Zenith Color TV - Better than reality.

Throughout my many lives and careers, I've found that, when people know they're looking at a painting or illustration, their expectations change. People tend not to question a photograph (apart from obvious weirdnesses which are always attributed to digital manipulation). When looking at a piece of art, any discrepancies between what they see and when they expect are blamed on the artist, not their own brain. People want art to be idealized, and better than reality. So, sometimes, when photographing something kind of weird or "ugly", like electronics, they used to retouch the photograph to "plus up" the otherwise unappealing picture.
Zenith wanted to feature the build quality of their televisions. Trouble is, the guts of a TV aren't classically "beautiful", even when brand new and not covered in two inches of dust and cat hair. This photo was "improved" by an artist to make the metal components shiny and nice. They could have just done the whole thing as an illustration, but I'm 90% sure that, to save time and trouble, they started with a photograph and had an artist touch it up to beautify it.

I'm guessing that most of the components in TVs weren't chrome plated. Lots of the time, parts that are all function and no form are  zinc plated, nickel plated, or given some other protective coating to fend off corrosion. These coatings can look very nice if the part is polished or otherwise prepared before plating, but if they're going to spend their life hidden inside a TV, why go to the trouble? So, electronic components aren't always pretty to the non-geeky observer. The parts in this TV look like they're all polished and chrome plated. Instead of actually making a prop TV with shiny parts (which would be time consuming and expensive), they took a photo of the inside of a regular TV, brand new off the production line. Then, the photo was handed to an artist, and over the course of maybe a day or two, it was painted to look like jewelry.

 This was a pretty common practice in tool catalogs and stuff like that, but for different reasons. Machine parts and tools are often dull, and don't photograph well. It can be hard to make out the details in a photo of a steel tool unless you spend a little time adjusting the lighting to flatter the subject matter. So, it was pretty standard practice to paint up the photos to improve the clarity of the picture. Wouldn't it have been faster and cheaper to just add more lights around the photo shoot? Maybe, but then you'd spend time rearranging them or moving them around when you switch from shooting big things to small things. I guess it was simpler to have a really quick artist zip through the prints with a little white paint and an airbrush.

Here are a couple of tools from an old DoAll catalog. The one on the left has been retouched. The one on the right was printed as-is. Apart from the fact that the thing on the right seems to have a black coating to prevent rust, and the one on the left is bare steel, you can tell that the tool on the left reads better, because all the sheens and highlights have been exaggerated by the artist. This makes it easier for the customer to see what they're buying.

Zenith seems proud of the fact that their TVs had "no printed circuits". I don't quite have the engineering background to figure this one out, but weren't printed circuits better? I mean, don't printed circuit boards have a lower failure rate, due to the fact that they reduce the number of individual parts? Maybe someone with an engineering degree can contribute some wisdom in the comments? That'd be appreciated.

Zenith was swimming against the tide when they turned up their nose on circuit boards. They became the standard, because they are part of the reason that TVs last longer than we want them to. My old 32" CRT television was still working when I replaced it with a much bigger flat screen. My old TV must weigh 200 pounds. It nearly destroyed the suspension on my car when I drove it over to my mom's house to give it to her. It's still going strong over at Mom's, but the foundation on her house is cracking under the load.

It can also be said that printed circuits are part of the reason TVs can't always be repaired now. You can't really swap out a part. You just replace the whole circuit board, which is generally more expensive and troublesome than replacing the whole TV. Would it be better to have televisions that were easier to work on, but require much more frequent service calls?

Hmm. Could it be that nothing is wholly good or bad? Are we living in an inherently complicated world with no clear answers that places the burden of decision on every individual whether they like it or not? Impossible. Television couldn't be that wrong.

UPDATE: Holy crap the girl in the red sweater is hot! No retouching necessary.

Click for big.


Anonymous said...

While I know absolutely zero about TV electronics or printed circuit boards, I totally concur with your update. That girl in the red sweater is smokin' HOT.

Anonymous 2

Steve Miller said...

Got a date on this ad? I'm guessing circa 1960 -- a few years either way. Circuit boards then were quite different from today's multi-klayered thingies. The boards from Zenith's competitors are a different substrate and more subject to developing a crack than the glass reinforced boards used today. That crack might be more difficult to discover than, say, a cold solder joint left by Zenith's hand-crafting process.

Other than the board, Zenith's and the competitor's televisions were pretty much the same. The same tubes, the same resistors, the same coils and capacitors... but I'll bet the Zentih was a bit more expensive, since the PC board construction was at least semi automated, though it may have been little more than floating the board across a molten solder bath rather than attacking each solder joint with a hand-held iron.

And Zenith had to pay Paul Harvey to say, "Zenith -- the quality goes in before the name goes on." (Genius copywriting, BTW.)

Next installment, my life in a television factory, followed by the installment wherein I draw the pictures for TV set ads, followed the installment where I retouch photos of plastic pail closures.

I wish there was an installment of my life with the beautiful girl in red!

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Thanks for backing me up on the Girl In Red issue, gentlemen. It's great to have your support.

And Steve, thanks for the critical data upload. Holy crap! You're an asset to this organization. Whatever I'm paying you, consider it doubled. No no, you've earned it.

Thanks guys!


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