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Collecting Philco Predicta Televisions

philco predicta television

“It’s truly TV today, from the world of tomorrow… it’s 1965… today!”

This line from the 1958 Philco television ad exclaiming that the new Predicta model TV was “the most excitingly new concept in the history of television!” At the time, 1965 was a mere seven years away, and the announcer seemed confident that the Predicta was the television “wave of the future.”

Too bad the Philco company itself didn’t survive to see 1965. It filed for bankruptcy in 1960 and ceased operations in 1961. By 1965, half of all network television programming was broadcast in color, so the black-and-white Predicta would have needed a design update to last even that long. By the 1980s, even low-power, small-market television stations had switched to color programming. Black-and-white TVs became dump fodder.

But not the Philco Predicta. The Predicta’s unique design has insured its place in the history of televisions. It has become a favorite with collectors, and there were so many of them sold from 1958-60 that thousands of them are still around. Consequently, no Predicta models are particularly rare and prices remain reasonable. Unrestored, cosmetically attractive Predictas can be found for a few hundred dollars or less; restored models have sold between $900 and $3,750 at auction in recent years.

Last week I visited Knob Fork Antiques in Galax, Va., and found a console model Predicta set up and operational. Owner Molly Warr demonstrated the model for me; it was set up to play using a DVD player rather than a broadcast antenna. It took a while for the set to warm up, but once it did, we watched a few minutes of the black-and-white ’50s sitcom “Ozzie and Harriet.”

In its heyday, Predictas were offered in both wooden and metal cabinets in seven models, including table-top and console versions. Some were equipped with rare UHF tuners in addition to the standard VHF tuners. Seventeen- and 21-inch screen sizes were available. The Predicta’s nearly flat screen could swivel side-to-side and up-and down on a fixed base. The screen of the Predicta Penthouse model could even detach from its base and be moved elsewhere in a room (at least as far as the cable would extend).

Predicta’s screen configuration was the core of its technology and its style. But, it was also the cause of many consumer complaints. In order to achieve its nearly-flat screen, the picture tube incorporated a high deflection angle. This angle caused the vertical hold to be unstable and the picture to roll. Each time a channel was changed, the hold had to be re-adjusted.

Consequently, Predictas were unreliable in the field; some people even refer to it as “the Edsel of televisions” (nevertheless, vintage car enthusiasts are quick to point out that Edsels are still very collectible). In fairness to Philco, 1950s electronics were often problematic. Electronic appliances in the 1950s were generally a mix of older (but reliable) tube technology and newer printed circuit boards. Predicta circuit boards were prone to overheating and the televisions were difficult to service. Consequently, Predictas had a high rate of returns and warranty service problems. Today’s restored models are fairly reliable, because most restorers are conscientious and take pride in their work.

One complication in using a 55-plus-year-old Predicta today is that broadcast standards have changed. Today, almost all television stations broadcast a digital signal, and Predicta (and all other old televisions) were built for an analog signal. It’s possible to pick up a broadcast signal on the Predicta with a converter box; simply connect the box to the TV’s antenna source to pick up a broadcast signal. Converter boxes are available at many retailers for less than $50.

Another way to enjoy a vintage Predicta is to hook it up to a DVD player or a VHS tape player. Using a digital signal source, such as DVD or VHS, results in a more stable picture on vintage Predictas. DVD players will have to be attached to the TV antenna connection via an RF (radio frequency) modulator; these are available online for $20 to $30. VHS players have RF modulators built in, so no extra equipment is needed. An added bonus of playing VHS tapes is that they are widely available and very cheap. They can be found at thrift stores for about fifty cents each.

Predictas have been so popular over the years that in 1996 Telstar Electronics acquired the rights to Predicta patents and began to manufacture reproductions of the televisions using modern digital technology. The sets, known as Telstar Predictas, were full color, cable-ready and available in all the popular Predicta styles and colors. Telstar Predicta ceased production in 2011 when high-definition televisions hit the market.

Because the Telstars use more modern technology while having all the style of the original Predictas, they are also popular with collectors, selling in the $1,500-$2,000 range. It’s important to note that while searching for a Predicta, determine whether the model under consideration is an original Philco Predicta or a reproduction Telstar Predicta.

Previously published by WorthPoint.com

Originally posted 2015-11-03 11:35:14.

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