Monday, February 15, 2010

Battery Powered DTVs Now Available

A couple years ago when we were getting ready for the digital broadcasting conversion, I got several questions about battery operated digital TV’s. Many people were using battery powered analog TVs while on vacation or at their weekend retreats. These were places that did not have access to electric power. Others wanted the security of using a portable TV during power outages and severe weather. Since at that time the choice of battery powered digital TVs was very limited and those that were available were very expensive, I recommended waiting before buying. Things have changed, inexpensive digital TVs are readily available and the prices have fallen. But I am still recommending that you consider all the pros and cons before buying. There are significant differences between the old analog battery operated portable and the new DTV models.

For the last few weeks the Sunday newspaper advertising supplements have featured models with prices under $100. For example, hhgregg had one on sale for $99 that has a built in DVD player. This one, like most others, uses an LCD screen that measures about 9 inches diagonal. It can use the internal rechargeable batteries or an AC adapter for use when electric power is available. I use one in my kitchen. It allows me to prepare dinner or wash dishes and still keep up with the local news.

While these TVs do provide an acceptable picture there are two weaknesses that you should know before going out and buying one. The first deals with the antenna. All the pictures in the ads will show these small TVs with a single built in telescoping antenna. The problem is that in my tests, none of these antennas worked well. I tried various locations. Some test sites were as close as 2 miles from the TV transmitter. In order to get all the stations, I needed to disconnect the built in antenna and connect a standard UHF/VHF rabbit ears indoor antenna in order to get good reception. For example, I live on a hill near Harrison and can literally see the red lights on the tops of the various TV transmitting towers located in Cincinnati. In order for me to get all the Cincinnati stations, I need to use a UHF/VHF antenna mounted on top of the cabinets in my kitchen. Using the antenna built into the TV gets me almost nothing.

Unlike that analog portable that you may have carried with you to the park or camping that pulled in, albeit fuzzy, the major channels with the built in antenna, don’t expect that from the DTV. And for sure forget about using it in your car with the DC adapter. The chance of getting any reception of DTV signals in a moving car is next to zero.

The second issue is battery life. Most internal batteries will give you less than 2 hours of use without recharging. The circuitry in DTV tuners and the LCD screen take lots of power. It is unfortunate that most come only with internal non replaceable rechargeable batteries. Once they are drained, you are out of luck. Remember the wind storm a couple years ago? I sure would like the option of using standard batteries as well. That way you can have a supply on hand for extended power outages. So far I have found no set that offers standard battery operation.

These new sets can be handy but they will not give you ease of use and when in battery powered mode, you will not get the same extended playing time that you may have had with the old analog set. Still, they make a nice addition to the kitchen or workshop.



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