Editors' note: Since the publication of this story, a battery-powered DTV converter box has been released, the Winegard RCDT09A. While we'd still hold off on buying a new portable TV this year--it's better to wait for portable TVs with new digital tuners--older analog portable TVs can be used with the RCDT09A if they have a composite or RF input. For more information, read our.
Portable TVs can be great for camping or in case of emergency, but you're probably going to be getting ripped off if you buy one in 2008. That's because almost all portable TVs use standard analog TV signals, and those signals are going to get turned off on February 17, 2009. And even though these TVs are just about obsolete, you can still buy them at places like Target, Wal-mart Stores, and Amazon. Some of the pages have warnings about the impending DTV transition, but some of them don't.
While it is possible that someone will come out with a battery-powered DTV converter--which could work with a portable TV that has inputs--we wouldn't hold our breath. The FCC's DTV FAQ page already explicitly says, "it is not anticipated that battery powered digital-to-analog converter boxes will be produced," and we haven't heard anything from any manufacturer about making one. That means pretty much all existing portable TVs will be rendered useless, unless you're using an external device to feed it video.
So what are your options if you still want to enjoy some portable TV action after February 17th, 2009? Well, you'll need to shell out for a new portable TV with an ATSC tuner. There are only a few options, such as this Accurian 7-inch LCD and the Insigna NS-7HTV, which isn't even currently available on BestBuy.com. We do expect more portable TVs with ATSC tuners to hit the market as the DTV deadline approaches--which will help alleviate this problem--but right now you should stay away from almost all current portable TVs--or if you buy one, realize that it's going to lose most of its functionality in less than a year.
More DTV transition resources
CNET's Quick guide to the DTV transition
Which (nearly) free DTV converter box should I buy?
DTV Coupon Program