Thursday 25 October 2018

Apple Macintosh TV (1993)

Apple Macintosh TV
Launched October 1993

Some inventions seem obvious from a technical point of view, but often they fail to understand how real-world customers use products. Take the Apple Macintosh TV, a clever bit of technology which was launched 25 years ago this month as an example.

Apple had partnered with Sony to put Trinitron CRTs into their Macintosh line since the later 1980s, and their contemporary LC500 series of computers contained a 14” Trinitron display. So, somebody somewhere must have thought that it would be a good idea to allow the Trinitron display to be used as a normal TV as well as a computer monitor.

The Macintosh TV included an integrated TV tuner card and a both an antenna port and a composite video-in port, so it could be used with over-the-air and compatible cable and/or satellite systems. Technical limitations of the early 90s hardware meant that you couldn’t display the TV picture in a window, it would only work in full screen mode. However, you could capture video stills and save them to the computer.

But perhaps the best thing about the Macintosh TV was the colour. Standard Macs were a “Platinum” colour, but the Macintosh TV was all black, including a black keyboard and mouse. It looked much cooler than a standard Mac, but sadly it was just a little bit slower and less expandable.

It was also expensive ($2100) compared to other similar Macs which rather eroded any cost savings by not having a TV. But perhaps the biggest problem was the whole concept – just because a computer has a display, it does not mean that people want to watch TV on it. TVs and computers tend to be in very different parts of the house for different functions, and although it might fit well into a college dorm room or teenager’s bedroom, the price-tag would prove a major hurdle.

During the year-and-a-half it was on the market, the Macintosh TV shipped just 10,000 units, seemingly limited to North America. These days they are a pretty rare find, with typical prices being about $700 or so.

Image credit: Ben Boldt via Wikimedia Commons

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