Like most “miniaturized” technologies, portable television sets were once more expensive, but are now available relatively inexpensively. When buying a portable or hand-held TV, you should consider the following factors…
Sound: Some hand-held TVs only provide sound through earphones, while others have a built-in speaker. If this is important to you, be sure to clarify this before purchasing one, as it may not be immediately obvious. For example, the Axion ACN-5318 has a built-in speaker, while the Casio TV-200 can only use an earphone. Most portable TVs with built-in speakers also have earphone jacks.
Quality: Portable TVs can vary significantly in quality. Although I still have a 5″ Realistic Portavision from the mid-1980s which works fine, a 12″ Amtel I bought in the late ’90s lasted for only about a year, with some parts (antenna, knob) breaking within the first few months. An epinions.com review of the newer Curtis RT068 5-inch TV reported similar problems.
Screen: Generally, 5-inch portable TVs are the most common and least expensive. Black & white five inch TVs (along with some slightly different screen sizes like 4.5″ and 6″) can often be purchased used for under $15 and new for $20-$35. As they become larger (9-12″) or smaller (2″) than this, their price usually increases. While 5-12″ portable TVs usually have lighted screens, some smaller pocket TVs can’t be seen without an outside lighting source.
Older unlighted pocket TVs like the Casio TV-200 function by projecting the image on to a small mirror built into the television. There are backlighting units available for some unlighted pocket TVs, including some models made by Citizen. Color portable TVs of any type are substantially more expensive and only worth purchasing if you expect to use them extensively. TVs which use LCD screens (rather than standard CRT) can be harder to see from an angle. A few vintage portable 5-inch TVs, such as the Panasonic TR-5100P, have “pop-up” screens which came up out of the base unit at an angle.
Channel Coverage: A few portable TVs can only receive VHF channels (2-13), but most can receive both VHF and UHF (ch. 14-69) bands. Some split the VHF band into two sections, from 2-6 and 7-13. Fewer pocket TVs also receive radio bands, but a number of 5-inch TVs do. While the Coby CX-TV1, Spectra 53-BWR, and KTV-KT526 have AM/FM radio reception, the KTV-KT506 and some Realistic Portavision models do not. A few portable TVs, such as the Claybrooke 8-in-1 TV Companion and Sampo 8703, even receive other radio bands like the police band or weather information band.
Power: Some handheld TVs run on as few as 2 “AA” batteries, while portable 5-inch TVs use as many as nine “D” batteries. If you are buying a portable TV with a screen size of 4″ or more, try to save batteries by finding one with an AC adapter and/or automobile cigarette-lighter power cord. 5-inch portable TVs use batteries rather quickly and most use six
or nine “D” batteries. Here is the amount of “D” batteries used by various portable TV models: eight for the Coby CX-TV1 and CX-TV6, nine for the Bentley 1000A, six for the Panasonic TR-5111T, and nine for the Memorex MPT-3450. Some color portable TVs will use a cigarette lighter power cord but can’t be run on batteries.
Minor Differences: If you decide on a particular model of TV to purchase, be careful to avoid different models from the same brand which look the same but have different features, especially the inclusion or exclusion of a radio receiver built into the TV.
Antenna/External Connections: Some portable TVs, especially handhelds, have no way to attach an external antenna, video cassette recorder, cable TV converter box, etc. Many others do, but they vary substantially. While the Panasonic TR-5111T only has an small 1/8″ antenna jack which requires a special antenna or adapter, the Realistic Portavision 16-112A has a regular cable-style jack and antenna screws. Some newer portable TVs, like the Radio Shack 16-3011 and Jensen 507BWR, even have RCA-type video and audio input jacks. If you need to be able to connect input devices to the portable TV, be sure to check for this, but if you only want to use it for TV reception with the built-in antenna then this isn’t a concern for you.
Other Features: A few portable TVs have other features as well, such as cassette recorders (Sampo 8703), CD players (Memorex MPT-3450, jWin JTV-CD10), or flashlights (most Claybrooke models, Jeep JX-1LTV). This is convenient if you need these features, but keep in mind that they are likely to increase the price, weight and battery consumption.
Alternatives: Instead of purchasing a portable TV, you might consider a radio which can receive the audio of TV broadcast bands. Radios of this type have been produced by Radio Shack, GPX, Sears, Electro Brand, Sangean, and other brand names. You can find them at some electronics stores, department stores, internet auction services, and internet
shopping websites. To look for them on eBay, try searching for “TV1 TV2” or “TV Sound Radio”.
Most radios with television audio bands receive channels 2-13, a few 2-69 or only 2-6. This is cheaper and uses fewer batteries. Another possibility is to buy a Sega Game Gear handheld video game system with a TV tuner add-on unit. This is an older video game system, but it has color graphics, so this is a relatively inexpensive way to buy a handheld color TV and a video game system at the same time.
Overall, some of the same considerations taken when buying a non-portable TV need to be adhered to when purchasing a portable TV, but more attention needs to be paid to power consumption and basic television features not always included on portable TVs.