Past Master

Gareth Mason’s lifelong ambition to step back in time was achieved with a little help from the happy owners of a 28-year-old HMV 2712A…

When Ethel Elvy bought her HMV Colourmaster in the early 70s her son and daughter-in-law drove from Croydon to Whitstable to catch a glimpse of the brave new world of colour. Grand-daughter Nicola is now the proud owner of one of the first wave of mass-produced colour TVs in this country. And like her relatives, Nicola sees no good reason to replace it.

Her mother Petra and father, communications expert Peter, once bought a video player which didn’t record. When Peter was on telly – they simply got their cameras out and took photographs of him. And they still have an undimmed affection for a TV which just refuses to lay down and die. With this being our anniversary issue, we thought we’d take a sidelong look at how a past master has stood the test of time.

The 2712A is distinguished by its bulging screen and expanse of blond hardwood veneer on a chipboard frame – covering space on which a modern TV would be stretching its screen. Despite its bulk, its17in picture would now barely register as average. From the bottom, front fascia controls are found for brightness, colour and volume, above which are four clunky channel buttons. A Reset button is found rearwards, like today’s personal preference settings, but random in its workings. A kind of Russian roulette with an electron gun instead of a six-shooter.

Close by, you’ll find the Contrast button (too risqué for the front panel?) and an aerial socket. While light by today’s standards, it’s densely packed and had enough sharp edges to flatten my index finger to the thickness of a postage stamp as I lowered it onto its stand. The 8000 Series chassis used by this and many other models from old hands such as Ferguson, Ultra and Marconi was designed to bring colour TV to the masses. This required a TV selling beneath the magic £200 mark. While still a princely sum – it massively undercut the £350 average for CTV – moving colour closer from its luxury status to the commodity product it is today.

It conformed to the same PAL 625-line 50Hz standard and the Delta gun picture tubes are still used on modern monitors. Its performance was inevitably compromised compared with its more expensive siblings – notably by colour fringing at the picture edges. Otherwise the innards are differentiated by the many capacitors, resistors and transistors used to decode the colour signal which would now be replaced by a single chip. Their complex configuration also makes this TV more prone to problems caused by one or more discrete elements being knocked out of alignment.

For operation: check electricity bill paid, slot plug into wall socket, click On switch. Tuning requires each channel button to be twisted until desired channel is found. Fans of satellite or cable may find themselves channel-hopping less than usual. General knob operation follows the traditional side-to-side method except for channel changing. This requires a decisive forward thrust accompanied by what sounds like a high calibre rifle shot. An early example of today’s child lock, it alerts anyone within a 50m radius that you’ve changed sides while they are out of the room. It also proves that user-friendly products have been around a lot longer than we think. Why simplify complex features such as remote controls and onscreen menus? Just don’t have them.

Picture performance bears as much resemblance to the modern TV as its looks. In other words, not much. While the basic technology remains the same – considerable age and the absence of the refinements brought in over the last three decades leave it predictably wanting. That said, while the overall picture would challenge few, if any, from this era – it still scores some positive points. People and straight lines are sharply outlined with little visible dot crawl. Fine detail was ok... not that fine... but it was detail nonetheless and stronger than on some modern budget models.

While the picture was stable – a general fuzziness spread over the screen in small patches. Despite this, the whole picture remained stable and flicker-free. Depth of field is somewhat limited in that you can’t see anything in detail that’s not in the foreground. Another interesting characteristic was the ‘sandstorm effect’ in which a barely visible wave of motion swept from left to right across the screen. Changing over from Beau Geste, this became respectively, the ‘windswept’, ‘mustard-gas’ and ‘sea-spray’ effect as I changed channels. With a nod to old-fashioned service values – no premium was charged for this unique selling point.

The main problem was with the colour – hardly surprising with all that wear on those ancient tubes. Overall, it resembled a real scene viewed through a gossamer green veil or a novel shade of yellowy-green – or chartreuse to the brandy-lovers among you. If you prefer to see red – it’s your choice. Simply twist the colour button the other direction. For lovers of blue movies, this TV is not for you! Despite this, Channel 5 was picked up as well as the other terrestrial channels. Although, one press of the Reset button magicked back some of those elusive azure hues – its short of an ideal balance.

Audio performance is closer to today’s norm. It may be unfair to discuss such luxurious elements as bass, midrange and treble, but it covers the range as well as many modern mono sets. Turned up to its rasping full wick and there’s a predictably painful distortion but otherwise little to offend the ear. Programme makers are well-aware that people can abide dodgy pictures longer than poor sound. That’s what keeps one of the 2712A’s ancient legs in the market despite the other three firmly entrenched in the antique world.

It may be unfair to test a TV with a dodgy colour tube but we’d need a time machine to get around that problem. I’d also have developed a considerably flatter physique if I’d tried to carry this one over the threshold following its launch. And in a time when so many products seem to reliably expire with their guarantees, it’s commendable to find a product which refuses to submit to the ravages of time. We’ll gloss over the technical performance in favour of its magnificent staying power.

Nicola, the third generation of owner, sees no reason to put her green-hued companion out to pasture. ‘I just have to accept some people think I’m odd.’

What Video & TV 2000