In February, millions of battery-powered handheld television sets — stashed in drawers, closets and garages in case of emergency — will become useless when analog signals are turned off.
And right now, according to the “Los Angeles Times,” there aren’t many options for replacing them. Nobody manufactures a battery-powered converter box. And the few battery-powered digital TV models on the market start at about $200 — a costly option for replacing portable sets that have become increasingly inexpensive in recent years.
About 8 million homes — 7 percent of households — owned handheld TVs in 2006, according to the latest data from the Consumer Electronics Association. With such a low figure, and more options for watching video on mobile phones and laptop computers, it’s no surprise there are few battery-powered digital TVs on the market, said Tim Herbert, senior director of market research for the trade association.
The loss of all those analog portable TVs removes an important way to communicate with the public during an emergency, said Keith Harrison, assistant administrator of the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management. “When we get information out to people, we like to get it out by every means possible,” said Harrison, who also is president of the California Emergency Services Association. “A lot more people watch TV than listen to AM radio.”
“We’ve been hearing a lot of concerns,” Gary McNair, general manager of WECT-TV in Wilmington, NC, told the newspaper.
People in that coastal city are more attuned to the digital transition because broadcasters there will be turning off their analog signals permanently Sept. 8. In Wilmington, the test market for the FCC, the switch takes place in the middle of hurricane season.
McNair and general managers from three other Wilmington TV stations wrote to local retailers last month expressing “significant concern about the availability of portable digital television sets” and asking that more be stocked. WECT also formed a partnership with a local FM radio station to simulcast its TV news coverage in the event of a hurricane to compensate for the loss of portable analog TVs, McNair said.
Radio Shack is selling a battery-powered digital TV with a 7in screen for $199.99. And LCD Digital, a small manufacturer in Newport Beach, offers a 7in model for $249.99 and a 8.4in version for $349.99.
Still, those prices are much higher than what many people paid for their portable analog sets, which start as low as $30 and often include other features, like a radio or flashlight.