Portable TV sets have been around since the '80s, when the Sony Watchman ruled the roost.
Back then, its black-and-white screen the size of a postage stamp would have set you back $1,600 in today's money. The Watchman finally bowed out in 2000, and now that you can watch TV on your phone or tablet, the idea of a portable TV is almost passe. Yet, Azend hasn't let a little product like the iPad get in its way with its release of the Envizen Digital HR-701 7-inch Home Roam TV.
What is it?
The Home Roam is a wireless AV sender, which incorporates an AV hub transmitter and a 7-inch screen that acts as a receiver. The company says the screen will last 2 hours on a charge, extend up to 100 feet from the base but has a fairly low contrast ratio of 400:1. Build quality of the two units looks like something you'd find in a flea market.
The idea of remotely watching your TV content has been the domain of manufacturer Sling Media for some time. Its Slingbox debuted in 2006 and has since added iPhones and Android devices to its original PC arsenal. Starting from $180 for the Solo model, it is a flexible way to watch TV or any video source when you're not in the room or even on the same continent.
At $159, the Home Roam feels a lot of heat from its main competitor and is actually less flexible despite including an actual screen. Though it lets you watch content from up to five different AV sources (Slingbox Solo allows two), it won't let you change the channel. Additionally, three of the inputs are the 3.5mm type and only one adapter is included in the box.
The sender operates at 2.4GHz--a frequency currently used by most wireless routers and microwave ovens--but at least the screen has an AV output that you can connect to an external screen.
Hookup was easy. We just connected the AV leads to the back of our satellite box (it works with any AV source), turned the screen on, and the signal appeared straight away. The screen has a number of direct source buttons along the right-hand side to switch between inputs and volume buttons for the onboard speaker.
Image quality was a little blurry--as you could expect from a composite AV connection squirted into the crowded 2.4Ghz spectrum--and it had a distinctly "analog" look with dot crawl and diagonal lines across the screen. The screen comes with a stand that puts the display at an angle, which is handy because when viewed from dead-on and above the image starts to wash out or go completely negative.
Sound quality was OK, and equal to what you can expect from a Netbook. The headphone output was remarkably good, though. We did have one main problem with the unit in that the sound would cut out completely, and would only come back if we rebooted the device, which takes about 20 seconds to cycle back on. Imagine if this happened at the critical part of a game.
The stated 100-foot range was about right if you are within line of sight, but then you'd be probably able to see the TV anyway. Given one wall, it gave out at about 40 feet and two walls less than 30.
The big surprise with this product was its battery life: while it's only rated for 2 hours, it lasted about 3 hours and 20 minutes using a mix of both the onboard speaker and headphones.
Should you buy it?
In short we wouldn't recommend the Home Roam to most people. In addition to the performance issues, its lack of an IR repeater means you can't change channels or control a DVR, and according to our range tests it's only really useful for the next room, not across the house.
If you're a cable subscriber who wants in-house portable TV the Slingbox, which does allow full control, is still a much better value despite being BYOS (bring your own screen). If you're looking for a wireless video sender that doesn't require a home wireless network, the Home Roam does offer a more portable package than cheap "satellite dish"-type senders, but those can usually transmit remote control signals, too. And of course an actual Watchman-style portable TV costs less, although it will be restricted to over-the-air channels.
If you want to see the Home Roam closer-up, you can check out this promotional video from Buy.com. It's a bit hazy on the "how it works" details, though, with its "get HBO" schtick. (Yes, you can watch HBO if HBO is on your cable box at the time and nobody changes the channel.)