- Zenith Electronics
name = Zenith Electronics Corporation
type = Electronics
foundation = 1918
key_people = Michael Ahn, CEO
revenue =decreaseUS$444.7 million (1999)
num_employees = 976
homepage = [http://www.zenith.com/ Zenith Electronics]
Zenith Electronics Corporation, is a former American manufacturer of
televisions headquartered in Lincolnshire, Illinois. It was the inventor of the modern remote control, and it introduced HDTV in North America. Zenith is now a member of the South Korean conglomerate LG Groupby way of LG Electronics, which acquired a controlling share of Zenith in 1995 and the rest in 1999.
The company began in
Chicago, Illinois, in 1918 as a small producer of amateur radioequipment. The name "Zenith" came from its founders' call sign, 9ZN, and Zenith Radio Company was formally incorporated in 1923. Zenith introduced the first portable radio not long after this, and would eventually go on to invent such things as the wireless remote control, FM multiplex stereo, high-contrast and flat-face picture tubes, and the MTS stereo system used on analog television broadcasts in the US and Canada. Zenith was also one of the first companies to introduce a digital HDTVsystem implementation, parts of which were included in the ATSC standardstarting with the 1993 Grand Alliance.
In the 1980s, Zenith fell on hard times as more and more of their market share went to Japanese sets with lower prices. In 1979, they got into the computer business with the purchase of Heath Company and their H-8 computer kit; Zenith renamed Heath's computer division
Zenith Data Systems, and eventually sold ZDS and Heath to Groupe Bullin 1989 to raise money for its HDTV research efforts. Zenith changed its name to Zenith Electronics Corporation in 1984, to reflect its interests in computers and CATV, and since it had left the radio business two years earlier.
By 1990, Zenith was in trouble, and looking more and more attractive to a hostile takeover. To avoid this, Zenith sold 5% of itself to LG Electronics as part of a technology-sharing agreement. With their analog line aging (the last major update to the line had been the "System³" chassis in 1978), and the adoption of HDTV in the US years away, Zenith's prospects were dim. Eventually, LG would raise its stake in Zenith to 55%, enough to assume a controlling interest. Zenith eventually filed for
bankruptcyin 1999, and in exchange for its debts, LG offered to buy the part of Zenith it didn't already own. During this era, some of Zenith's products were being OEMed under the Admiral name.
Today, LG produces the
Zenith DTT-900[http://www.zenith.com/dtv/dtt900.html] and Zenith DTT-901[http://www.zenith.com/products/set-top-atsc-digital-to-analog-converter-box/DTT901/] ATSC digital TV converter box. LG also offers some Zenith branded plasma, LCD, and direct view televisions through selected retail outlets.
Among Zenith's early famous products are the '
Trans-Oceanic' and 'Royal' series of shortwave portable radios, which were in production from 1942 to 1981.
Zenith was the first company to experiment with subscription TV, launching their
Phonevisionconcept on station KS2XBS (originally broadcasting on Channel 2 before the Federal Communications Commissionforced them to relenquish it to WBBM-TV). Their experiment involved a descrambler box mounted on the TV set, and plugged into the telephone lead. When a preannounced broadcast was ready to begin, viewers would call an operator at Zenith who would send a signal with the telephone leads to unscramble the signal."Phonevision" "Time" January 8, 1951 [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,805681,00.html] ] While the Theatre Owners of America claimed the concept was a flop, Zenith itself claimed the experiment was a success."Report on Phonevision" "Time" June 4, 1951 [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,858097,00.html] ] As Phonevision broadcast films, it was seen as a potential competitor for traditional theatres. In spite of the fact that the three films initially available to the first 300 test households were more than two years old, about 18 percent of Phonevision viewers had seen them at the movies, and 92 percent of Phonevision households reported that they would prefer to see films at home.
The remote control
Zenith is, perhaps, best known for the first practical wireless TV
remote control, the Space Command, developed in 1956.
The original TV remote control was a wired version, released in 1950, that soon attracted complaints about an unsightly length of cable from the viewer's chair to the TV set. Cmdr.
Eugene F. McDonald, Zenith President and Founder, ordered his engineers to develop a wireless version, but the use of radio waves was soon discounted due to poor interference rejection inherent in 1950s radio receivers. The 1955 Flash-Matic remote system used a highly directional photo flash tube in the hand held unit that was aimed at sensitive photoreceivers in the four front corners of the TV cabinet. However, bright sunlight falling on the TV was found to activate the controls.
Eugene Polleythen suggested that ultrasonic sound be used as a trigger mechanism. This was produced in the hand held unit by mechanically-struck aluminum rods of carefully constructed dimensions - a receiver in the TV responded to the different frequencies this action produced. The miniaturization of electronics meant that, eventually, the sounds were produced in the remote unit electronically but the operating principle remained in use until the 1980s, when it was superseded by the infra-red light system.
Some models of Zenith's "System 3" line of televisions made from the late 70s to the mid 80s had a feature referred to by Zenith as the Space Phone. It was basically a hands-free
speakerphonebuilt into the television set. It used the set's speaker and remote control, in addition to a built-in microphone. A Space Phone-enabled TV would connect to a phone jack (using a built-in phone cord), and placing a call was performed by pressing a button on the remote to activate the Space Phone (which would mute and take over the program audio going to the speaker). The phone number is dialed using the numeric keys on the remote, which then displays the digits being dialed on-screen (using the on-screen display features of the System 3 line). The user could then converse with another caller hands-free, much like a regular speakerphone.
A feature that was included in some of Zenith's "Chromacolor" and later "System 3" lines of sets from the late 70s was the zoom feature. This feature allowed for the image being displayed on the TV screen to be zoomed into, by overscanning the
rasterof the CRT so that the middle of the image would be displayed.
The Porthole TV
In the very early 1950s Zenith entered the television market. These sets were all-round tube sets. The main feature was that the entire round screen was exposed. They were available in 12", 16" and 19". All models had a switch that would show the picture in the 4:3 ratio, or have the entire round screen exposed. These sets are very desirable among TV collectors. Many porthole sets used metal-cone CRTs, which are now very hard to find. It is not uncommon for collectors to replace a bad metal-cone tube with an all-glass tube. Zenith porthole sets came in tabletop models, stand-alone consoles and TV/radio/phono combos.
Hand Wired Chassis
In the late 1950s, many electronic manufacturers such as RCA, General Electric and Admiral were transitioning from hand-wired metal chassis in their radios and televisions to printed circuit boards. While circuit boards save time and errors in assembly, they are not well suited for use in tube equipment, in which high temperatures are generated that can break down boards, eventually leading the boards to crumble if one attempts to remove a tube. Zenith, and to a lesser extent Motorola, avoided this problem by continuing to use hand wired chassis in all their tube equipment. Zenith kept circuit boards out of their televisions until the Chromacolor line in the early 1970s, and even then only used them with solid state components, mounting the four tubes used in the Chromacolor on the steel chassis. Zenith only moved to circuit boards in their radios until they moved to solid state in the late 1960s, and even Zenith's early transistor radios were completely hand wired with socketed transistors. Due to the use of these chassis, Zenith televisions and radios found today are often still working well, needing little work to restore them to like new operating condition.
* [http://www.zenith.com/ Corporate homepage]
* [http://www.zenith.com/sub_about/about_corp_history.html Corporate history]
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