In-Car DVD Options

The five easiest ways to watch movies in your car.

There are a number of ways to watch movies in your car or truck, but in-car DVD players strike a nice balance between affordability and picture quality. While you won’t get an HD viewing experience out of an in-car DVD player, that isn’t always a huge issue when you’re dealing with a car multimedia experience.

A lot of in-car LCD options aren’t even capable of displaying HD resolutions, and those that are can be paired with an upconverting in-car DVD player to provide a great viewing experience.

An in-car DVD player.
Image courtesy of Rick, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Checking Out the In-Car DVD Options

The five primary types of in-car DVD players are:

  • Portable DVD units: These are super portable and easy to set up, but they're the least integrated.
  • Headrest DVD players: These can be tough to install, but they make very good use of the available space.
  • Roof-mount/overhead DVD players: These swing down from the ceiling, so they're good if you want multiple passengers to be able to watch a single large screen.
  • DVD head units/multimedia receivers: These are super convenient, but the screens are small and they can be tough for your passengers to see.
  • Remote-mounted in-car DVD players: This option provides a ton of flexibility, but installation can be complicated.

Some of these in-car DVD players include built-in LCDs, and others have to be paired with some type of screen or monitor.

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Portable In-Car DVD Players

Portable DVD player

 Daniel Oines, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Any portable DVD player can be used in a car, but there are some units that are specifically designed for that purpose. If you’re looking for a portable DVD player that you can take on the road, you should look for one that either has great battery staying power or includes a 12V plug.

Regular portable units that have 12V plugs are great since each passenger can have his or her own DVD player, and you can always use a 12V accessory splitter if you don’t have enough outlets.

Portable DVD players that are specifically designed for use in cars, SUVs, and minivans are designed a little bit differently from normal portable units. These purpose-built in-car DVD players are typically designed to slip over the back of a headrest. That makes them similar to headrest DVD players, but they’re much easier to install and can be moved from one vehicle to another with very little hassle.

You can also use a laptop as a portable in-car DVD player, although DVD players aren't as common in laptops as they once were.

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Headrest DVD Players

headrest in-car dvd player

Yutaka Tsutano, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Some headrest units have built-in DVD players, and others are just LCD screens. Some of these units also come in paired sets that share one DVD player. Since these DVD players are actually installed inside a headrest, they can’t be removed without replacing the headrest.

Headrest units that include their own DVD players allow each passenger to watch his or her own movie, but paired units and screens that are tied into the head unit don’t provide that benefit.

This option is great because the finished product doesn't take up any more space than the original headrest, and headrest displays look really nice if the installation is clean.

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Overhead DVD Players

overhead in-car dvd player

Thomas Kriese, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Since these units are mounted to the roof, they’re best suited to use in minivans and SUVs. In applications where there is already a roof console, an overhead DVD player may replace it.

Some OEMs also offer an option where an overhead DVD player is built right into the roof console from the factory. In all of these cases, the screen of the roof-mount/overhead DVD player is on a hinge so that it can be flipped up out of the way when not in use.

The benefit of an overhead in-car DVD player is that it can typically be viewed by all of the rear passengers in an SUV or minivan. The main drawback of that is that everyone has to watch the same DVD.

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DVD Head Units and Multimedia Receivers

DVD head unit

 JVCAmerica, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Some DVD head units include a screen, and others have to be paired with external screens. These units are also available in both single and double DIN form factors.

Single DIN DVD head units can feature very small screens, but many of them have decently sized screens that slide out and fold up for viewing. Double DIN DVD head units typically just use most of the available real estate for the viewing area.

Regardless of the form factor and screen type, most DVD head units feature video outputs that can be hooked up to external screens.

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Remote-Mounted In-Car DVD Players

remotely mounted in-car dvd player

Chris Baranski, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

The final option for in-car DVD players is mounting a standalone unit somewhere out of the way. This is the best way to get DVD in your car without replacing the head unit, though you’ll still need a head unit with an auxiliary input if you want to hook into the existing sound system. If you want to use headphones or the built-in speakers in an LCD monitor, then that’s not an issue.

While there are 12V remote-mounted DVD players that are specifically designed for use in cars and trucks, it’s also possible to use a regular home DVD player. That can be accomplished by pairing the unit with a car power inverter, which can also allow you to use any TV or monitor you like.

If you go with this method, keep in mind that you'll still have to figure out some type of display to use with the DVD player.

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