Beyond the Black Box

Stroll through any large store that sells audio and video equipment, and it's mind-numbing how similar the products in each category look. If you close your eyes, point to any receiver or DVD player, and guess "black and boxy," you'll almost certainly be right.

Conventional wisdom dictates that there are good reasons why A/V design is so homogeneous. Living with a chartreuse CD player and a fuchsia receiver doesn't exactly make for a calming home environment. If a manufacturer decides to add a hump to a DVD or CD player just to be shocking, as TeraOptix did with its Terapin CD audio/ video recorder, you won't be able to stack anything on top of it. Rather than calling attention to themselves, home-entertainment components are supposed to blend in and be interchangeable. Purposely muted in appearance, A/V equipment is meant to deliver the colors and excitement of the programs you watch or listen to - not be part of the entertainment.

Still, not everything has to sit unobtrusively on a shelf, and some manufacturers have made attempts to be different. Bang & Olufsen and, more recently, Nakamichi are notable for bringing flair to their hang-on-the-wall CD players. JVC has a champagne-colored editing VCR. Daewoo and Samsung came out with blueberry, lime, and strawberry VCRs made with translucent Lucite after Apple proved a computer doesn't have to be beige to be appealing. Recently, 3Com began selling Audrey, an Internet appliance, in such exotic colors as "Ocean" (blue), "Sunshine" (yellow), and "Meadow" (green) - for $50 more than its $499 "Linen" (white) model.