Remember Those Little Battery-Powered TVs You Used to Watch Hurricane News When the Power Went out? the Switch to HDTV Killed Them, but a New Generation Is on the Horizon; the Future of Portable Television

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Byline: MARK BASCH

When the television industry made the big switch last year to all-digital broadcasts, many Floridians worried about being left in the dark during hurricane season.

While the industry provided converter boxes to allow old analog TV sets to pick up the new digital signals, it offered no convenient converter for small portable analog sets. Those battery-operated sets, which were used by Floridians to stay in touch with local news during long power outages, became useless.

The good news, as we head into the height of this hurricane season, is that the industry is working on new technology that will give you more options than ever before to watch local stations when your household TVs are unavailable. But the bad news is, it likely won't be available in Jacksonville until next year.

The new technology is called Mobile DTV and will be used to broadcast local TV directly to portable communications devices, such as mobile phones, laptop computers and DVD players in your car.

"There aren't a lot of battery-operated digital TVs on the market," said John Taylor, vice president for LG Electronics USA.

"I think most of the attention has been shifted to this new standard for mobile digital TV," he said.

Mobile DTV is an upgrade over the hand-held digital televisions that are on the market now because it is designed to broadcast a continuous signal even if you are on the move. If you have used an antenna to receive digital television programming, you know that the slightest movement of the antenna can cause the picture to drop out. Mobile DTV uses technology that will allow you to continue watching a broadcast without interruption as you ride in a car, or walk with your mobile phone.

You can receive television programming now on portable devices through streaming video over the Internet. But Mobile DTV broadcasts a direct signal from a local station to a portable device.

"It's like a little TV set built into your device," said Anne Schelle, executive director of the Open Mobile Video Coalition, an association of television broadcasters working on Mobile DTV.

LG has developed a chip that can be inserted into portable devices to receive the TV signals. Taylor said the chip will be available in some Dell notebook computers later this year. Existing laptops can use a USB plug-in device that sells for as little as $59, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

LG is also introducing a DVD player with a 7-inch screen for $249 that is capable of receiving the Mobile DTV signals. And some mobile phones also can receive the signals.

But even if you have the technology to receive Mobile DTV, it's not yet available in Jacksonville or a lot of other cities. Schelle said there are 45 stations broadcasting mobile signals, including all of the stations in the Washington, D.C., market, but it will take some time for Mobile DTV to reach the entire country.

"It's a little like HD was deployed in some respects," she said, but she expects most consumers to have access next year. …