I wanted to write a little bit about the television set.
Over the years, the basic design of televisions has changed quite dramatically, whilst staying the same: a screen in a box. There are knobs to turn, or buttons to push, maybe a remote control, and the screen has got less bulbous over the years. Largely, it is a screen in a box.
That is changing now.
They used to be wonderfully designed for the home — sets like this nine-inch Bush from the 1950s with its walnut finish and the five-inch Hallicrafter model 505 were designed to slot in without much disruption to your household or lifestyle.
They were designed as both an entertainment platform and a piece of furniture.
That’s my current television. We use this for watching broadcast programmes. We have a flat, wide-screen HD television in another room for console gaming and films.
As you can see, this television is an old beast. It weighs a tonne, has monophonic sound, little knobs to tune the channels, and takes up a large amount of space (18″ deep, 24″ wide). Its convex twenty-four inch screen is nestled neatly into the wood-effect panelled MDF case. I’m sure it was a market-leader when it was released, it barely seems young enough to have a scart socket.
The television set is still a piece of furniture for me. Rather than taking up much needed space, it performs a nice utility. It slots neatly into the home because, when it is on, it is entertainment; when it is off, it is a display surface for some nice pictures and trinkets. (I didn’t want to say trinkets, as I’m not a grandma.)
This goes against the current orthodoxy that flat screens are the most effective use of space, more sensitive to the modern lifestyle. Flat screens and their accessories still absorb the same amount of space (we don’t yet have good quality wall-mounted DVD players, consoles or Sky+), but don’t add any extra utility. They become an attention vacuum, even when they’re turned off they draw eyes to the space they occupy, and offer no ability to make that space more interesting. You cannot pretend a flat-screen is part of the fabric of the household: it is not furniture, it is just a big screen in a room.
Sadly, our massive TV is nearing the end of its lifespan.
The image is increasingly cropped, voices are getting fuzzier daily and the speakers kick out a distorted hiss whenever there is a lot of white on the screen. We will have to buy a new, flat-screen thing to replace it. The corner of the room will become much duller without some owl paraphenalia or Mr Bingo’s cat in a corset on the set top.
As a solution, I would like to put the flat-screen in a box, inside a television case. A sensitively-designed wooden box to situate a flat screen on a stand. Something that would add warmth to the home. The box could sit flush to the screen, accommodate all the untidy cables inside it and provide an attractive mantelpiece for nice items that bring personality to a space.
I don’t want a television cabinet, as they also dominate the space they occupy and always seem quite Methodist. I don’t want to pretend it’s not a screen — like these wooden iPad, Kindle book and Moleskine iPhone cases try — but to put utility back into the television and reincorporate it as furniture.
To finish, watch this old Warner Brothers cartoon that Marcus posted today with a different intention. Look at how wonderfully they approach placing screens within existing furniture and human behaviours. We are not meant to have screens on walls.
This post isn’t about ‘screens’ exactly, but, if you’re interested in that, the smart BERG folks are putting out lots of great thinking, such as Tom A’s nice discussion of the neediness between iPad and Kindle.