During my recent cleaning/organizing/searching/digging jaunts, some rewards of which were detailed in my last post, I also gained the opportunity to liberate some of the electronics I’ve had stacked, buried, etc., as well. Oh I knew well enough where and what they were beforehand; it’s just that they were buried under enough random crap that mustering up the energy to dig ’em out from whatever I had piled on top of ’em wasn’t going to happen on the spur of the moment. (In other words, I couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm.)
Still, since I wound up moving, shifting and/or replacing the precarious mounds of stuff that had accumulated over the years, there was no time like the present to unearth some of these specimens. And so, now I present to you a vintage TV so cool, I honestly should have written about it sooner. (Hindsight and all that jazz.)
Get a load of this:
It’s the Magnavox 19C503 color TV, manufactured in April of 1985, and just as it assuredly was 35 (!) years ago, it continues to be “hip,” “radical,” “boss,” “with it,” “the living end,” and any other number of trendy and up-to-date positive adjectives you can think to throw at it.
Where did I get this dandy example of 1980s electronic craft? A few years ago, Goodwill had a whole bunch of CRT (that’s “Cathode Ray Tube” to you, pal) TVs laid out for cheap buck bills. We’re talking literally $1-$3 apiece here. Whether it was one massive donation, a serious backlog of stock or what, I do not know, but it was obvious that they had a lot of old television sets and they wanted ’em gone right quick. This was well, well after the switch to digital, and TVs like these weren’t really showing up with any sort of frequency anymore anyway (I’m not sure they even accept CRT TVs as donations nowadays – at least not in my parts), so in retrospect this ended being a last hurrah of sorts.
I’ll never forget that while I was there perusing all this (and I do believe I already had this 19C503 loaded up in my cart), there was some dude there borderline flipping out over these bargains, as was made clear by his excited cellphone conversation. He even turned to me, mentioned the prices and uttered “you just can’t beat it” like we were sharing a moment or something.
ANYWAY, the 19C503: at first glance it doesn’t look too far off from any number of other TVs from around that period. Faux woodgrain sides, digital buttons, a screen size that measures about 18 or 19 inches diagonally; it’s not super heavy, but bulky enough that moving it around is hassle. It’s not a low-end television, and certainly not a portable, but also probably not what would have been considered a top-tier model, either.
Oh, and also, I can’t find much of anything about it online, either. Searches bring up service manual listings, but no real descriptive info, and certainly no pictures. Not that I saw anyway, and I sure looked. I’m not naive enough to believe I’ve got a super rare item or internet exclusive here, but, well…?
You know what attracted me first and foremost to this TV? Those cool diagonal power & channel buttons, that’s what! They just look neat, and even if it’s merely a cosmetic touch, the design absolutely screams “1980s!” to me. It’s not a big enough deal to make me drop $50 (or $20, or maybe even $10) on it, but $1, $2 or $3 (I honestly can’t remember exactly)? Oh there’s no way it wasn’t going home with me at that price. Aesthetically pleasing and a cool example of vintage electronics, that’s about all it takes!
(The slidey volume control is nice too, I just don’t have much to say about it.)
Of course, does the bulk and fairly big footprint it makes justify that price? The answer resides with the individual, but hey, I can live with it. I am living with it.
The flash on my camera makes it hard to see, but the moniker “DIGITAL CONTROL SYSTEM” is stamped on the door of the picture adjustment compartment. Highfalutin! That makes it sound like it should reside on the Enterprise or something. I like to imagine Picard watching Jeopardy! on this TV.
Of course the DIGITAL CONTROL SYSTEM door drops down to provide more options to enhance your television viewing experience. Not a ton of options, mind you; just the expected sharpness/brightness/picture/tint/color knobs you’re looking at here. While I wish there was more to make me feel like I was really controlling a battle station, I guess technically you don’t need much else.
Also, as per the sticker seen inside the door, automatic fine tuning is enabled when you turn the channel and then turn it right back. Handy!
Obviously it’s kind of a spartan set-up where options are concerned, and that continues on to the back of the TV…
No, I’m not taking a picture of the whole back, just the “essentials.” That’s not good enough for you? Nothing I ever do is right.
There’s not a whole lot here. Besides the model and serial number stickers, there’s the option to give this TV stereo capability, provided you, uh, had a stereo to hook it up to. Also, an RF jack, but except for the red audio jack for the stereo, no AVs to speak of, which further leads me to believe this was more of a “middle tier” television.
Oh, and a power cord; it’s got one of those, too. That’s how you give it juice to turn on, man!
(I clearly don’t have a whole lot else I can say here.)
See, manufactured April 1985. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. And as you can see, it’s a fine American product, assembled in Greeneville, TN, US of A; apparently they had (have?) a plant there.
(I clearly don’t have a whole lot else I can say here.)
We’ll get to the functionality of this TV momentarily, but let me just jump ahead here and say that I like it, a lot. I liked it in the first place obviously, but now I’m wanting to make it a “gaming TV.” Not that I don’t have those already, but this one, I’d like to just tuck it away with one old school console always hooked up to it, at the ready for whenever a particular whim of vintage video gaming strikes me.
Only problem there was that after a bit of usage, the “old TV smell” this thing began to emit started to get to me. It’s a common phenomenon, I briefly talked about it before (in this old post), and *I* attribute it to the decades of dust, dirt and I-don’t-want-to-know-what-else that has accumulated within it being ‘activated’ once the set really starts to warm up. An expert will probably come along and tell me I’m wrong – in which case, what’s the solution? (To the TV smell, not me being wrong, I mean.)
Since I don’t want this thing stinking up the room I tentatively plan to house it in, I decided to go the extra mile and clean the insides of this baby out.
Now, I admit, this is something I should be doing with most or even all of the old electronics I bring home. Besides just being good care for the unit itself, it would also eliminate the possibility of insidious bugs inadvertently being brought into my home. I’ve thus far been lucky on that front (to the best of my knowledge anyway), and while the period where this thing would’ve been housing something particularly nefarious has probably long passed, I still wanted to attempt to eliminate the possible cause of that smell as best I could.
A trip outside with some compressed air revealed that it actually wasn’t too bad inside, though there was certainly enough dust and whatnot to warrant the effort. And, since I can’t find any pictures of the outside of this TV online, and since I had the back off anyway, what say we take a quick look at the inner workings of this beast while we’re here. It’ll be fun?
(DISCLAIMER: I don’t know much about the inner workings of CRT TVs, but I *do* know enough to know that tubes can hold a charge for looong after the TV is last plugged in/powered up, and that’s in addition to whatever other dangers may be present. In other words, please do NOT go messing around with the mechanics of old televisions – or any vintage electronics for that matter- if you don’t absolutely and positively know what you’re doing. Stay safe and leave it to the professionals! In my case here, I wasn’t exactly goofing around in there anyway, but even so, I was very cautious to not mess with any of the ‘important’ stuff.)
Plastered in the very back of the, uh, back was this handy diagram detailing…well, I really have no idea what it’s detailing, but it’s safe bet that it’s pertinent info for those with actual knowledge of the subject. (Quite a leap in my guesswork, huh?)
See that C 3-8-5 scrawled on the side there? What’s it mean? March 8, 1985? Or something else?
Rest assured, that grime you’re seeing on the bottom vent there was duly cleaned off with turpentine.
There are the main guts. There’s the speaker to the left, and the screen, and…and…and I really have no idea what I’m looking at otherwise, okay? The diagram probably pertains to all of this, but as previously mentioned, I don’t know what I’m looking at there, either. I know enough to know I shouldn’t go poking around in any of it though. Deciding this would be the ideal location to play tiddlywinks wouldn’t end well for me.
I was initially a little concerned that blowing compressed air directly at any of this would cause something to break/falter/etc., but it actually all looked pretty solid. I was able to get as much dust out as I could, and even a piece of styrofoam that probably shouldn’t have been in there was removed.
(Hopefully someone will chime in and let me know if something looks like it’s gone bad and will cause permanent damage to whatever.)
One more ‘guts’ shot, though this is really just some of the stickers on the inside, erm, side. I hope I didn’t void the warranty by opening this! I imagine the warning sticker lets me know, in strict legalese, that I shouldn’t go licking any of the electronics. That wouldn’t end well for me, either.
(DISCLAIMER AGAIN: Seriously folks, do NOT mess around with the mechanics of old televisions – or any vintage electronics for that matter- if you don’t fully know what you’re doing. PLEASE stay safe and leave it to the professionals!)
Okay, so even before I decided to clean out the inside of the TV, I knew I had to test this as best as I could. Hooking up a VCR would be more of a hassle than I was willing to tolerate, and I don’t have a digital converter box so real TV viewing was out. Naturally that left me with only the option to retro game, which should come as no surprise, since I already told you my intentions for this TV. Why aren’t you paying attention to my words?!
When I first got it, I’m not sure I realized the TV was from 1985. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention and just missed the sticker on the back, or maybe I had just forgotten in the few years since I picked the 19C503 up. Either way, I had a vague “early 1980s” definition floating around my head. As such, in regards to what I wanted to keep hooked up to it on a consistent basis, I was thinking along the lines of something hailing from around 1982/1983. Not necessarily something introduced in those years, just a console that was big enough to have a decent library by then.
Of course, now that I know the TV is from ’85, the easy answer is to hook a Nintendo Entertainment System up to it and let it ride. But, I don’t know, the woodgrain sides and general look of the unit still screams “early 80s American console” rather than “mid-80s” to me. Luckily, I have a console that fits both criteria…
Yes, it’s the INTV System III! And if it just looks like an Intellivision to you, that’s because that’s exactly what it is.
Y’see, thanks to the 1980s video game crash, Mattel wound up dropping the Intellivision line, but the rights were then purchased by a group eventually deeming itself INTV, and with that continued support came new games in production, and therefore new consoles were also needed. Thus the INTV System III was born – in 1985!
Really, it’s just a normal Intellivision, except with a new nameplate and the gold & fake woodgrain color scheme changed to silver & black. Otherwise, same design, same games, and same uncomfortable controllers that hailed from 1979 (or 1980 nationwide, as per Wikipedia).
This was given to me as a birthday gift a few years ago (pre or post 19C503? I ain’t remember!). I already had an original Intellivision, but it was stored away, and I had been wanting a good ‘playing’ console anyway, so that’s what the INTV System III became. Being able to get so reacquainted with it, it eventually shot up to be included in my personal top 10 favorite systems. It doesn’t make top 5, but top 10, definitely.
It was my initial intention to pair the INTV System III up with the 19C503 anyway, so what better way to, you know, test out the TV first?
Does it work? Why sure it does! The picture above sez so! And yes, the display on this TV is still very, very nice. I mean, the picture is really good! And the sound? Nice and clear and loud. Also, dig the inviting bright red channel number the TV displays – why, that’s also worthy of the Enterprise!
What you’re seeing played is the Intellivison staple Star Strike, a game that attempted to emulate the final Death Star battle in Star Wars at home. (Hey, who didn’t want to pilot an X-Wing and blow that thing up?) The idea is to bomb several ports in a scaling, Death Star-esque trench while avoiding/destroying enemy ships; hit all the ports and y’all win. Get killed before doing so or not hitting all the ports before the timer reaches zero, and the earth gets blowed up.
For a 1982 game, the graphics are undoubtedly impressive; Star Strike looks terrific, plain and simple. However, I’ve never been a big fan of the gameplay itself; not that it’s bad, but there’s just never been enough to it for me. Still, it sure looks great!
Anyway, things look and sound quite fine on the 19C503 – but it didn’t exactly start out that way. The TV powered right up, but it took a moment for sound to kick in, even though the only thing being displayed was static. And when I hooked the INTV up, at first all I got was a black & white picture – something worthy of dismayed mental “OH NO!”
I undoubtedly tested the TV at the Goodwill, but of course it probably hadn’t been used, really used, regularly in years. After it warmed up a little, the sound kicked in, and after a game was started, it only took minute or so for the color to pop right back. I guess it just took a bit for the TV’s synapses to fire back up!
(Though after all that, the sound of static, when turning the channels, at first it’ll be low before quickly going to full volume, and it happens every time. I actually don’t think it’s a fault on the TV; because it’s so consistent and because there haven’t been any other audio problems, I think it’s acting normally. Maybe it’s that automatic fine tuning, even though there’s nothing to actually tune in?)
After it got going, the only real fault on the TV’s part was the aforementioned smell,and after the cleaning, I’m still getting a little of it, but it’s much better. Maybe more usage is all it needs?
Indeed, after everything got up and running, my only real disappointment had nothing to do with the TV, but rather, the INTV. I was getting some noticeable video interference whenever certain sound effects played, but it turns out that’s normal. It’s a little annoying, but doesn’t render anything unplayable. My only worry there is that during all this last night, the interference got even more noticeable than it was earlier in the evening, and that definitely concerns me. Is my INTV System III on its way out? I hope not, but it’s not like I’ll be pitching it if it does; it’s too neato!
Plus, it’s not like it has to stay hooked to the 19C503; I’d like to keep it there, sure, but should it go kaput, I could always replace it, or find a 4-switch woodgrain Atari 2600 somewhere (the one that seems most fitting to this TV to me, for some reason).
But for now, the TV seems to be fine; it looks good, it sounds good, it’s got a terrific mid-80s aesthetic to its design, and once the old TV smell (hopefully) works its way out, it’ll be ready to be put in a place of honor. Not bad for only a few bucks at Goodwill!