TV Technology History Involved Some Flops

Previously, we’ve reviewed how various businesses are innovating for the future of television. Along the path to modern TV, however, many thoughtful inventors tried out concepts to improve viewing experiences that unfortunately didn’t work out so well. Some never made it to market, others failed to sell and soon faded away.

The Seiko TV Watch

Seiko TV Watch
Seiko TV Watch
With all of the hullabaloo that the $10,000 Apple Watch is receiving, this certainly puts things into perspective.

In 1982, Japanese electronics manufacturer Seiko unveiled their TV Watch, described in its instruction manual as “one of the most unique personal accessories available,” and sold it in the U.S. for $495 (~ $1,195 today). It was recognized in the 1984 Guinness Book of Records as the “smallest TV set in the world.”

The first-of-its-kind device featured a 1.2-inch blue LCD display that connected to a headphone set and separate battery-powered signal receiver meant to be placed inside a convenient pocket for UHF and VHF channel capturing.

Despite being featured as a spy gadget in 1983’s James Bond film, “Octopussy,” and also used by Tom Hanks’ character Det. Pep Streebek in 1987’s comedy “Dragnet,” sales bombed.

When it launched in the U.S., Robert J. Wexler, the future chairman of the board for Tourneau, Inc., a major watch retailer, said “[The Seiko TV Watch] will sell to the limited audience which feels it must be the first to have a novelty. The average consumer probably will have little interest in it.”

He was right. Does the same logic apply to Apple’s new digital timepiece?

It was quickly removed from the market, but today Seiko’s TV Watch is considered to be a rare collectible.

Hugo Gernsback’s “Teleyeglasses”

Science fiction author, inventor and futurist Hugo Gernsback lived from 1884-1967. He is best known for his contributions to the literary genre, as well as early radio and TV broadcasting. In the September 9, 1963 edition of “Life” magazine, Gernsback revealed his television glasses, which he first envisioned in 1936 and thought “millions [would] eventually wear.”

“Television eyeglasses should weigh only about five ounces,” Gernsback said. “Since there will be a picture for each eye, the glasses will make a stereoptical view possible and since they will be masked--like goggles--they can be used in bright sunlight. The user can take them out of his pocket any where, slip them on, flip a switch and turn to his favorite station.”

They were never mass-produced.

Another TV concept from Gernsback that never materialized was described in a 1960 issue of the “New York Syracuse Post Standard” as “headphone TV,” where images would be transmitted to an individual’s mind.

Sir Clive Sinclair’s Miniature TV

Sinclair’s Miniature TV
Sinclair’s Miniature TV
English inventor Sir Clive Sinclair released the MTV-1 Micro TV, or a miniature, portable television in 1977. The product measured 4 x 6 1/4 x 1 5/8 inches, and contained a black and white 2-inch picture tube. At launch, it was $395 (~ $1,521 today), and intended for a high-end type of citizen.

While it was indeed small, it was still much too large to put inside of a pocket. It also suffered from many issues, including quick loss of battery power and tuning difficulties.

“There were several technical problems, which were quite difficult to overcome," Sir Clive told BBC News Online in 2002. "A lot of work went into it and sadly it didn't do as well as I had hoped.”

John Trenouth, a senior curator at the UK’s National Media Museum, stated that “It sounded like a great idea and just the sort of thing that would sell. People got very excited since the concept was quite revolutionary. But when you actually watched it, it was pretty awful."

Poor sales caused Sinclair Radionics Ltd. to lose £1.98 million by the year-end in 1978, and in May 1979, the company revealed their intention to sell their TV interests. Sir Clive resigned that July and went on to found another firm.

Color Filters

Color Filters
Color Filters
As early as 1951, several companies developed plastic tri-color filters to be placed on the front of a black and white television screen to simulate a color effect. Often, the attachment would be blue at the top, red or pink in the middle and green at the bottom, in an effort for scenes to appear to have blue sky, green grass and somewhat flesh-toned faces.

Of course, this only caused problems when a sequence occurred indoors. Businesses like Telecolor in the U.S., ColorScope in Japan and Elpico in the U.K. provided these products to consumers, and tended to be considerably less expensive for viewers across the pond.

Telecolor filters (which advertised their “special formula” for “life-like” depth and clarity) cost $3.00 ($26.98 today) for a 10-inch screen, and $10 ($89.93) for a 16-inch, while Elpico colour filters were approximately £0.50-1 ($35.21) for something similar.

The plastic screens were quickly discarded as color television crept into society, however an online auction for a small collection of the filters and TV magnifiers hosted by Bonhams fetched $201 for the lot in 2009.

Author: Brian Cameron

Images via Shutterstock, neatorama, earlytelevision, tvhistory and Time & Life.

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