I Miss Television Sets With Character

I Miss Television Sets With Character

I can describe the television sets I gamed on as a child in intimate detail — the texture of the dials, the dusty ventilation holes, the faded wood paneling. The past three televisions I’ve had in my living room? A series of increasingly larger black rectangles.

There was a time, not too long ago, when the television sets had character. We weren’t just playing The Legend of Zelda. We were playing The Legend of Zelda on a battered RCA with a bent coat hangar sticking out the top, or a screen encased in a piece of wooden furniture in the living room.

My last television-with-character was a 32-inch pre-flat-screen HDTV I purchased for $300. It had no box or remote. There was a giant gash in the plastic housing on the left side. Also, it weighed about 400kg. Someone in my family still owns it. They have to. None of them could physically move it.

That poor excuse for an HDTV saw me through the launch of the Xbox 360. It’s 4:3 display ratio meant massive black bars on the top and bottom of the screen if I wanted to be all fancy and high-def. That’s how I played Geometry Wars for the first time. It’s how I played Kameo and King Kong and Gun. It’s how I watched my first HD-DVD movies.

It wasn’t a year later that massive bastard retired to the bedroom, replaced with a 42-inch Westinghouse LCD television. It was silver or black — possibly both — and had a “W” logo at the bottom. I don’t remember where the controls were positioned. I couldn’t tell you how many ports it had in the back. It was a rectangle that displayed images, nothing more.

It’s been like that ever since. That television was stolen a few years back. I replaced it with… something? I know we replaced it. Then we sold the replacement for money to purchase a bigger Westinghouse — I know this because there’s a “W” on the black rectangle hanging in my office. The one in the living room is an LG. I know this because I found the remote while cleaning this morning.

They’re like human heads without faces. It’s depressing.

I bring this up because during the holiday weekend, after passing up an endless array of black rectangles at ridiculous prices, I happened upon an Amazon listing for Seiki’s retro-inspired 22-inch LED television. Not the best brand out there, certainly not the largest size I could get, but just look at it.

I Miss Television Sets With Character

It’s got curves. It’s got dials and knobs that actually function. The one on the side? Volume control. The speakers look like whiskers or something. The whole thing is giving me a very Jetson‘s vibe.

It’s just a 21.5-inch diagonal flat panel inside a plastic housing, yes. It might not have the best screen (though it’s quite nice) or the greatest sound (much better than I expected), but it’s not just a black rectangle.

I Miss Television Sets With Character

And when I look back on playing Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, I won’t just remember playing a really bad Sonic the Hedgehog game — I’ll remember playing a really bad Sonic the Hedgehog game on the whiskered red rocket television with the silvered knobs. It’s part of the experience, rather than a passive object.

I don’t need my televisions to be quite this extreme, but I need something. Clever buttons or knobs. A distinctive finish or colour scheme. Make it pink. I’m down with pink.

I Miss Television Sets With Character

I’m done with buying black rectangles. When the LG in the living room goes, its place will be taken by something special. Something my children can look back on in a couple of details and remember exactly the games they played on it. A television with character.


  • I was so jealous of the rich kid at our school, he had an Atari 2600 with a ton of games AND had a motorbike-helmet-TV to play them on.
    I hated him, he was an absolute tool, but still went over to his house a few times to play Combat on that sweet TV….

  • Agreed. I went around to a friend’s place a while back, she’d inherited a fairly old plasma TV from a family friend. I don’t think it even had a HDMI input, only component. It mightn’t have taken a 1080p signal. But I was enamoured with how the thing looked. It was just a silver case like most TVs of its era, but it… I don’t know how to describe it, it just felt like it had a design to it. And it looked really cool. Way better than the boring featureless sets that exist now.

    I miss old TVs.

  • I don’t really remember what TVs I played on but my parents still have all their old tvs anyway. I do recall getting my xbox 360 and trying to play assassins creed and dead rising on my old crt, couldn’t figure out what was going on and how I was meant to know some parts of my missions, hooked it up to one of my PC monitors and found that some of the text wasn’t displaying in my CRTs resolution.

  • I want to agree with you, but the alternative designs provided here are heinous as fuck.

    I do have room for a wood panelling revival in my gadgets though.

  • I don’t know. Think it’s probably more the childhood memory goggles than anything. Plus the fact TV’s are just a more common thing now, depending on your age.

  • I like the old wood panel TVs, such nostalgia, but I like todays TVs more.
    Having had both, it feels like I’m living in the future with these huge screens displaying all my movies and games.

  • Personally I’m happy for TV’s to finally be getting small enough bezels like a picture frame. The bezel on my new Sony is pretty much non existent, it doesn’t even have speakers hanging off the side (who needs them with home theatre systems). While I’ve had a heap of TV’s, I can’t remember any that felt like they had a “design” to them except “try hard” and “plastic” or “outdated”.

    The only retro LCD I’ve seen that looks any good at all is the LG 32LN630R and 42LB640R which are a South Korean product only. Links with international shipping for anyone interested.
    32″ http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/LG-32LN630R-New-2013-CLASSIC-TV-FULL-HD-RETRO-DESIGN-738-x-497-x-207-mm-/271675377507?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3f411d4763
    42″ http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lg-Classic-TV-42LB640R-Television-42-Full-HD-LED-Retro-Design-IPS-Display-/371126495226?pt=Televisions&hash=item5668dce7fa

    Give me my simple picture frame with TV inside.

  • Dang I can’t really remember any specific charms of old TVs/monitors. I mean I was playing plenty of PC games before I got my first console (original Playstation), but all I can remember of old TVs is large black boxes with far lower resolution than I could stand nowadays. Hell, I remember the fact that I could play lower quality downloaded anime through the TV to make it look a bit more watchable!
    Only other thing I can think of is my parents getting 2 new computers with 2 colossal 19-inch CRT monitors and barely being able to lift one at a time. Of course I lined them up next to each other and had a go at playing GTA (Which one I can’t remember, it was in 3D by then :P) with both the monitors linked up to the one computer. Those CRTs were classic PC beige so personally I’d rather the black framed monitors that aren’t trying nearly as hard to break your spine when you attempt to move them 😛

  • Christ- Kotaku needs to either hire some younger writers, or issue a mandate to their older writers to lay off the nostalgia pieces for a while. First we’ve got Mark whining that he doesn’t understand these newfangled downloading machines, and now we’ve got Mike pining for the unbelievably shitty TVs of yesteryear.

    Love the site, love you work, but this makes ‘first world problems’ seem like, well, pressing emergencies.

  • Like what they are doing with digital cameras right? ‘Old School’ looking body… the latest tech wizardry inside. I can imagine a 65″ OLED with a nice timber veneer.

  • i have no fond memories of tv’s really except for a tiny tiny little black plastic colour picture CRT we had when growing up From the late 80’s i remember it in the 90’s). do distinct features i guess. had a power button that felt like you were pushing in a giant hole and a little fold down flap that hit the buttons and tiny knobs for contrast volume etc. it had a great remote which i had chewed half the buttons off while teething and the ONLY input was coaxial for the airial.

    I really miss that TV.

  • Personally I’m the opposite. I hate it when functional equipment like TVs and stereos stand out because they never match anything. They’re usually designed as though the TV were the center piece that the decoration of the entire room revolves around. I’d rather not be in the position where I have to choose between the TV that goes with my couch and the TV that’s half the price and twice as good. If a room needs decoration then decorate. I don’t need my TV to be an experience.
    Also lets not forget to factor in that you’re an adult looking back at your youth. The TVs you remember so fondly probably looked just like every other TV at the time. The little things you remember probably didn’t matter to anyone at the time. Likewise your kids will probably remember that slight pause between changing channels. The second it takes to turn on. Not because those imperfections are charming and important, but because they were in proximity to important memories (in which case odds are they’re going to remember TV less just because it’s way less relevant today).

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