When it comes to technology, I have a lot of love for edge cases—situations where the march of innovation actually makes things a little bit worse.
Which means that I’ve become a pretty sizable fan of the YouTube channel Techmoan in recent months. Host Mat Taylor’s magical ability to drop matter-of-fact bits of knowledge about obscure AV equipment is unparalleled, and his clip this past weekend highlighting the way that the move to digital television (basically) killed the portable TV is no exception.
Certainly, portable digital TVs exist, but they don’t have nearly the reputation of the tiny analog screens from the ‘80s and ‘90s, which were considered major innovations and were created by big-name firms like Sony. Those analog TVs don’t work anymore, thanks to the wheels of bureaucracy—and if they do, they’re anything but portable, really.
These days, the big manufacturers have basically ceded this market to the no-name factories, except in South Korea, one of the few countries in the world that actually created a successful digital television standard specifically for a portable setting.
Most of the world does not have that, and digital TV suffers as a result. You would probably not be able to watch digital TV in a moving vehicle, and you likely would not be able to watch it in a normal indoor setting, either; as Techmoan’s Taylor learned, the antennas used by these portable devices just simply aren’t up to the task.
Now, the obvious argument here is that we have magic internet-enabled Jesus phones at our disposal at all times, and these machines have internet, which is more versatile than digital television could ever be. But it’s still fascinating to see Taylor work so hard to get a portable TV set (with like 20 minutes of battery life!) working.
There’s a reason TV networks generally aren’t trying to sell us the airwaves on our phones, like FM radio providers are.