The original flat screen

December 14, 2011 in Product Design

One could argue that throughout modern history no one single product has made a larger impact on culture than the television. Perhaps the automobile, personal computer and the combustion engine are right up there – but pound for pound and hour for hour the television has become a staple for human life and defines aspects such as the people we admire, vote for, like (or dislike), the music we listen to, the products we buy. You get the point.

Although commercially available since the mid 1920’s TVs – like most new technologies – were expensive commodities.  It wasn’t until advances were made in their dependability and size that the average consumer could have one of their own. Until the 1940’s the typical method of home media entertainment outside of playing your own records on the Victrola was the radio. Current events, weather, sports, and of course the entertainment of the Lone Ranger and a host other programs for all age groups drew families into the den to tune in. At that time the radio provided you with the story line while leaving the visualizations up to the imaginations of the listener. Often was the case that a movie picture at the theater or a comic book coincided with a radio program and provided some starting point of visual reference. As with radio the main driving force behind TV remains the ability to advertise directly to consumers.

Even though the populous had seen moving pictures in the theater that experience of watching a seemingly endless barrage of programs right in the comfort of their own homes was proven to be one we all became addicted to. Science Fiction and the  display of imaginary time far off in the future opened the doors for product engineers to become front-runners in the development of the flat panel monitors and personal computers we all know and use today. It is well documented that the creators of Microsoft, IBM and Apple were inspired by these visual representation of people using personal desktop displays in everyday life.

The Predicta by Philco

Taking a look at the history of flat panel monitors and when they first became available to the average consumer one cannot help but highlight the beloved and highly collectable Predicta by Philco. Until the Predicta, TVs were massive objects viewed more as a piece of furniture. Typical sets were extremely heavy units filled with circuitry and picture tubes – both notorious for malfunctioning. The Predicta was first introduced in two sizes; the 21 and the 17 inch. The 21 inch set failed often. Predicta’s reputation for failure paired with the lack of a color version and its  incredibly outlandish styling eventually lead Philco into bankruptcy in the 1960’s.

The idea to have this floating screen not surrounded by a thick bulky box was revolutionary. The Predicta’s screen itself worked like most common TVs of its age with the main picture tube translating and deciphering high frequency radio signals into moving imagery on the screen – But there was a major difference. Instead of building a boxy set around this general function the box at the base did all of the work, held all of the circuitry and controlled the picture and sound quality.  The screen of the Predicta is attached by a tether or umbilical cord. The monitors could actually be lifted off the stand while still functioning. This umbilical cord held the mass of wires – mostly attached to the main picture tube at the back of the screen – and connected it to all of the controls like the vertical and horizontal hold, the brightness and contrast. It was a marvel of engineering for its day.

Telstar now produces new versions of the Predicta after purchasing the rights to the Predicta brand. Take a look at their fun gallery of models. If you love these old sets we recommend contacting Telstar or saving an old one off eBay and taking a shot at restoration. If anything, just for looks!

Telstar was kind enough to send us these images of a few of their fully restored and functional beauties!