Icon / Philips television
It’s been 90 years since Philips tested its first TV set – a device that has been by turn exotic, ubiquitous, intrusive and elegant, but has changed the way we see the world forever.
Few machines have had such widespread effect on society as the television – a device that’s a feature of around four-fifths of the world’s households. The TV was the first machine that allowed people around the world to view news as it happened, enabling them to see events unfolding in front of their eyes – though those events may have been taking place hundreds or thousands of kilometres away.
TV has also – through colour broadcasting, home video and sets being used as computer screens – paved the way for the devices that many of us carry with us today; devices such as smartphones that allow us to stay in touch, follow news and share content from almost anywhere.
The television set has evolved greatly over the years, occupying numerous positions in the design world and in wider society.
When it first appeared, TV was a technological wonder and home sets were something only the very rich could afford.
The imposing machines were also very bulky, despite their tiny black-and-white screens.
Technological developments soon resulted in the availability of cheaper, mass-produced TVs – and their popularity drove social change on a large scale. Entertainment was no longer something to be created or sought in venues outside the home; and the ready availability of this passive form of entertainment was blamed for many social issues, especially among younger members of society.
Television sets themselves remained ungainly and imposing things, and few manufacturers made efforts to make them look elegant. Finally, when manufacturers changed from bulky cathode ray tube sets to slender flatscreen devices during the late 1990s and early 2000s, designers enjoyed more flexibility and users had more choice in where to put their TVs.
While immediately recognisable as descendants of the early wooden boxes with tiny screens, today’s TVs are increasingly attractive and bring both still and moving images to life with great brilliance and resolution.