Epson "Elf" ET-10 Handheld Color Television (1984)


The Epson ET-10 "Elf" was the world's first handheld television with a color liquid crystal display (LCD). Introduced in mid-1984, it competed with black and white handhelds such as Sony's FD-210 Watchman (later superseded by my FD-10A).

Known as the "Televian" outside the US, the Elf was an engineering marvel of its time. The tiny two-inch screen contained 52,800 pixels, each driven by a transistor. In this photo, the ET-10 is displaying a live broadcast sent on VHF by my home transmitter.

Here's a more colorful image, photographed in a dimly lit room. The actual image is better than it looks in this snapshot, but I have limited patience when it comes to screen shots.

All of the television controls except the tuner are on top. In this view you can also see the pop-out leg that lets you stand the TV on a table at the correct viewing angle.

Notice the on/off switch for the light. The flat backlit screen can be illuminated either by the internal light or by ambient light, admitted when you open the reflective back panel.

When ambient light is sufficient, you can conserve battery power by using the reflector rather than the internal light.

All handheld TVs have an earphone jack for personal listening, but the Elf also has input jacks for audio and video. This lets you connect an external source such as a DVD player or digital converter.

You can see the thumbwheel tuning knob at the top of the side panel, which also has "fingernail" adjusters for Color and Tint and a port for an external 7.5-volt DC power supply.

The Elf was pretty hot stuff in its day, but the death of analog broadcasting has consigned it and its handheld brethren to thrift store bargain shelves. Unless you have a home transmitter or you connect an external source, it will receive nothing but static in most locations.

Taking advantage of the low prices, I have collected a few other handheld TVs: a Sony FD-10A, Panasonic TR-1010P, and Sony FDL-22. The first two are early black and white handhelds; the FDL-22 is a color LCD set from 1998.

The 1984 Epson's picture quality holds up pretty well against the Sony FDL-22, which was introduced fourteen years later. I guess I'd give the nod to the Sony for deeper, richer color, but viewing them side by side, there honestly isn't a huge difference.

You can find more technical information about the Elf in this Epson article.

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