Monday, May 13, 2013

Videosphere black and white television | Ryuzo Fujita | JVC (Victor Company of Japan) | 1970

On October 4, 1957, the course of history was changed forever with the launch of the Sputnik I artificial satellite.  Design aesthetics would radically shift, lockstep with a string of events that included the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961) and the first step of man on the moon (Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969).  This was the space age.  There was a public fascination with and demand for all things “space.”  Meanwhile, the emergence of novel plastic materials were making sleek and slick space age designs widely available. 

Buzz Aldrin on the moon JVC Videosphere space helmet television, model 3240

On the left is Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the Moon, with Neil Armstrong and the Eagle reflected in his visor.  On the right is a Videosphere Model 3240 television. Placed in the context of the time, it is no wonder the Videosphere television was designed with such a distinctive look. It is an object that is without doubt inspired by the space helmets of the 1960s. 

We’ll start the same way those involved in the space race started, with a vision on paper.  A concept rendering of the modern ball television.  This is a contemporary, and unfortunately undated, visual presentation of an idea for a modern television housed in a sphere.  The art is by Murray Stein, a commercial artist well-known especially for his many record album cover designs. It is drawn on illustration board and measures 15 by 20”.  While there is no indication of scale on the illustration, the televisions could easily be tabletop models.

The renderings below, and the references cited on the Videosphere patent, show the evolution of the idea for the “space helmet TV.”

Murray Stein spherical television artistic rendering

JVC was founded in Yokohama, Japan in 1927 as “The Victor Talking Machine Company of Japan, Limited” (日本ビクター株式会社, Nippon Bikutā Kabushiki-gaisha), a subsidiary of the Victor Talking Machine Company. In 1939, JVC was responsible for Japan's first locally-made television.

The Videosphere was targeted at a young demographic and was amongst the first televisions specifically marketed to be a second set for a child’s bedroom.

Picture from JVC Videosphere television information folder

Image source, and also an excellent photostream you need to check out:  teddy_qui_dit.  A page in an advertising folder shows a youngster lying on a pillow and comfortably watching a Videosphere.  It is written in German, French, and English and states:

Most definitely not for squares is this bright new black & white portable television receiver from JVC NIVICO, the 3240 Videosphere.  One of the smartest ideas yet in television design, the futuristic mod-pod is swivel mounted to let you catch all the goings-on of your favorite programs whether you’re sitting up, lying down or performing some office or household chore.  Any way you look at it, you’re presented with a full 38 sq. in. picture because it can be rotated a full 360 degrees.  Available in ivory and orange, the 3240 can be run on economical household current and is equipped with a DC 12V jack for automobile dashboard operation.  The “mod-pod” Videosphere from JVC NIVICO.  Pick one up soon.  You’ll have a ball.

*Rotates a complete 360 degrees for full-picture viewing from any position.
*JVC Quick Start convenience ensures instant pictures when the set is turned on.
*Chain for carrying or suspending the set.
*Choice of ivory and orange. 

Print advertisment for JVC Videosphere television

Image source: aediorama. A widely placed advertisement in the United States featured a person carrying the Videosphere by its chain (without the base) with the tagline, “Introducing a television that’s more fun than most of the shows you’ll see on it.” The copy of the ad reads:

     We call it the Videosphere.
     And it does a lot more than just look different.
     To begin with, this black and white television is portable. So it goes wherever you go. Even to places that don’t have electrical outlets, like the beach.
     In which case you can use it with a battery pack. (In fact, with our optional feature, you can even plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter.)
     And when you get there a special swivel base lets you adjust the set to where you’re sitting instead of the other way around.
     You can even tilt it up or down. So whether you’re lying on the floor or standing on a ladder you get a full view of the screen without any of the neck-craning that’s part of watching a conventional set.
     The Videosphere, with its 37 sq. inch screen, is available in black, white or orange.
     JVC also puts out a square black and white portable television that swivels and tilts like the Videosphere.
     If we can’t improve the shows you see on television, we can at least improve the television.

JVC America, Inc.
50-35 56th Road, Maspeth, New York, 11378

You could also get the Videosphere on a 10 day no risk trial.  Here it was $159.95 or $184.95 with the rechargeable battery pack.

Print advertisment for JVC Videosphere television

The Videosphere makes an appearance in the movie Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, released June 30, 1972.  It is North America – 1991. In Governor Breck’s office, a cassette is inserted into a black Videosphere unit by his assistant, MacDonald, and a color video plays.  Says the Governor, “This is a recording of the recommendations made to the then President of the United States by the chairman of the Presidential Committee.”  The back of Armando’s (played by Ricardo Montalbán) head is closest to you to the right of the frame.

JVC Videosphere prop from Conquest of the Planet of the ApesJVC Videosphere prop from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

Below is the almost comical discontinuity of the presentation of the video on the screen.  First it is square with rounded edges.  Then it is shown full screen, stretched wide.  Finally it is circular.

JVC Videosphere prop from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes JVC Videosphere prop from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes JVC Videosphere prop from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

A call to the police was made using a Videosphere as a video phone in the Woody Allen film Sleeper, released December 17, 1973.

JVC Videosphere prop from Sleeper

In 1974, renown video artist Nam June Paik used a white Videosphere Model 3240 for his art piece TV Buddha, a closed circuit video installation with bronze sculpture.  Image source:  Nam June Paik Studios.

JVC Videosphere in installation art TV Buddah by Nam June Paik

In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, released in 1997, a white Videosphere is on Austin’s jumbo jet.  A Weltron is by his bed.

JVC Videosphere prop from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

In 1999, a red Videosphere made an appearance in Sci-fi masterpiece The Matrix.  “Nearest exit, Franklin and Erie. An old TV repair shop.”  It’s featured in a dramatic and pivotal part of the movie.

JVC Videosphere prop from The MatrixJVC Videosphere prop from The Matrix

In 2003, a Videosphere Model 3240 GM graced the cover of Charlotte Fiell and Peter Fiell’s Industrial Design A-Z.

Industrial Design A-Z Icons

The JVC Videosphere was designed in house, presumably in 1969-70.  Ryuzo Fujita is named on the design patent.  The unit is a spherical, ABS plastic encased television with a smoked acrylic covering completing the sphere where the CRT (cathode ray tube) is inset.  The sphere part is 11-1/4” in diameter.  The base is 7-3/8” square by 2-53/64” height.  The unit weighs just over 11 pounds. It is immediately recognized as a space helmet with the smoked acrylic covering the television serving as visor.  JVC was responsible for other futuristic, space age designs around the same time, including the Model 8008 radio.

JVC Television set (Videosphere) design patent number 227,701

The first page of the United States “Television set” design patent, number 227,701, filed July 6, 1971 and granted July 10, 1973. Click the link or the image above to read the rest of the patent.

The references cited as part of the Videosphere patent are of particular interest.  Many are reminiscent of the space age, spherical case of the Videosphere.  The final reference, by inventor William Knox, Jr. is actually for an animal bed!

Patent No. Appl. Grant Inventor
D133,519 4/1941 8/1942 Dow
D160,131 10/1948 9/1950 Steinke
D172,790 9/1953 8/1954 Houlihan
D173,767 2/1954 12/1954 Schrader
D200,495 12/1963 3/1965 Dreyfuss
D209,710 10/1966 12/1967 Bruce
D224,233 2/1971 7/1972 Fujita
D224,792 1/1971 9/1972 Knox, Jr.

Videospheres were eventually made available in white, red, orange, green (rare), and black. Model 3240 was the television only on a standard plastic base. Model 3241 featured a flip alarm clock built into the base. Model 3250 was a later design that had a slide indicator dial and different controls at the top of the unit, and a different base. There were also slight differences between models intended for different geographic markets: AUL for Australia, GM for Europe, and UK for United Kingdom, for example.  The JVC name is often paired with Nivico (Nippon Victor Company), which was JVC’s overseas arm.

JVC Videosphere Model 3240 with box

JVC Videosphere Model 3240 with box.

Views of JVC Videosphere Model 3240 base separate from the television.  Image source:  eBay.co.uk.

Solid State sticker on Videosphere

“Solid State” sticker found on the screen of the JVC Videosphere.

JVC Videosphere logo on front of set

JVC Videosphere logo on the front of the set.

JVC Videosphere Model 3241 back

Back view of the JVC Videosphere model 3241. The cord from the back of the television receiver is a two blade, and can be plugged into the back of the timer unit, which is then plugged into the wall.  They can also be plugged into the wall separately.

JVC Videosphere Model 3240UK, back

Here is the back of a Model 3240 UK.  Image source:  eBay.co.uk.

JVC Videosphere controls

The top of the JVC Videosphere.  VHF and UHF television controls, and wheels that control power and volume (OFF-VOL), contrast (CONTRAST), and brightness (BRIGHT).

JVC Videosphere controls

Wider view of the top of the JVC Videosphere.  The above, plus the earphone port (EAR.), the chain that is used for hanging the television, and the antenna with cap.  The cap on the antenna is frequently broken off.

JVC Videosphere connectors 

Antenna connectors on the JVC Videosphere.  I have an antenna to coaxial cable adapter installed on mine.  Below is the manufacturing statement,  “MANUFACTURED AT YOKOHAMA PLANT VICTOR COMPANY OF JAPAN, LTD. 12,3-CHOME MORIYACHO KANAGAWA-KU, YOKOHAMA 221, JAPAN

JVC Videosphere power and 12V adapter port

The power cord for the JVC Videosphere.  Below the hardwired cord is a receptacle for the optional portable battery pack.  In the foreground of the picture is the antenna to coaxial cable adapter.

JVC Videosphere Warning



JVC Videosphere Vertical and Horizontal Holds

White horizontal hold (H. HOLD) and black vertical hold (V. HOLD) knobs.

JVC Videosphere 3421 Timer base, front

On the front of the Model 3241 base unit is a sleep knob, an alarm and time set knob, a wheel display for the alarm and a flip clock, a timer on/auto lever, and an alarm off/on lever.  A low wattage bulb illuminates the time display for nighttime viewing.

JVC Videosphere Model 3241 timer base, back

The text on the back of the Model 3241 base unit reads:

TIMER / 120V 60Hz 3.4W

OUTLET RATING / 360W / 120V 60Hz



Here is a video of the JVC Videosphere, which shows vintage advertisement and press coverage, original accessories, and details of the unit.  From son-of-solo.

JVC Videosphere green

Here is a Videosphere in the very rare green color, and with an unusual base.  Image source.

JVC Videosphere monochrome television servicing schematic

Blogger Travis Hydzik extensively covered his modding of a Videosphere into a fully updated “Computersphere.”  It is awesome.  The guts and individual components of the Videosphere are extensively illustrated.  He also graciously posted the electrical schematic and Service Manual for the original Videosphere Model 3240.

JVC Videosphere Model 3240 Service Manual

There is not much ancillary JVC Videosphere material that I have been able to find, other than a legacy of other similarly designed space helmet-like televisions.  The following is an exception.  Here is a spherical clock labeled with the Videosphere logo on the side, the JVC logo on top, and marked “JAPAN” both on the dial and the movement. 

eBay item 330912665881 ended May 1, 2013 at 19:02:39 PDT (United States). This clock generated considerable interest, with 8 bidders placing 14 bids. The clock sold for $101.00.  This clock was also featured as a vintage modern plastic item of the day during the week of April 29–May 5, 2013.


JVC. Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JVC.

JVC Videosphere.  Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O62328/jvc-videosphere-television-jvc-ltd/.

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