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SINCLAIR TELEVISIONS

 

Sir Clive Sinclair and I go way back and I first fell for one of his famously optimistic advertising campaigns back in the late sixties when I attempted to build several of his matchbox sized Micromatic transistor radios.

 

I had been aware of Clive Sinclair for some years; he wrote for magazines like Practical Wireless (that's him on the cover of the November 1958 edition) and produced succession a of booklets with plans for electronic gadgets; they rarely worked or relied on components that were virtually unobtainable…

 

The Micromatic was one of several radios produced by Sinclair’s Radionics company, before that there was the Slimline in 1963, the Micro 6 a year later and the Micro FM 1965 but at the time these were way beyond my modest means. I’m not sure that I could afford them now either, judging by the prices the few that come up on ebay have been fetching…

 

At about the same time -- the mid 1960's -- I remember seeing adverts in electronic magazines for a pocket TV called the Sinclair Microvision (right). This was spectacular stuff back then -- pocket transistor radios were still a novelty -- but it appeared to be a genuine product, there was even a price of 49 guineas mentioned on the adverts. Apparently several prototypes were built, using a 2-inch picture tube, but it was simply too complicated for its own good and never went into production.

 

Sinclair finally fulfilled his long held ambition to produce a pocket TV and the MTV1 Microvision  went on sale in 1976 ( see right). This was a revolutionary design, based around a tiny 2-inch cathode ray tube (CRT) made by Telefunken. What made it really special was the fact that it was the first (and I suspect still the only) multi-standard (525/625-line), multi system (VHF/UHF) portable TV.

 

It was eye-wateringly expensive and initially only sold in the USA for around $400, a huge sum back then. It later went on sale in the UK but it was just too expensive for general consumption and it slowly faded from view.

 

I have three of them, one working and two in bits that probably will work one day, when I get around to it. Even after almost 30 years the black and white picture is still crisp and steady and the sound from the tiny 1.75-inch speaker is surprisingly loud. The original internal rechargeable batteries have long since expired. They can be replaced with modern equivalents but I am loath to fit them as one day they might leak. These TV’s travelling days are long over now and the one that works functions quite happily on a mains adaptor.

 

I see fewer than half a dozen MTV1s on ebay each year and they can fetch quite high prices; £100 to £150 isn’t unusual -- particularly if they come with their original power supplies, manuals and detachable sun shield, and you can almost double the price for mint examples in their original box. Points to look out for are cracks in the front and rear case mouldings -- you’ll be lucky to fine one with the screen surround intact -- and check the telescopic aerial mount for scratch marks. This usually means it has developed a fault and someone has been poking around inside.

 

Although the MTV1 enjoyed only limited success Sinclair Radionics went on to develop a simpler and cheaper model this time a single standard (625-line UHF) design called the MTV1B (above). An overseas versions was also developed. It used the same 2-inch picture tube as the MTV1 but that was about as far as the similarities went. Inside there’s a single circuit board and it made use of an integrated circuit (ICs), which helped keep the size and weight down. It also had an all plastic case (the MTV1 was encased in metal) and instead of rechargeable batteries it ran on four AA cells in a battery holder that fits in a compartment next to the tube. 

 

The MTV1B sold reasonably well but it only lasted for a couple of years. Eventually the design was sold to Binatone in 1979 when Government funding for the project was withdrawn. Production didn’t stop immediately and a few Binatone badged models were made but I haven’t seen one for ages. There are still plenty of Sinclair MTV1s on ebay and you can occasionally find a bargain though in the main clean working examples sell for between £50 and £80, a small enough price to pay for a real piece of TV history. If you are thinking of buying one watch out for signs of case melt above the picture tube and scratch marks around the case shut-line and damaged or missing labels on the underside, which may indicate that someone -- possibly unskilled in the ways of these devices -- has tried to take it apart.

 

Sinclair’s final foray into the pocket TV market was the FTV1, a flat-screen TV launched in 1984. Unlike today’s flat-screen TVs, which use LCD screens, this one employed a bizarre ‘flat’ cathode ray tube. In a conventional CRT the electron gun is mounted behind a phosphor-coated screen; the tube used in the FTV1 has the electron gun at 90 degrees to the screen and the bean is ‘bent’ at right angles by electrostatic deflection plates. The CRT requires a very high voltage (around 500 volts) to drive it, and a good proportion of the circuitry is devoted to generating this voltage. To help keep the size and weight down the FTV1 uses a specially designed flat-pack battery, made by Polaroid. Unfortunately they were expensive, ran out quickly and sadly are no longer available, though batteries from Polaroid Vision/Joycam film cartridges will work in the FTV1

 

It’s an ingenious concept but coming as it did just a couple of years before cheap LCDs it was doomed to a short shelf life. FTV1s make frequent appearances on ebay and sell for as little as a fiver. The fact that the special batteries are no longer made limits their appeal to serious collectors but I suspect they could become sought after in a few years time.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Clive Sinclair and his amazing products can be found on the Planet Sinclair website at: www.nvg.ntnu.no/sinclair/contents.htm

 

 

 

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