In Living PortaColor
A web page dedicated to the portable color television design that wouldn't die...

It seems that for every consumer product category that eventually became widespread, there's been one particular design/model that stood out as being:

For example:

The automotive industry had its VW Beetle and BMC Mini.
The computer industry had its Apple ][.
The camera industry had its Argus C3.

What about the television receiver industry..?

Some antique radio/TV collectors might suggest the RCA 630 and its licensed clones as a partial example, but here's a better one that I feel has been overlooked.

Consider: the year is 1966...

Sales of color television sets are finally starting to rise to significant numbers in the USA despite the fact that color TV's using the current NTSC color standard had been introduced 12 years ago (1954).

Among the new sets introduced that year was an amazingly lightweight (25 pounds), small-screen (11-inch) and-- comparatively speaking-- inexpensive ($249.95 list) color TV from General Electric.

It was hailed as the first portable color TV. No, you couldn't run it off of batteries (even battery operated solid-state B&W televisions were still considered something of a novelty), but it was far lighter and more compact than any color TV built before that time (even the 'compact' table models with the then-new 19-inch rectangular picture tubes weighed 75 pounds or more, and didn't even pretend to be portable).

Now we move on to 1968...

RCA introduces the first solid-state color television set-- a 25-inch deluxe console which launched their TransVista line. Other manufacturers quickly jump on the solid-state bandwagon as transistors and integrated circuits suitable for color TV finally start to drop far enough in price to become even remotely competitive with traditional vacuum-tube circuits.

Now it's 1975.

Sears finally discontinues their last remaining "hybrid" (containing both vacuum-tube and transistor-based circuitry) color TV set, thus making the entire Sears color line "100% Solid State" Most major television manufacturers, such as RCA and Zenith, had already swtiched entirely over to fully solid-state chassis designs-- even the least-expensive B&W sets were shifting to solid-state this year (or already had, in most cases).

On to 1980.

Video cassette recorders are starting their surge in popularity. Projection color TV's are available for home use. The Atari 2600 video game console has been available for two or three years now.

...And GE was apparently still producing PortaColor television sets..!
...Using the same basic chassis as the ones they designed in 1966.
...A chassis whose active components still consists of 11 vacuum tubes (mostly those multi-section deoducadal-base Compactrons that GE seemed to love so much) a few solid-state diodes, and zero transistors.

[Actually, the Porta-Color does contain one transistor. It's used as a UHF oscillator and is embedded in the UHF tuner (which is not on the main chassis). This transistor is not even itemized in the parts list on some of the Sams Photofact folders which covered the various Porta-Color models. Still, that doesn't exactly qualify the Porta-Color as a 'hybrid' design.]

Now, the most recent GE Porta-Color I've actually seen with my own eyes was stamped as being made in December, 1978. The 1980 date was originally based solely on someone's informal recollection on Usenet when I asked about it some years ago, but I have since received email from someone who has seen (and worked on) a 1980 PortaColor. I've also received a sighting of a 1979-made model as well. [Pictures would be nice, though!]

Perhaps you don't find any of this particularly interesting, but think about what this suggests-- it suggests that even at the tail end of the 70's, it was still cheaper to manufacutre this almost 100% tube-based color television set than a solid-state set with a similar-sized screen. It also suggests that members of the general public would still actually buy a tube TV in 1978-1980. Keep in mind that GE certainly offered solid-state color TV's with similar screen sizes-- including a short-lived solid-state version of the PortaColor itself (named the PortaColor II)-- long before 1980.

Why did the PortaColor hang on so long? I really have no idea. Perhaps GE was faced with a warehouse full of Compactron tubes and needed something to do with them. :-)

Consider also, the possible historical landmarks in consumer electronics technology that this TV may represent. I realize I'm truly reaching a bit here, but if anyone out there can provide evidence which conclusively proves or refutes any of these, I'd appreciate your help.

With that in mind, the GE PortaColor would seem to have the following distinguishing marks:

Of course, there were a few minor changes made to the PortaColor during its long life. Aside from various cosmetic styling changes, the few functional/electronic alterations I've found seem to include:

More Fun!
By the way, the curious world of the PortaColor has made me take a closer look at some other somewhat-related-but-different TV sets from the same era. These seemed to deserve their own section, which you can find on the Not-A-PortaColor Page (all-new as of April, 2003).

PortaColor Gallery -- In Color

Do you have a GE PortaColor? Send in a photo and I'll put it up here! First, here are four PortaColor sets I have known:

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Here's a model WM229HWD-3 from around 1969. This fancy high-end model has a clock-timer and other added features. At first glance, you'd assume that this could be used as an alarm clock (i.e. as with a clock-radio), but in reality, the only automatic function of the clock is that of a sleep-timer (i.e. to shut the set off after a selected interval of time). In other words, this is one TV that will put you to sleep, but won't wake you up...

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Skipping several years of Porta-Color history, we get to this more modern (but spartan) looking beast made in November 1975. (model WAHE5223RW) This is probably one of the first PortaColor models with the click-stop UHF tuner and a more streamlined front panel (with the brightness and vertical hold controls partially hidden below the speaker).

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Here's a rather nice looking PortaColor (model WHE5265CO) that was built in April 1976. It looks a little bit more upscale than the previous model illustrated above, but lacks the earphone jack present on that one. Despite the late-70's surface appearance, this is still basically the same TV as all the others on this page. Doesn't really look like it should be full of vacuum tubes on the inside does it?

Just for fun, I'd like to find one of the "last-gasp" versions of the Porta-Color from its final year of manufacture. [Now I wish I had actually bought that 1978-built model I saw once...]

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Evidently, GE kept offering the older cabinet style in addition to the niftier one above. This April 1977 PortaColor (model WAHE5223RW) looks almost exactly like the 1975 one.

Now, here are some pictures of PortaColor sets owned by visitors to this site. (images used with permission)

This picture was sent in by Jon Lopez. It's an HE5205WD, and similar to the original PortaColor model, except that the "PortaColor" nameplate is on the front rather than the top.

Here's another picture of the same set.

Here's another of Jon Lopez's PortaColor sets. It bears the model number WHE5226WD, and it looks like a brand-mate to one of mine above, except that this one has a woodgrain-style finish.

This photo of an early Canadian model PortaColor (1120VWD) was sent in by Chris F.. Notice that this TV only has one tuning knob. That's right-- it can only tune VHF stations. While all USA-model PortaColor sets are "all channel", Canada didn't require UHF reception to be avalaible on all TV sets until around 1970. Therefore, I'd assume UHF tuners would have been optional -- at additional cost -- on PortaColor sets in Canada the first few years those sets were offered there.

Here's another Canadian PortaColor picture sent in by Chris F.. The model number was missing on this set, but it probably dates from about the tail end of the 1960's.

Here's an early PortaColor (model M213BWD) owned by Tom Smrz.

Here's a picture of the same set taken just after Tom got it functioning again.

Tom's PortaColor tuned to a news program.

Tom also sent in this image of a PortaColor owner's manual. It's not the original manual that came with the above set, but is from a similar era. What I find amusing is just how big that little TV appears in that idealized sketch. You'd think that happy family was sitting in front of a new console TV, wouldn't you? :-)     [Perhaps GE used the same cover graphics for all their TV instruction manuals..?]

This is a PortaColor (model WM201HWD) owned by Joel of The Turntable Factory. No dates known for this set.

Now, this set (model WM202HBW-4) is also owned by Joel. No production date is known for this TV either, but the picture tube on this one does have a date code from November 1973, thus suggesting the set was assembled at the end of '73 or in early '74. Note the similarity in model number to that of the previous image, however. ...And, if you want to really get into the details, notice that the brightness and vertical hold controls (not visible) are located below the front panel, just as with the 1975/1976 versions shown further above. However, unlike those later models, this set has the older continuous-style UHF tuner. The Turntable Factory.

Infrequently Asked Questions:

1. How good was the GE PortaColor in terms of performance/quality?

Well, the PortaColor was always intended to be a low-priced set (as color TV's went); in fact, I'd suspect it was always GE's least-expensive color TV during the entire period of time they produced it. Therefore, it's not surprising that these sets lack a number of peformance features we usually take for granted. For instance, there's no automatic chroma gain-- images may go from pastel to exessively vibrant (and back) as you change channels (or move the antenna... or simply walk around the room...). Also, like a lot of TV sets from the 1950's (and low-end B&W tube TV's from the 60's and beyond), there's no DC restoration circuit. This results in inconsistent black levels which vary on the level of light/contrast in the televised scene. Lack of ACG and DC restoration wouldn't have been seen as much of a big deal when this set was first introduced, but must have been considered quite unusual, to say the least, at the point it was finally discontinued.

Having said that, while it's not exactly a great TV, it's really not all that horrible I suppose, and it appears to have been a fairly robust design (as vacuum-tube sets go) from a reliability standpoint. The tuner/RF/IF sections are at least satisfatory, and the Porta-Color in general probably doesn't suffer from as much geometric distortion as some other low-cost TV's from the same time frame. Also, compared with most 60's/70's-era color TV's, the Porta-Color's in-line picture tube makes it comparatively easy to adjust convergence.

2. So, are these some sort of valuable collectibles or something?

Nope. As far as I know, there's zero "collector" value in these things, and hardly anybody else in the world is at all interested in them; if anything, they're more a source of derision than anything else even among the antique radio/TV collector community [You are welcome to surprise me, however]. I just happen to think they're a curious footnote in the history of entertainment electronic techology in the USA, and thought they deserved a web page somewhere. :-) Even at prices around ten dollars, Porta-Color sets tend to languish unwanted at thrift stores and garage sales across the nation.

3. I saw a funny little color TV at a thrift store-- how can I tell if it's a PortaColor?

GE PortaColor sets are pretty easy to spot if you've seen one, as they all have that distinctive "gee-this-TV-looks-too-wide-for-its-screen-size" look. Earlier models are even easier to identify as such, since they even say "Porta-Color" somewhere on the front or top of the set. GE tried to 'disguise' the sets a bit more in the later years, but, as far as I know, all Porta-Color line sets have the following in common:

4. Were Porta-Color sets sold anywhere besides the USA and Canada?

Actually, they were! ...But not by GE or with the GE name, as far as I know.

For example, here's a link to another person's page which illustrates a Kuba Porta-Color TV. It appears to be identical to the early versions of the GE Porta-Color, but modified for PAL use in the UK. The fact that it retains the "Porta-Color" name suggests to me that it was licensed from General Electric.

In any case, you may notice a few odd things about the front panel of this set compared with USA versions. For one thing, like the Canadian set pictured above, there's only one tuning knob. ...But this time it's the VHF knob that's missing. Why? Well, in the UK, (as far as I know -- let me know if I'm wrong) the VHF TV band was used for the old 405-line B&W system. When the UK started introducing PAL color service, they placed PAL broadcasting in the UHF band (presumably so it could co-exist with the old B&W broadcasts). [Unlike the USA's color standard of NTSC, PAL wasn't backward compatible with previous B&W standards.] In any case, as the description indicates, the VHF tuner on this set isn't actually missing-- it's still necessary, because (as on the regular USA version) it contains the RF amplifier stage shared by both tuners. [Don't ask my why Kuba couldn't have substituted the Tarzian-sourced VHF/UHF tuners present on the GE PortaColor with something more suited to the UK market, because I don't know.] Besides the 'missing' VHF knob, this Kuba set also lacks Tint and Vertical Hold controls on the front panel. I'm not surprised that the Tint control is missing, because it's (at least theoretically) unnecessary on a PAL television set. I don't know why the Vertical Hold control would also be gone, though, unless that's also less necessary on a PAL set. Or maybe it was relocated to the back panel. Oh, by the way, notice that while the nameplate on this set has the American spelling of "Color", the control panel has a knob clearly labeled with the British spelling "Colour". :-)

Evidently this PAL-adapted Porta-Color set was sold elsewhere as well. An Italian visitor to this site, Marco Taddei, sent me an email pointing out that there were PAL versions of the PortaColor sold in Italy by Kuba-Imperial as well as Telefunken. They apparently weren't very popular, though, and only sold for a few years.

5. Is it supposed to be spelled "Porta-Color" or "PortaColor"?

I'm not sure. :-)

Last updated 04/04/2003

"Porta-Color" is presumably a trademark of General Electric Corporation. No endorsement or approval by General Electric is implied, nor is GE responsible for the accuracy of the content of this web site. All information is provided on an 'as-is' basis; the author of this site is not liable for damages of any sort (financial, physical, or otherwise) which might arise from the use (or misuse) of information on this site.
The small B&W photos used in the title collage are Copyright ©1967-1974 Howard W. Sams, and were scanned from old Photofact folders. Incidently, the one on the left is probably the original PortaColor model.
BTW, in case you're wondering, yes, the three 'shields' in the title graphic are indeed supposed to be red, yellow, and blue. Don't ask me why-- ask whoever designed the PortaColor 'logo' for GE... :-) NOTE: I have since found out that some later-year models that still have the "Porta-Color" name do in fact have red, green, and blue shields, so I guess GE decided to 'fix' the logo at some point. What a relief-- I always thought the R-Y-B logo was a bit disconcerting. :-)

Unless otherwise indicated, all contents (including images) Copyright © 2000-2003 by Martin (Marty) Kuhn /

Contributed images in the gallery are copyright their respective owners, and are used with permission.

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