April 24, 2014

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Television Hasn't Just Changed; So Have Televisions

Anybody remember when a TV was a piece of furniture with a screen?

I thought my blog this week would be something outside of the two stories we've heard the most about in the region this month: the process of filling West Virginia's U.S. Senate seat and LeBron James' departure from Cleveland. (I might have something related to the latter in a couple of weeks.)

It's about the item in our living rooms called a TV set.

No, it's not about how what we watch on TV has changed.  I've already written about that, to a certain point. It's how that electronic gadget we watch has changed.

Once upon a time, televisions were as much furniture as they were electronics.  The early TV's, in fact, were so much cabinetry that you almost didn't notice the screen. The screens on those first sets were only ten inches wide, while the rest of it was as large as the radios they replaced in people's homes in the late 1940's and early '50s. In fact, by the mid-'50's, manufacturers were cheerfully and breathlessly announcing "giant" 21-inch screens.

And what was around those screens was even more attractive.  They were wood-styled cabinets described as "walnut" or "mahagony veneer", which were meant to blend in with the furniture in the living rooms they were in.  And the first "home entertainment centers" were not only televisions, but also stereos (which, by themselves, had similar cabinetry, like the stereo my parents first purchased in 1965 which still sits in their living room).

My family's first TV's weren't this elaborate, but they did have "simulated" woodgrain cabinets supported by legs which could be (but weren't) detached from the TV itself if desired. The console TV was a staple, it seemed, of nearly everyone's home through the 1970's.

So-called portable TV's didn't appear until the late '50's; that is they were as portable as if a regular desktop computer would be if you toted it around all the time.  They did become smaller, but, at first, while they weren't something you would want to lug from room to room., they were the first TV's designed for the kitchen or the bedroom.

I don't know for sure when the trend switched to TV's which sat on tables or carts which also supported other electronic items such as VCR's (although VCR's, obviously, first came out in the late '70's).  But the only console TV's I see any more are in second-hand stores. But at some point when TV's were still analog, the table-top TV became the norm.  And, now, you can mount them on the wall (which reminds me of the TV's on "The Jetsons").

Which brings me to my final point: does that mean we can't call TV "the idiot box" any more?

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