Mac TV: 12 Years Before the iMac G5 with Front Row

2005: With the release of the iMac G5 with Front Row earlier this month, many analysts have hailed Apple’s entry into the living room. However, Apple actually released its first Mac with a remote control in 1993, the Macintosh TV.

The machine was an oddity, ostensibly designed for the cramped quarters of an American dorm room. The computer was totally black, save for the platinum CD-ROM caddy.

Macintosh TVThe Macintosh TV was first envisioned as a tenth anniversary Mac, but that project was eventually canceled.

After the unexpected success of the Color Classic, John Sculley requested a machine with a form factor similar to that of the Color Classic, but with a CD-ROM drive and a 14″ Trinitron CRT. Mac TV was released on October 23, 1993, shortly after the project was resurrected.

The logic card inside Mac TV was a slightly modified Mac IIvx motherboard. (The IIvx was Apple’s midrange 68030-based machine at the time). In order to prevent Mac TV from stealing sales from higher-end Macs, Apple limited its RAM capacity to 8 MB (vs. the 68 MB limit present in the IIvx).

The new machine was designed to be low cost and have a small footprint. Its most notable features were its TV tuner and remote control. The TV tuner had coaxial and RCA inputs, allowing users to watch broadcast television and connect VCRs.

Apple included a remote control to control the CD-ROM drive and TV tuner.

The TV card was also somewhat limited. It didn’t allow users to record television and was only capable of displaying video in full screen mode or playing TV audio in the background.

Met with much fanfare at its launch, Apple primarily peddled the machine to college students and early adopters. It only sold the machine at 230 retail locations, mostly electronics stores. Apple built and sold only 10,000 units, making Mac TV far rarer than the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh or even the Lisa.

Apple quietly discontinued the model several months after its introduction.

Mac TV was Apple’s first TV-capable machine, but it was far from the last. Apple created an LC PDS card that included a TV and FM radio tuner. The tuner card added the ability to record television and watch TV inside a window.

All of the Power Mac 5xxx series had infrared receivers for the TV tuner’s remote controls. Despite the wide availability of such cards, they never took off.

The last computer that supported an Apple-branded TV tuner was the Power Mac 6500.

Update: In March 2007, Apple began to ship Apple TV, its first device designed specifically to work with a TV set.


Some of the sources used in writing this article:

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