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Video: Traveling Light in Lilliput

4 minute read

Sony’s wee Watchman makes viewing a moveable minifeast

Good evening, this is your anchorman, Harry Hairspray, with the Six O’clock News. Tonight’s top story: VIDEO GOES VEST POCKET.

“You are no doubt wondering why my voice seems so tinny and my head is smaller than a peanut. That is because you have tuned in on the new Sony Watchman, the slender, hand-held TV set no larger than a walkie-talkie. Even at $349.95, Watchman was one of the hottest (and hardest to find) novelties in the stores this holiday season. Those mini-masters at Sony who shrank stereo music three years ago into the oft-imitated Walkman have scored again with this 19-oz. marvel and its 2-in. screen.

“The company has shipped all 10,000 of the Watchmans imported so far, and American distributors despair of getting enough to fill their back orders. Reason: the Japanese are buying the Lilliputian sets in such quantities (more than 5,000 per month) that the U.S. market remains on Sony’s back burner. The company can use all the sales it can get. Profits for its most recently reported quarter fell sharply. Watchman is bound to help. ‘Every piece we get we could sell 20 times,’ says Sony’s Miami-based Southeast regional manager, Barry Mitchell. In Dallas, Neiman-Marcus Merchandise Manager Robert Ackerman describes the Watchman as ‘a sellout in every one of our 18 stores.’

“Even though I look very small, you will have noticed by now that my black-and-white image is sharp and clear whether you are using batteries or the plug-in adapter provided with the set. A number of small-screen TVs are now on the market, but none can match Watchman’s remarkable compactness. The ⅝%-in.-thick picture tube achieves its thinness through a significant technological twist. Instead of beaming electrons from some distance behind the tube face, as do conventional sets, Watchman’s emitting gun rests alongside the tube and shoots the electrons across it. The picture is then pulled into view by powerful minimagnets.

“Sony plans to adapt this technology to large-screen formats. The dream—or the nightmare—of a TV set the size and thinness of a painting hanging on the living-room wall may soon be a reality. In fact, the West German firm of Siemens AG, using a different technology, has built a prototype 14-in. screen just 2.3 in. thick. The prototype will have a more immediate application as a computer accessory than as a home TV screen. But one slender advantage is already possible: the Siemens screen can be folded up for storage or transport.

“Meanwhile, Sony expects the Watchman to alter, or at least extend, any number of viewing habits. People can gaze at the gadget on the beach, carry it into stadium stands to catch instant replays, use it for soap-opera breaks while at school or work, or take it along on car trips. Predicts Warren Zorek, the manager of the consumer electronics department at Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan: A color version should be on the way before too long, and it isn’t farfetched to foresee hand-held video-game attachments and personal computer compatibility.’

“The portability of the Watchman, of course, is not without its dangers, especially for those who try to view it while driving a car or walking down the street. Jack A. Kapchan, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami, warns that ‘Watchman will simply give those who are psychologically dependent on TV more access, producing distraction and more escape from reality.’ And one final warning from me, Harry Hairspray. Please keep the children’s gerbil away from the set. When you’re this small, you must be careful. Good night, and have a tiny tomorrow.”

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