Back in 1985, when I was 12 years old, my father (an engineer) brought home a watch we’d both seen in the James Bond film, Octopussy, together: the Seiko TV Watch. It was known at the time as “the world’s smallest TV” (I learned that the Guinness Book of World Records named it that in 1984). It made a real impression on me at the time. I thought my father was the coolest.
The other day, I saw Octopussy again and thought I’d go check the attic to see if the unit Dad bought was still with his stuff in my attic. Yes it was – and it was still in the original packaging!.
After researching online for a few hours, here’s what I learned about the first smart watch I ever owned – along with some photos of our device.
The Smallest TV In The World
The Seiko TV Watch was produced in very limited numbers for a few years in the mid-1980s.
It’s technically a digital LCD wrist watch with a built-in TV screen and a separate TV receiver approximately the size of an old cassette tape Walkman.
It was designed to be carried it around with you so you could have a fully functioning watch plus access to over-the-air broadcast TV at any time. The batteries lasted a surprisingly long time (5 hours of play time).
The unit’s 1.5 x 2 inch display is made up of two different parts: a timekeeping display at the top, and a larger TV display at the bottom.
To use the watch as a TV, you have to carry a separate block receiver unit (model no. TR02-01) in your pocket or on your hip.
The TV receiver connects to the watch display unit using a black connector – you snap the cord onto the watch when you want to use the TV set. Seiko recommended that you snake the cable through the sleeve of your jacket and hide the receiver in the jacket pocket. For audio, you put on the headphone which tethers to the tuner using a second line. The headphone line also doubles as a line antenna.
The TV display employs a special type of trans-reflective liquid crystal video display that only works if the watch is exposed to external light (no backlighting). The brighter the light, the clearer the picture.
Besides the time display, the watch also features a calendar, an alarm and a stopwatch.
The Guinness Book of Records calls the Seiko TV Watch in its 1984 edition the “smallest TV set in the world”.
A few hundred million yen were invested in the development of the device over the course of three years, beginning in 1980.
The Seiko TV Watch was revealed in Tokyo during the summer of 1982. It was manufactured in Seiko’s Fujimi and Matsumoto factories from 1982 to 1983.
The TV Watch was first sold in Japan only as model DXA001, which cost 108,000 Yen. Later, it was marketed in Japan as the DXA002 and cost 98,000 Yen. The second model differed only in the case design and the type of headphone (the DXA001 came with a two-ear headphone and the DXA002 offered an earphone).
The TV Watch was released in the US in 1983 at a suggested retail price of $495.
The rarest, first US model is the T001-5000. It was sold in a silver cardboard container and the protective pouch for the receiver also came in silver. The second, more popular unit sold in the US was the T001-5019, which came in a gold box.
Here is a recent video on YouTube that shows what the TV Watch looks like when in use.
A Highly Sought-After Collectible
The Seiko TV Watch is highly coveted electronic collectible in the US and in Japan. Well-maintained models in the original packaging sell for upwards of $1,000 and unopened containers of the rarer first model can sell for more than $2,000.
- the watch measures 40 x 49 x 10 mm and weighs 80 grams
- the receiver weighs 190 grams
- 1.2″ gray shade LCD display with 32k pixel resolution
- 5 hr running time
- external receiver/tuner for VHF & UHF television channels 2 to 83
- FM stereo radio receiver.
- digital timer/stop watch with a resolution of 1/100 second
- built-in timer, watch and alarm-clock with normal date-time functions
- 6-conductor cable works with 4, 9 and 13 Volts and separate signals for video and synchronization.
- optional accessory AC adapter (unit TD02).
Here’s a link to the original user’s manual (.pdf 2.5 MB).
- user manual and literature
- headphone (or ear phone)
- leather pouch for the tuner
- three spare straps for the wristband
- tuner-watch connecting cable (80 cm).
- Stainless steel wristband
- 80 gram coin watch battery (SR920W)
- 2 alkaline AAA batteries.
Where To Learn More
- The website Television History – The First 75 Years has a page devoted to the TV Watch.
- Connoisseurs of the Japanese language and fans of cute photos will also enjoy the colorful brochure pages, which can be found behind the following links: page1, page2, page3 (about 250 kB each).
- Here’s an English-language brochure. It describes the watch as an EPSON. SEIKO and EPSON merged in 1985.
- In July 1983, the magazine Video Review published a review of the TV Watch.