Remember portable TVs? Turn a half inch and whatever picture you were able to receive got drowned in a sea of static snow. But portable TVs are coming back. Early next year, there'll be devices capable of receiving free Mobile DTV broadcast signals.
Qualcomm, which supplies up to 20 subscription FLO TV channels via a dozen or so cellphone models, is getting a head start on Mobile DTV with a portable FLO TV device. Available today, the PTV 350, about the size of a Blackberry, will cost $250, with the first six months of FLO TV service free then $8.99 to $24.99 a month afterward, depending on the package of channels you choose.
The device has a 3.5-inch touchscreen displaying QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) live satellite broadcasts that remain digitally glitch-free regardless of how or where you move, even in a car, except in tunnels. When you touch the screen, the channel bar appears, and you can then vertically swipe to surf through channels. There's a button on the right of the screen to get a familiar time/channel grid.
Initially, the device will access six of FLO TV's growing lineup of channels, receiving a combination of live and repeat primetime programs. All the programming is national; the company has the technology to narrowcast local programming (like sports or news) but they're still trying to figure out FLO's licensing and business model.
Don't let the photo fool you, though - the QVGA picture isn't that crisp, especially compared to the Mobile DTV demos I've seen. But the picture remains static and snow free.
Its battery will last for around 5 hours of playing and 300 hours in standby. It's got a flat flip down table stand, a four-segment LED battery meter, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microUSB jack for recharging the battery and downloading software/channel updates.
A better (and more worthwhile) device would combine free broadcast Mobile DTV with FLO TV's pay channels, but we'll have to wait to see if anyone in this century who already owns a laptop or netbook wants to pay $250 plus a monthly subscription fee for a tiny portable TV.