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Sony Watchman, the story behind the world's smallest TV

I am not discovering anything new for you if I tell you that nowadays, watching television is not linked to watching it on the television. Many of us watch series, movies or television programs directly on the smartphone, on the tablet or on the computer. Their screens may be smaller, but their quality has little to envy current televisions. Carrying a device that allows you to watch television is nothing new. The miniaturization of technology has always been a desire of inventors and engineers. And in the 80s of the last century, the world was able to watch live television with a pocket device that worked on batteries. The Sony Watchman.

was born Today it may seem silly. But we are talking about the 80s. There are still no current thin LCD or LED screens (with their successive evolutions, OLED, QLED, AMOLED, etc. ), which make the TV a thickness of a few centimeters. In 1980, the televisions that you could buy used cathode tube technology , which required a considerable thickness that made the televisions practically cubic in shape. How to miniaturize a cube so that it fits in your pocket?

But if we talk about Sony, miniaturization is not a problem. From the laboratories of Sony came the Sony Walkman. And, later, the Discman. Moreover, the compact disc itself was born thanks to Sony. So if it's about shrinking a CRT TV into a cube, Sony should make it happen. But, first, let's see how it all started.

The birth of television

Television comes to American homes in the 1940s and 1950s. First in black and white. Color will have to wait until 1960. In Spain, the first television station broadcasts for the first time at the end of 1956. But it was not until the 1970s that this appliance became popular, until then with prohibitive prices for most. Be that as it may, television arrives to corner the radio, until then the main apparatus for information or entertainment. Radio soap operas and radio news give way to their equivalents on television. Or as the song by The Buggles says, Video Killed the Radio Star.

Returning to the United States. In the 1970s, cable television arrived. And in the following decade, 1980, it is already possible to record what you are seeing thanks to VCRs. On VHS or Betamax. But that is another story. The fact is that by 1980, television was already more than consolidated in practically the whole world. It is the star appliance around which families gather. And in some homes, it is already common to have more than one television, in the kitchen or in the bedrooms.

But unlike the radio, which you can carryin your car or in your pocket, the television is a household consumer appliance. First, because it needs electricity to work. Second, it requires a antenna of considerable dimensions to receive the video and audio signal. And, as I mentioned at the beginning, the televisions of that time were of the CRT type, with a considerable size.

One of the first Sony televisions. The 1959 8-inch TV-8 301.

Do you have it in small?

In a previous article I spoke at length about pocket televisions. Precisely, one of the first to manufacture them was Sony itself with its Sony TV8-301 from 1959, a 9-inch black and white television. Back then, home televisions could reach 21 inches. Along with Sony, other manufacturers created their own pocket TVs, such as Motorola, Panasonic or Sinclair. Between 1960 and 1980 several models with certain limitations will emerge. The main one, its little autonomy and its excessive weight. The Panasonic TR-001 from 1970, for example, weighed 890 grams, almost a kilogram.

All in all, a path will be opened in which flat screens, liquid crystal screens, miniaturized cathode tubes and, in practice, televisions of pocket that work connected to the current or by means of batteries or batteries type pocket. It will not be until the 1980s that pocket television models more in line with their name will emerge. They will work with AA type batteries, they will tune into the main television stations, and sometimes also radio stations. At first they will be in black and white, but little by little they will incorporate color or higher quality screens.

The Walkman sold more than 385 million units

Sony does it again

Sony's Walkman worked so well that by the 1980s it was already a household word. Walkman as a synonym for pocket device to play cassette tapes. It is not surprising that Sony wanted to take advantage of other product lines. Hence the launch of Watchman, a pocket device for watching television. Or as the title of an article in Popular Science from November 1982, a television to go anywhere (go-anywhere TV).

Precisely, this article talks about the new generation of pocket televisions, led by Sony, although other manufacturers are also mentioned, such as JVC, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sanyo and even General Electrical. The presentation says it all: small screens, tiny in size, with power requirements that give them autonomy and perfect for watching a live sporting event.

Various models of Watchman, displayed in the Takayanagi Memorial Hall on Campus Hamamatsu at Shizuoka University (Wikipedia) The Sony Watchman family emerges with the FD-210 model, which goes on sale in 1982. It is a black and white television (monochrome) , with a two-inch screen, a weight of “one pound” (453 grams in exchange) and measures 20 centimeters high by 9 centimeters long by 3 centimeters wide. Literally a pocket TV. It was first sold in Japan (54,800 yen) and soon arrived in the United States (350 US dollars). In Europe, the first Sony Watchman will hit stores in 1984.

It stood out for its flat screen, despite still using a cathode ray tube. And also because of its size. In the list of new generation pocket televisions published by Popular Science in November 1982, the smallest and most manageable is the Sony Watchman. The others are more reminiscent of the computers of the time or radio frequency equipment.

Life and evolution of Sony Watchman

Sony created more than 65 models of the Watchman family. Between 1982 and 2000. The FD-30 of 1984 stands out, which in addition to television allowed listening to FM/AM radio. The FD-40 and later models improved their image quality thanks to a 4-inch CRT screen. And if you had a pool or went to the beach, the FD-45 model from 1986 was ideal, as it offered water resistance. The mythical water resistant of the digital watches of the time. The FD-3 of 1987 also incorporated a digital clock to know the time and the model FDL-310 made another leap in quality thanks to its LCD screen. all colour. Although in general, these devices had a first transparent screen as a magnifying glass to enhance the image.

In addition to its functionalities, its appearance and design also had its variations, although all of them coincided in their measurements with other Sony products such as recorders or radio cassette players. Only the MEGA Watchman model left that line, a television that could no longer be considered pocket-sized, since although it was portable, its size was more suitable for use in the kitchen or in the garden, inside the house or not far away, in places where it was not possible to connect an antenna cable.

So for nearly twenty years, Sony designed, manufactured, and sold pocket-size televisions that doubled as portable radios. Ideal for an outing, an outing, or to watch sporting events during a lunch break, while at work. Situations that today we easily cover with our smartphone, the most direct modern equivalent. Of course, with the Watchman you had to unfold its antenna and try to tune correctly to the station you wanted to see, at the risk of the image being interrupted due to static or poor coverage.

What killed pocket television?

The Walkman was born in 1979 and ceased to be manufactured in 2010. More than 200 million of devices sold, only of the cassette type. In total, it is estimated that more than 385 million. And it is that, under the Walkman brand, compact disc players, portable radios and MP3 players were also sold. But in technology, everything advances very fast and some devices replace others. This is what happened to Sony's pocket TV, the Watchman.

The traditional Walkman was gradually being replaced by the Discman, MP3 players and mobile phones such as the Sony Ericsson range, which were mainly sold as a mobile phone. to listen to the radio and play digital music. The Watchman was beaten by the very evolution of television. That is, Digital Terrestrial Television, DTT.

In the United States, in 1996, a television signal was broadcast for the first time in digital format using this standard. On the other hand, cable television is very widespread. Dozens of stations only available by cable. Thus, cable and DTT are making the Watchman an increasingly obsolete device. And although it could have made the leap to DTT incorporating adapted receivers, their cost and size made them unfeasible for a pocket device. You only have to see the size of the first DTT tuners.

Another portable device that eventually took the Watchman off the market was the travel DVD player. The perfect device for many parents who have traveled with small children and have managed to keep their youngsters quiet during a long road, train or plane trip.

All in all, and although it did not have the same popularity as the Walkman brand, the Watchman pocket televisions had their loyal audience. Even though they ate AA batteries. Today it is possible to find second-hand copies for collecting. Of course, unfortunately, even if they work correctly they are of little use, since they cannot tune in to the current stations.