Handheld battery-operated TV: how can I watch TV?
October 24, 2020 8:28 AM   Subscribe

I have a tiny, battery-operated TV that I loved to watch, that became obsolete with digital broadcast signals. Is there a converter that I can use to watch TV again with it? I believe it has an RCA jack.
posted by SillyShepherd to Technology (12 answers total)
Can you post the make and model of the hand-held TV?
posted by alex1965 at 8:58 AM on October 24, 2020

It looks like some inexpensive digital converter boxes (e.g. this one) are designed to operate from an external 5 volt DC wall adapter. 5V is also the standard USB power supply voltage, so you could power one of these boxes from a USB power bank with the right adapter cable (which you could buy or make yourself).

I wouldn't expect a lot of battery life with this approach, though. Electronic devices that are designed to plug into the wall are typically not nearly as energy-efficient as things with built-in batteries.
posted by teraflop at 9:09 AM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

What would be the source of the TV signal, and what format is it?

I'm sure you can get the conversion you need, but I'm not at all sure you can get it at a reasonable cost in a reasonable size box. In this day and age, a search for "small tv" bring up 19 inch sets for less than 100 dollars. Staple sells a 7"set for $85.

Be aware that most people who need to convert a signal are going from the old to the new, e.g. a broadcast signal to HDMI. This is the opposite of what you want.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:16 AM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is there a converter that I can use to watch TV again with it?


I believe it has an RCA jack.

If you can find a modern TV with this Video Output, you're in luck! But I frequently check the thrift stores for this kind of TV (RCA Phono plug analog Video In/Out), and I'm finding them less and less.
posted by Rash at 9:36 AM on October 24, 2020

You might first check stations in your area because digital TV is way more fiddly than just putting tin foil on rabbit ears.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:54 AM on October 24, 2020

I was also going to suggest that it may be an option to watch on a smartphone. My ISP as an app that lets me watch cable on my phone as long as the signal comes through my cable box, i.e. cable box to wifi router to phone.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:14 AM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

While you could probably rig up something with a converter box and an external battery, it would be a mess of wires and the exact opposite of convenient.

The lowest-friction option may be to buy a portable digital TV. (Search for "portable ATSC television" if you are in the US.) I see some competent-looking ones for around US$100.

An alternative might be to get a network-connected digital tuner like the HDHomeRun Connect Duo. This receives digital over-the-air TV broadcasts and lets you stream them to devices (including Android tablets and phones) on your local network.
posted by sourcequench at 11:27 AM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

You could try finding one of these at retail and wiring it up. It looks pretty small, but it does look hard to find and also needs a 12V elec supply. But it does come with RCA and over the air digital built into the box.
posted by ambrosen at 2:18 PM on October 24, 2020

Response by poster: I’d have to find the TV, but it’s basically a pocket size and runs on 4 AA batteries. I’m almost certain it has an RCA input. I bought it over 20 years ago.
posted by SillyShepherd at 3:16 PM on October 24, 2020

Yeah, we had a Sony Watchman, but any solution made it not portable, and so kind of pointless. I believe we tried an old converter box that like the ones that were sold for $40ish back when the digital conversion happened. The box needed a power plug and a coax cable and was twice as big as the TV. I don’t even remember if it worked, because it was so ungainly we decided it negated having a cool little handheld TV.

Some areas may still have one or two analog signals being broadcast. There was a low-power Spanish-language station and a QVC outlet in our market for at least a while.
posted by sageleaf at 6:55 PM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

How married are you to making your old (and would have to find/ dig out) handheld TV work with showing the equivalent of over-the-air tv in 2020?

Aside from form factor nostalgia, this is a need that various tablets achieve at higher quality in resolution (sharpness), brightness, contrast, better audio, lighter, and bigger screen-ed for <>
In relative terms, buying one for me feels kind of like buying a camcorder in 1994 with a similar price spread. There started to be tons of cheap ones and the expensive ones started getting sophisticated.

A modern tablet can let you "watch tv" (many stations stream) and watch modern "tv" better (shows/ commercials/ programs have a bit of a different paradigm from the heyday of cable tv).

Live sports? It streams.

Old (syndicated) shows? ALL of them, whenever you want them, in whatever order you want them. Pause whenever you want. It's all on demand.

Indie stuff? Oceans upon oceans of content.

News? Updates all the time and you choose which segment you want to view instead of sitting through them all and sitting through repeats. There are tons of aggregators.

Ads/ commercials? If you miss them, you could probably look them up on youtube.
posted by porpoise at 7:11 PM on October 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It’s definitely a nostalgia thing. I watch shows on my iPhone regularly. Maybe I want technology that can’t talk back to me?
posted by SillyShepherd at 10:17 AM on October 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

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