Beyond the Black Box Page 2

Wrapping designer colors around electronic appliances makes me wonder: if washing machines and refrigerators were generally available in a range of colors and Circuit City had promoted the digital controllers they all use now, maybe the chain could have charged a premium for them and not been forced to drop so-called white goods. I'm not saying Maytag needs to take design lessons from Lifesavers, but I'm really tired of seeing monochrome wherever I shop, and I'll bet a lot of other people feel the same way. As for TV sets, we're still trapped in the era of black and white - black in the living room, white in the kitchen.

While Americans gravitate to monotonous boxes as surely as light to black holes, Europeans seem to have more tolerance for brightening things up. Having twice visited the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA), the gigantic consumer-electronics fair held in Berlin every two years, I've seen a rainbow of possibilities. In TVs, it starts with 16:9 widescreen displays, extends to Crayola-inspired cabinets, and peaks with really big sets on sculptured integrated pedestals. The German A/V manufacturer Metz even handed out paint swatches with 42 different colors so you could design your own multicolored finish. Want a screen bordered by a blue, green, and orange bezel and a tube back that's painted red all over? Done!

You'd think a drop-dead-thin plasma panel would be enough in itself to make anyone salivate. Grundig takes that a step beyond by integrating a pedestal that's slim at waist level but bulges below with a see-through shelf for a DVD player - or, since you probably have the money, a small safe.

What's especially revealing is that multinational companies like Thomson and Philips offer a far greater variety of set colors in Europe than they do here. For example, while in America Thomson's RCA brand offers a 13-inch TV for your kitchen in white, in Europe you can also get it in peach. Philips sells sets in Europe in shades of blue, green, and even gold. Good luck trying to find those here.