Our 2.x-year-old is a video-lover, and it keeps the peace. Some folks won't agree, but hey: it works for us. She is very accustomed to TiVo, VideoNow and DVD players: when I was her age my parents owned a tiny black & white TV and I have no recollection of watching anything other than the moon landings on it.
Our daughter was only a few months old when we went to see a lawyer about organizing our wills. Madeline was well behaved until near the end, when she started to lose it in that 3-months-old-nothings-gonna-make-me-happy kind of way. We battled through it, but the lawyer said that another client used a portable DVD player to occupy their youngster. That was one of the most brilliant suggestions we have so far for having something of a life when having a young child.
We already had a portable DVD player (an ancient Panasonic L50), so all we needed was some early-kid friendly media: Baby Einstein was that media. Coscto had about ten discs in a pack, and they worked wonders in restuarants to keep her amused when she got bored with our attempts to do same.
As she got older, we swapped the Baby Einstein discs to suit her age, but around 18 months she lost interest in all of them, and discovered a new love: the Finding Nemo DVD. That disc literally lived in the portable for months at a time and didn't get old. Not for her, and not for us. I have listened to that disc maybe fifty times, and it still cracks me up. (I say "listen" because in restaurants and the car I can seldom see the picture). Around this time she started noticing this thing called TV (especially the Noggin channel), though only through TiVo: she has real trouble with Live TV due to the ads, and the lack of video-on-demand (and she can be very demanding).
Last year I invested in the preschool video player from Hasbro called VideoNow Jr. It is designed for young kids, so it has simple controls and rubber corners, so its pretty robust. (I have replaced it once but that is because it was literally worn out: the drive started making a terrible sound). It is also impossible for little hands to open, which is probably its killer feature for me. The downside is that it can only read its own special discs, which look like CDs but are slightly smaller, so you have to rely on a small range of content from Hasbro. Our daughter loves Blues Clues, and will suffer Dora, but didnt much care for the others on a regular basis, so I started producing my own discs using a tool called VideoNowToGo. This requires you to either modify the player to take a full-sized CD, or to cut down the burnt CD-R to the suitable size. I tried both methods and prefer the modded player route personally. (There is also an add-in for AviSync which I haven't tried).
Life got a lot easier recently: Hasbro released "VideoNow Media Wizard", which is four suitably-strangely-sized CD-Rs, an adaptor so they fit nicely in a normal CD-R drive, and some Windows software. The software doesnt work for me, because not only can it not handle MPEG2, but if a clip is "too long" (20 mins I believe) then you can't use it: it wont let you trim the clip to a smaller time, so its not useful for me. Most of my content comes from DVD-Rs of TiVo recordings (MPEG2), so I'll stick with the original tool, which works with the Hasbro discs and can read MPEG1 and -2 directly. The only bad news is you can't buy the discs alone, just with the software & adaptor every time, and its a bit pricey: $15 for four. Right now this is not available online anywhere but eBay (for a $10 premium), I got mine in my local Target.
Hasbro offer other, compatible players (VideoNow Color and VideoNow XP), but their form factor is not as young-child friendly as the Jr. They also did a much more primitive black and white model a few years ago called just VideoNow. It appears Hasbro even have a kids-video-recorder for $80 too. We don't need that. Yet anyway...