TV design goes full circle with Samsung's new sets for CES 2019
If you're anything like (as old as) me, you'll have retained a fondness for the way things looked in the 1950s and 60s. You know the classic TV look from that era: a screen whose deepest black was actually a fairly light-coloured gray-green, and a cathode ray tube that was more circular than square. And those spindly legs. What's not to like?
Well, maybe the picture. Here in the UK, I arrived into the world with a black and white TV with only three channels, and a miserly 405 lines of vertical resolution. We didn't mind though. It was the perfect medium for The Flowerpot Men: a completely bonkers childrens' program that was so surreal that anyone exposed to it 55 years ago remembers it like it happened this morning. I still shake my head in disbelief.
Getting hastily back to the point: Samsung is about to release some TVs that are as much about how they look even before you turn them on. The first is one you might have seen already. It's the Frame.
What I like about this is that for decades we talked about a time when you could hang a TV on the wall like a picture. We've been tantalisingly close for some time to this ideal, but this is the best embodiment that we've seen: because it really does look like a picture. It's designed so that it sits flush against the wall, and there's a newly enlarged library of artwork with over 1000 pictures to choose from - specially curated from many of the world's top galleries. The sets feature Samsung's QLED panels, which should ensure a nice picture when they're being used as, you know, a TV.
(When we say "turned off" in this context, we mean "actually turned on, but showing some artwork or other, not a TV picture".)
Well, I just think this is gorgeous. The 2019 model, developed by industrial designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, also sports QLED technology. Ambient Mode, is a feature that provides information including news headines and weather updates, and you can upload ambient images to make it blend into the room.
Earlier models have been in furniture shops for a couple of years but the new model will be sold in consumer electronic retailers as well. It's an incredible mixture of minimalism, retro and futurism. It's what a 4K TV would look like in the Jetsons. It's not impossible to think that Apple could have done this if Samsung hadn't got there first. Best of all, it's a playful design that says "let's get away from boring, plain and generic".
Full marks to Samsung for these ideas which are stylish and different. Modern TVs are so big and dominating in the living room that we need some serious design flair to soften the monolithic presence of a typical big set. It will be fascinating to see how other manufacturers respond to these stylish developments.