Design writer ANN DE FOREST looks back to the future at a

RETRO TELEVISION SET that houses the latest in tube technology.

"TV TODAY FROM THE WORLD OF TOMORROW," boasted Philco when it introduced the Predicta back in 1958. With space-age styling appropriate to the Sputnik era, the Predicta was the first television set to liberate picture tube from chassis. Earlier televisions, like radios before them, snuck into the house incognito, masquerading as just another dowdy piece of furniture. The Predicta, in contrast, swaggered in without apology, frankly declaring its intentions. If it could claim any parentage at all, the swiveling tube, framed in gold-tinted aluminum and perched atop a polished mahogany pedestal adorned with sleek plastic knobs, looked most like a vanity mirror. In appearance at least, Predictra seems prescient, anticipating television's role as cultural reflector, emblem--and accomplice--in a narcissistic age.

But in other respects, the Predicta turned out not to be a skilled a prognosticator as its name implied. One of the first televisions to offer access to UHF channels, the Predicta also stayed resolutely black and white. Technical problems with that free-swinging picture tube earned the set a reputation for unreliability. Philco discontinued the Predicta line in 1960, selling remaining models in bulk to hotel chains. In 1962 a bankrupt Philco was bought by Ford Motor Company. Like Ford's own late '50's debacle, the Edsel, the Predicta stood as a lesson in corporate miscalculation, proof that the public, in the end, would determine what the future would look like.

Except who back then could have foreseen this future--that is, our present--in which revivals and reruns reign? Today, the Predicta's tainted past only enhances its mystique.

One aficionado, Carl Bocchino, has even set up a business building new Predictas. His custom-crafted reconstructions of the old Philco design incorporate the latest technology, including remote control, stereo sound, the requisite cable and VCR hook-ups, and, of course--40 years belatedly--color.

Bocchino's made-to-order Predictas, which cost between $1,700 and $2,000, look backwards to a time when most products were handmade from choice materials. As he says."It's a piece of art with a TV attached to it."*

ANN DE FOREST writes "Lo-Tech, Hi-Tech" each month for attache

1998