1. Massive Luxury Kuba Komet, 1957-1962
How cool is this midcentury modern TV console? Shaped like a sailboat, it features an upper section that rotates like a sail on a mast so you can tilt the 23-inch screen in the desired direction. The lower cabinet holds additional multi-media features with a pull-out, 4-speed phonograph, a TV tuner and a multi-band radio receiver.
2. First Publicly Available Russian TV, 1932
The first television set that was available to the public in Russia looks exactly like you would expect – basically, as if it were a piece of military equipment.
3. GE Performance Television, 1978
Once upon a time, having a gigantic ugly faux-wood-covered box in your living room was considered a sign of prestige. The GE Performance Television is about as ridiculous as it gets, especially since the picture was terrible owing to the fact that it was essentially just a regular TV tube flipped and back-projected onto that giant screen. GE marketed it as “a super-size TV with a picture three times as big as a 25-inch diagonal console and the ‘chairside convenience’ of random access remote control.”
4. Zenith CBS Mechanical Color Wheel, 1948
Before ‘real’ color TVs were available, CBS labs came up with this contraption – essentially a black-and-white television equipped with a spinning mechanical wheel of red, blue and green filters that added color to the picture seen on the screen. CBS was all ready to start selling these things when RCA protested that an all-electronic color system (which they were researching, but had not yet developed) would make more sense. Ultimately, the Zenith design was briefly used as a teaching tool for surgery, but never sold to the public.
5. Phillips Discoverer Space Helmet TV, 1991
This novelty television didn’t really do anything special – it just looks cool, modeled after a space helmet with a closing lid.
6. Depression-Era TV Concept with Home Shopping and a ‘Like’ Button, 1935
This concept was just a pipe dream from the beginning, but it’s a fascinating look at what innovators thought was possible for the future back when America was in the depths of the Great Depression. Sci-fi publisher Hugo Gernsback envisioned a system that’s a combination TV, radio, newspaper and home shopping device. The idea is that communication would go both ways, enabling people at home to give broadcasters instant feedback on what was playing via applause, pressing a certain button to indicate approval or instantly ordering what was shown on the screen.
7. Semivisor by Rene Barthelemy, 1928
8. Marconiphone Television 702, 1937
This British television set, the Marconiphone, has a 12-inch screen mountaineer vertically inside a wooden cabinet, with the image reflected onto a mirror. There’s no way to change the channel, because it only had one channel when it was made: the BBC. A working model sold at auction in London in 2011 for $27,500.
9. Sonora Sphinx, France, 1949
Leave it to the French to design a television set that looks like a piece of Art Noveau decor. The Sonora Sphinx features a case made of painted aluminum; it’s virtually impossible to find one today.
10. Phonola Marziano TV, Italy, 1957
Named the ‘Marziano’ (Italian for Martian), this stylish and futuristic TV set features a screen rising up from a minimalist wooden cabinet in which all of the controls were hidden. They were manufactured for five years, but only a few are known to still exist.
11. Teleavia Panoramic III, 1957
That same year saw a similar design, this one in sleek black and gold. The Teleavia Panoramic III wouldn’t look entirely out of place in a modern living room. A surviving set sold for thousands at auction recently, with a starting bid of over $6,439.
12. 2-Piece Portable TV, 1958
This ‘portable’ TV featured in Popular Science in 1958 had a long cable connecting the screen to the cabinet, so it could be moved around the room.
13. The Flying Saucer/Eyeball TV, 1960s
This micro-TV was known as ‘The Eyeball’ or ‘The Flying Saucer’ back when it was available in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The screen measures just five inches.