WATCHMAN

DescriptionPortable video watching device
ManufacturerSony
Time Period
Components2
DetailsModel #FD-20A. DC 6V average 2.2W
Manufactured November 1983 in Japan
Accompanied by imitation leather case
DimensionsDevice body: 16 x 8 x 3 cm
Height of antennae: 45 cm
Full extended height: 61 cm
Carrying case, unfolded: 30 x 9 x 3.5 cm
LocationUCL Cabinet of Obsolete Media
Inventory nºUCL201736

There are many implications of the term “obsolete,” ranging from prehistoric, dead, no longer in production, passe, anachronistic. For the context of this description, “obsolete” or “obsolescence” will refer to the discontinuation of technological devices. Regarding the notions of existence, technology will always progress from its former. Technology continues to circulate and advance to meet the needs of cultural temporality. A functional example is the cathode-ray-tube (CRT) technology used in the Watchman, the world’s first portable television set.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s Sony, the dominant Japanese electronic corporation, released its first compact handheld television: the Watchman. Its name was meant to be a pun on the latter cassette media player, the Walkman. The FD-210 was Sony’s first model, with a five-centimeter grey-scale display. Several years later Sony released a color model, the FDL-PT222, with an active-matrix LCD flat panel display and a 2.2-inch color screen. In general, the various models consisted of: a bright and high-contrast picture screen display, a built-in AM/FM stereo tuner, channel call indicator, built-in speaker, earphone, pull out cartridge for AA batteries, carrying pouch, velcro hand strap, and a plastic prop to facilitate easy viewing. Some versions are known to include High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), Universal Serial Bus (USB), and Secure Digital (SD) ports and screen sizes typically vary from 1.5-inches on the early models to even 5-inches on the later models. The entire rectangular device is approximately 12-inches long and 4-inches deep.

The Watchman and miniscule CRT technology were new horizons for tech advancement. The CRT is the precursor of the liquid-crystal display (LCD) technology. When the Watchman was released, circa the 1980s, LCD was not yet mature – this is an amusing contrast when considering our current dependence on LCD technology. However, during the 1980s the Watchman was the smallest CRT technology on a commercially marketed product and defined revolutionary growth within the technological sphere.

Sony discontinued production of the Watchman in the year 2000 when it officially became categorized as obsolete. It is worth questioning however, why the Watchman can be defined in terms like, “revolutionary growth” – despite the fact that it was shortly discontinued after its release. The answer lies within CRT technology and how from this, society was able to progress to more highly advanced models of television, which became the ideal medium for culture-based information disbursement. Korean-American artist Nam June Paik famously incorporated the CRT technology of Sony televisions in various forms and sizes throughout his art practice. In the notion of the former and the latter and their binary dependence for existence, the Watchman (the former) had to exist in order to set the precedence for technologies representative of the new millennium (the latter). The Watchman’s CRT display was the precursor to not only LCD flat screen technology but also global communication devices, which underscore the importance of conceptual technological advances.

S.C.