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A portable TV set can be a cozy companion at the ballpark or a picnic; but if you own an old one, and you haven't used it lately, you may be unaware that these days it's unlikely to pick up anything but static. That's because TV stations ended over-the-air analog broadcasting on June 12, 2009. So, if that portable contains an analog-only tuner, you may find yourself with a first-rate doorstop.
A number of light-weight portable DTVs with digital tuners have come on the market in recent months. They all feature thin LCD screens and rechargeable batteries. They come with one or two types of antennas for adjusting reception.
Be prepared for the digital wonderland. Analog reception was a lot more forgiving. Even with stations ghosting and fading in and out, conventional TV might at least let you see and hear something. With digital, you're more likely to get either a pristine picture with clear sound or nothing at all.
Each of these TVs has an auto-scanning routine for searching for receivable channels and saving their frequencies in the TV's memory. It's best that you launch it from the setup menu whenever you move the TV to a different location or readjust the antenna. That way you'll be able to press channel up or down without being greeted by dead air.
If the DTV station is embedding a show description in the signal, it will be displayed when you call up the TV's program guide. At the very least, a station will be specified when you tune to that channel. So, for example, if a station is broadcasting multiple programs such as 4-1, 4-2, and 4-4 (for the primary affiliate feed, news and weather, and NBC Sports), each hyphenated (or decimal-point indicated) channel will be displayed when you tune to that channel.
You should also be able to remove or bypass the antenna so when you are at home, you can attach the coaxial cable from your cable company. With a direct cable hookup, you won't be able to watch premium channels like HBO, but you should at least be able to enjoy most if not all the terrestrial channels carried by your cable company. Many cable operators are continuing to transmit the most popular channels in both digital and analog formats. So, if your portable DTV also has an analog tuner, you may be able to tune in a network affiliate's signals when connected to cable.
The most useful portable DTVs include more than just a tuner to view program content. These more functional sets contain auxiliary input jacks for attaching such sources as a camcorder or digital camera with composite video output or when you're home, your cable or satellite box so you can watch every channel. (Note: composite video doesn't support high-definition resolution, but none of the screens on these DTV portables are capable of showing HDTV programs in high definition anyway.)
Some of these portables may also include a memory card slot and a USB port for viewing photos, playing music, and watching a limited number of computer-viewable video formats.
These TVs work best when stationary. While you could use one at a tailgate party (powered from an included cigarette lighter adapter), you'll be disappointed if you expect to get reasonable over-the-air reception while driving. For reception while in motion, electronics manufacturers and broadcasters have agreed to a new mobile DTV standard. Portable products could appear as early as mid-2010, but for the devices to take advantage of the more robust signal, individual stations must insert the mobile stream into their DTV signals. An alternative already in place for app phones are video services from 3G cellphone carriers. The downside of these optional TV services is that they incur monthly fees heaped on top of subscriptions you already pay for voice and data. None of the portable TVs described here incur a subscription.
All of these TVs contain stereo speakers and a headphone jack for private listening using the included earbuds. The sets all come with small infrared remotes. Of course, when you're pointing the remote at a screen that's 7- or 9-inches large, there's a good chance you can just as easily reach out and use the buttons on the TV.
The GPX TL709B 7-inch Compact Television (above) features digital and analog tuners and a convenient sleep function so you can nod off and not be awakened by someone pitching the Seventies on four CDs at 3 am. Both an AC/DC and a 12-volt DC car adapter are included. That way the kids can conceivably watch TV when you're stuck in traffic or not moving. Two types of antenna are provided: a telescoping rod that can be angled out from the TV and a magnetic stand on an extension cord for placing the antenna a short distance from the TV. There is an A/V input for connecting a local video source component.
Imagine the same TV as the TL709B but instead with a screen that is 2-inches larger. The result is the GPX TL909B 9-inch Compact Television. At about $30 more, that means you'll pay $15 per additional inch. But look at it this way: in square inches, the extra dough buys you about 30 percent more screen real estate.
The Viore PLC7V96 7-inch portable LCD television (above) comes with an external antenna on a magnetic base that affords more flexibility in pulling in DTV signals than an antenna attached directly to the TV. The TV contains more than the usual assortment of inputs and outputs. Besides connecting an external source component using the composite video and stereo audio inputs, you can insert a USB flash drive. (Sorry, but USB hard drives aren't compatible.) Though the port is a mini USB, a mini-to-standard USB adapter is included. There's also a digital media slot that accepts SD, MS, and MMC cards. So, anyone with a collection of photos, music, and a variety of video formats stored on sticks or cards will find the TV especially useful as a satellite display for content walked over from their computer or digital camera. In terms of other ports, the Viore provides discrete analog and digital audio outputs and a stereo headphone jack.
The Audiovox FPE709 7-Inch Portable Digital Television (above) contains a screen resolution of 480 x 234 pixels. The TV comes with a built-in lithium polymer battery good for up to 1.5 hours of use before it needs to be plugged into a wall outlet or cigarette lighter. A vehicle charging adapter is included. The FPE709 includes a stand for countertop display. The built-in rod-type antenna can be extended and adjusted to maximize reception. There's a single pin jack for attaching an auxiliary device like a DVD player or VCR. An A/V cable is included.
The Sharper Image 7" Portable LCD TV (above) combines over-the-air DTV viewing with the ability to plug in an auxiliary device or enjoy your personal multimedia content from an inserted USB memory stick or SD/MMC card. Supplied accessories include a DC car charger, AC wall charger, noise isolation earphones, and a protective travel case. The TV is a mere 1.7 pounds, a fraction of your main TV, and not a lot of weight to carry when you can't leave home without your TV.