Beyond the Black Box Page 3

American stores are not totally devoid of designer TVs, interesting-looking speakers, and a variety of finishes. But such products are much more likely to be found in A/V specialty shops, not the big chain stores. There are some exceptions. For the past two years Philips has been widely marketing a decidedly curvy 13-inch set called the Somba ($249) that sports an icy-blue finish. Its built-in analog clock and night lights make it a real head turner. Just when you thought you could get any color you want - as long as it was gray or black - Zenith introduced a new line of TVs with translucent cabinets in purple, blue, or green. Even RCA is offering some small sets with blue or purple shells.

So why can't consumer electronics be more like the fashion industry? Every season has its dominant colors, fabrics, textures, and overall theme. While top designers may limit their output to stores like Saks Fifth Avenue - just as certain speaker companies sell only to specialty dealers - even mass merchandisers won't be begging for diversity when it comes to swimsuits this summer. This is in stark contrast to consumer electronics, where one "look" serves for nearly everything in a product category. If hard black plastic and square corners were chic last year, you'd better believe they'll be chic again this year.

Why do I sometimes get the feeling that in terms of shopping choices, I may as well be living in Soviet-era Leningrad? When it comes to appearance, color, or panache, the choice often comes down to: take it or leave it. S&V

(Originally published in: Sound & Vision, May 2001)