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V CAST? We Don't Need No Stinkin' V CAST!


By Brendan I. Koerner

You know those folks who drive around in Vanagons with bumper stickers that read "Kill Your Television"? Well, with the way things are going at present, they can't be too happy. The proliferation of in-seat screens for automobiles was bad enough. Now with the way broadband video's progressing, it shouldn't be too long before every Nextel subscriber in the world can watch Walker, Texas Ranger reruns whenever they darn well please.

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The anti-TV crowd can take temporary heart, though, in the fact that a) cellphone video's still in its infancy, so customers must make do with Shakira videos and AccuWeather forecasts at present, and b) the prices will be mad steep for the foreseeable future. Sorry, Chuck Norris, but don't expect another royalties stream until 2011 or so.

In the meantime, us poor-yet-mobile TV fans will have to settle for clunkier gadgets. A Sony Watchman? Nah, chews up batteries like a fat guy at a buffet, plus the picture gets all hinky when viewed from different angles. A better and cheaper option is one of my favorite low-end gadgets in recent memory: the TV boombox. After the jump, three units that'll save you from the ignominy of missing Judge Joe Brown. PLUS: Where my Eastern Europeans at?

As longtime readers are already aware, Low End Theory is all about looking for gadgets in the places you'd least expect. For this week's column, I journeyed down to New York's fabled East Village, ostensibly to grab a bowl of ramen at the highly recommended Minca. (Tip: ask for extra pork and hot sauce.) But there was an ulterior motive that I didn't reveal to my girlfriend: I also wanted to stop by the East Village Pharmacy, a primo junk shop that has the hookup on cheap electronics.

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They seem especially hooked into Coby Electronics, a company best known for its cheap, portable DVD players, like the TF-DVD500. Of course, Gizmodo has previously inveighed against going too low-end on DVD players, so caveat emptor.

Coby's been trying to position itself as a budget supplier of LCDs, but that's not Low End Theory's purview; we're still all about the cathode-ray tubes, man. And the EV Pharmacy had just the product to make us squeal with unfettered delight: the Coby CD-TV152, aka "the TV boombox" (picture at the column's top). Five-inch black-and-white screen? Check. UHF capability? Check. Molded plastic handle? Check! "Rotary volume control" (i.e. a volume knob)? Oh, baby, check! Check! Check!

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All of this for $34.99, plus a top-loading CD player to boot. Still not sold? The spec sheet also mentions a "Quick Start Picture Tube." Because, y'know, if there's one thing that I always complain about, it's my TV taking too long to warm up.

If the Coby unit isn't quite your style, for reasons I can't possibly fathom, there's another worthwhile option that I stumbled across: the VocoStar Orange-300 Carry-oke Boombox. It'll run you a few clams more—the best online price I could find was $99 from dynadirect.com—but there are some nice bonuses. Like the dual microphone inputs, in case you want to belt out "Close to You" with your sweetheart. And a remote control, so you needn't bother with a rotary volume knob. (Note to all budding product designers: Isn't it time we bid the rotary knob farewell, once and for all? Take a cue from your mates in the phone design world.)

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At this point, you may be griping: "$34.99 for a black-and-white TV? What am I, made of money?" If you're really seeking a portable TV bargain, and can do without the karaoke or CD features, then jWin has your back with the aptly dubbed JV-TV1010. It's as plain as its binary-code name suggests, though there is an AM/FM tuner described as "sensitive." Just like Chuck Norris in Walker-mode, as he offers a meaty, calloused hand to a child in need of help...

POST-SOVIET ELECTRONICS SCENE: Y'know, I'm getting a little tired of flipping over every low-end gadget I come across and seeing a "Made in China" sticker. Okay, there are a few "Made in Taiwans" around too, and some "Made in Koreas." But what about the rest of the world? Where is Poland? To flip the president's infamous words from last year's presidential debate, did Poland forget about us? Or Bulgaria, for that matter? [My wife says Poland is Central Europe. You should be shouting out to the Ukraine and Moldova - Ed]

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So, dear readers, I'm asking for a little help here: can anyone point me in the direction of a low-end brand that manufactures behind the former Iron Curtain? Much good karma, and a paean in this space, to anyone who can point us in the right direction. Drop some Slavic knowledge to brendan@gizmodo.com.

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Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Low End Theory column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.