In-car DVD players: a thrifty workaround

Miss Thrifty4 May 21, 2014

portable dvd player cheapest option

If you have small children but lack a portable DVD player for lengthy car journeys, read on. If you don’t have children and/or don’t like children, please read on too. Chances are, you’ll end up sharing car space with a yowling toddler at some point – and when you do, you may be relieved pleased to have this tip under your belt. It’s quick and easy.

Before Thrifty Kid was born, I was bewildered by the popularity of these portable DVD players. I’d never seen them before, but suddenly there they were, strapped to the backs of car seats up and down the country, playing Disney cartoons to transfixed kids.

Despite spending lots of time on the road, I never considered getting one. I thought they were  unnecessary and a waste of money: if previous generations could manage to keep children entertained on lengthy car journeys, without splashing the cash, then what was stopping us? Portable DVD players are also expensive: even the budget brands can set you back £80-£100.

Recently, however, we had a nightmare motorway journey during which all attempts at convivial singalongs and games of I-Spy went out the window. It was a hot, sunny bank holiday weekend, we had 250 miles to go and the roads were gridlocked. If that wasn’t bad enough, poor Thrifty Kid was teething. He hates being strapped into his car seat at the best of times, and made his displeasure felt by shouting “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH” repeatedly. Ten miles and one hour later, we were all at breaking point. For the first time – but probably not the last – I understood why so many parents are prepared to splurge on glorified goggleboxes.

Our thrifty solution? A smartphone, wedged into the gap beneath the headrest of the front passenger seat. And the BBC iPlayer app. The app is free and it is great: you can download free programmes onto your phone, so you don’t need an internet connection to view them without interruption.

By some beautiful stroke of fate, my husband had downloaded an episode of Dinopaws – Thrifty Kid’s favouritest show in all the world – while mucking around with the app the previous week.


I consider this to be an emergency workaround but, as you can tell from the picture above, it works a treat. BBC iPlayer app, I love you. The only downside was having to listen to the same, ten-minute episode of Dinopaws on a loop.

Since then, with several lengthy car journeys undertaken and pending, we have taken the relevant precautions:

bbc iplayer app

If you want to try this one, I have a few suggestions. Firstly, remember that ideally, you need to download the shows in advance of the journey. It’s iPlayer, so anything you download will be stored on your phone for up to 30 days. Travel with a fully-charged phone, because video eats up battery time. You do have to press the play button between episodes, so if your children can’t reach out to do this, be sure to  download something lengthier than a five-minute episode of Pingu.

If you have a large car, remember to push the seat back so that the screen isn’t too far away from little eyes. Also, position the phone so that the screen is at the right angle. This hasn’t been a problem for us, because our car is squashed and Thrifty Kid’s child seat lifts him way above the cushions, but all cars (and children) are different. Our smartphone screen is 3″ shorter than the standard screen on a portable DVD player, so I don’t know how well this workaround would be suited to a roomier vehicle.

This also works with Channel 4’s 4OD app, but I think BBC iPlayer is perfect if you have children because of all the available CBeebies and CBBC programmes.

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4 Responses to “In-car DVD players: a thrifty workaround

Michelle says:

What a neat idea! My brother uses his iPad attached with a shoelace as in-car DVD player. I cannot believe someone hasn’t invented a wrap around iPad holder for the car yet!

May 21, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

Yes, an iPad would be even better – or any old tablet, for that matter! I like the shoelace idea too. I bet some Velcro would do a similar job.

May 22, 2014 at 11:31 am

hazel1009 says:

We often travel 300 plus miles to visit my brother and as a present a while back my parents bought a dvd player for the car, if I remember it was only £50 and came with a holder. In my eyes its totally invaluable and makes the 7 hour car journey with a 4 year old much less stressful (even if he does want to change the dvd every five mins). Def worth investing in some sort of portable entertainment if you often travel long distance with small children.

May 22, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Miss Thrifty says:

I agree! Goodness knows how our own parents coped..

May 27, 2014 at 11:22 pm

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