can be a communal experience. Think: enjoying a National Geographic DVD about the park you’re about to visit. With FM transmitter and hardwiring options, everyone can get educated and engage with the experience of the road trip as audio plays over the vehicle’s speakers.
A modern DVD player can also upgrade your vehicle in ways that extend much further than being able to play optical discs. Well-equipped players not only give you the ability to bring your own digital media but also display anything that can send video through an HDMI port or RCA cables. Yes, that means driving a virtual race car while you’re being driven in a Kia Sorento. That’s either a recipe for car sickness or pure genius. You decide.
What Should You Know When Buying an Overhead DVD Player?
When selecting a unit, consider how long you plan to own it, and how long it will be before you want to install another. Reliability is key. Overhead DVD players are meant to be semi-permanent fixtures in your vehicle. Every one of these players is designed to replace the rear dome light, and whether or not the electronics become a permanent fixture, the hole sliced in your headliner will be. Measure twice, cut once. Depending on your vehicle, the headliner can cost thousands to replace.
Not all DVD players are manufactured with the same level of quality or bestowed with an equal measure of customer support. Be cognizant that whether you drive on gravel roads every day or stick to four-lane highways, your vehicle bears the brunt of all sorts of vibrational load and changing weather conditions. As a permanent part of your vehicle, you want to be confident that the unit you purchase can withstand those bumps and wild temperature swings. A read-through of our product research clearly shows that some electronics are not built to withstand the beating of a daily commute.
Speaking of beatings, how much of a do-it-yourselfer are you? Unless you excel at problem solving, are prepared to be frustrated, and have a lot of time on your hands, you should probably budget for a professional installation. Very few buyers report a smooth experience properly wiring and mounting any of these screens, including the most expensive on the list. Horror stories abound about depleted batteries and units that won’t power back on after cycling the ignition. Even experienced aftermarket specialists share tales of missing or inadequate mounting hardware and mislabeled wiring. When in doubt, consult your local installer to assess whether the DVD player you want will work in your automobile.
What are the Most Important Features?
Finally, consider the features you’re unwilling to live without, and try to decide how long you’re willing to live without them. According to a 2019 study by IHS Markit, the average age of vehicles on the road is nearly 12 years. How long do you want to go without HDMI?
In addition to HDMI, consider USB ports, SD card slots, and analog RCA jacks for legacy devices. Only one unit on our list features a USB port for charging, a thoughtful touch since small, dongle-style devices like Chromecasts still require external power. The most ambitious screen devotees may even want to install multiple displays that can duplicate the original source. For that capability, look for audio-video out, which most units offer.
Also: how will you listen to the audio from the player? All of our selections feature FM transmitter capability, but some work better than others. Note that FM transmitters rely on the availability of unclaimed or weak frequencies, usually toward the low end of the dial. That availability changes from city to city, and so it can make for a giant headache to keep retuning during an extended road trip.
Almost certainly you’ll want to want to take advantage of wired auxiliary audio (make sure your installer runs those cables) or IR headphones at some point. By all accounts, wireless headsets make for the best experience when the front seat passengers and those in stowage want to enjoy separate entertainment.
That said, try not to be swayed too much by the inclusion of cheap headphones or free games. Those things are likely to be of little value over the life of your DVD player. Take claims of HD resolution with a grain of salt too. Though it becomes more important the bigger your screen gets, it’s important to realize that all DVDs are maxed out at standard definition resolution, and no overhead players on the market support HD Blu-ray discs. 1080p capability becomes more important if you will be displaying video from HD sources via HDMI or USB.
Done right, an overhead DVD player can be a solid upgrade to a vehicle. Suffice it to say, while bargains can be had, you get what you pay for.
October 26, 2022: Removed Audiovox, Power Acoustik, Xtronis, Sound Storm, and Rockville in-car DVD players; not available.
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