Under the Radar

Broadcast TV on the Go

Back in the'90s, you'd see dozens of tiny portable televisions at big sporting events. They were expensive (at least $300) and had tiny 3" square screens, but viewers could watch the game as they, you know, watched the game in person. Or follow another game.

Things have changed since then. People watch video on their smartphones. Lots of sporting events have moved to pay cable. And the FCC shifted the broadcast standards from analog to digital, making all those old portable TVs useless. Still, it's hard for most people to get broadcast TV on their phones and impossible to watch NFL games on your phone if you're not a Verizon customer.

RCA has a 4.3" Portable/Pocket Digital ATSC TV that updates the old pocket TV. It's capable of receiving digital broadcasts from channels 2-69 (and all the digital subchannels connected with a station) and it supports both HDTV (1080p & 720i) and SDTV. You can hide channels you don't ever want to watch. It get 2.5 hours of battery life (searching for signal is a huge battery suck) and comes with an AC adapter and an input to connect a bigger antenna if you want something more powerful than the built-in monopole extendable antenna.

The TV is especially useful for all those secondary broadcast channels that don't make it onto cable and satellite systems: GRIT, Buzzr, MeTV, GetTV, Movies!, LAFF, Bounce and lots of others: all the foreign language and religious stations and you can usually get a QVC fix.

The image quality is surprisingly good on HDTV stations. You'll have to fiddle with the menu if you want to see old-school programs in their 4:3 ratio and change it back for widescreen broadcasts, but most people don't seem to care about that. Also, the screen is still relatively small, so you'll likely want to leave it in widescreen mode.

You can also connect a flash drive or hard drive via USB or insert a microSD card to watch your own movies, look at photos or listen to MP3 files. There's an OK built-in speaker and a headphone jack for audio.

There's one major issue with this TV and it's not RCA's fault, because it's generally the same issue you'll face with a $3000 widescreen. Digital broadcasting may give you a sparkling hi-res image but it's incredibly sensitive to signal strength. Anyone who grew up fiddling with an antenna to reduce the snow on analog TV will frustrated by the binary principle of digital: if the signal's too weak, you get nothing. In Atlanta, it's actually impossible to pick up a couple of network stations even when you can see the antenna (to be fair, that's also true with a powered antenna on a full-size TV). That's not an RCA issue, that's an FCC issue and one of those cases where the new technology isn't always an improvement.

At $80 (or less), this is a good backup TV and a great way to make sure you don't miss the resolution to that cliffhanger on next week's Blue Bloods.


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