Seeking vintage television conversion ideas

Seeking vintage television conversion ideas


I’m picking up a broken 1957 RCA Victor Deluxe 21″ B&W television from a friend who’s moving tonight, because she knows I like mid century design and rebuilding things. So, what to do with it? Secret bar with hinged top, hydraulic lift, and dry ice? Blond wood wormhole portal through space-time? Puppet theatre??

I’ve seen people build aquaria into them here, and retrofit an LCD panel into them here.

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

66 thoughts on “Seeking vintage television conversion ideas

  1. Stuart says:

    An audio visualizer:

  2. pratfall says:

    I love the idea of a puppet theater, but it might be a little small for that. You could be literal and throw in a flat-screen TV, or even one of those new tiny LED projectors to make a RPTV. You could probably fit in a flat-screen TV and bar gear.

  3. Arthur says:

    I had a used TV from around the same era, though the picture tube was almost perfectly round. I had an electrician remove the picture tube and discharge the capacitor. I turned the picture tube to be facing up, built legs for it, and had it as an end table (placed a small glass top). Pretty good conversation started. Wish I took pics. As for the cabinet, still have it. The cats sleep in it. One day it’ll be a bookshelf of sorts.

  4. Anthony says:

    MAME machine!!

  5. A.RistauStudio says:

    Deffinatly a small scale automata theater with sensing directed at the viewer

  6. rwo says:

    How about one of those plasma ball thingies – that you can touch and the lightning follows your finger around?

  7. Connor Bevans says:

    Hmm, I thought about maybe a computer with webcam. I’d try replacing the old CRT with a newer colour one (although I suppose LCD would work best), and putting the webcam in that odd emblem thing above the screen. I also had the radical idea of putting a touch screen in there and using it as some sort of home media remote control, but it would take a huge amount of effort and be REALLY awkward to use.

  8. M.D. Peco says:

    How about replacing the CRT with a microwave oven and making a hidden drawer to house the popcorn you will pop after warming your “TV” dinner. If you can find the right sized minifridge, it could be a great home for a few beers…


  9. Anonymous says:

    If the tube still lights up, you can do what we did in college (MIT, back in the late 70’s).

    1. Cut wires to the magnetic coils. Turn on the TV — you should have a dot in the center.

    2. Take a 9 volt battery, and determine which two coil wires will drive the dot vertically, and then which two will drive the dot horizontally.

    3. Connect the sets of wires to left and right channels of a stereo amp.

    4. Play some Pink Floyd.

  10. Brian says:

    You could also refit it as a homebrew guitar amp/speaker cab.

  11. says:

    Via Hack-A-Day:

    (Though, he did specify that the TV was broken, I figured it woudl be an informative link nonetheless)

  12. Bob says:

    There’s probably enough space in the cabinet to turn it into an all in one media center. Refit a flatscreen, put in a couple of decent speakers behind the grill, and on the side an/or top you could hack in a dvd player, and maybe (if you wanted) even a casette player and vcr. The emblem panel below the screen could become a drawer for remotes or for dvds or something.

  13. John Park says:

    Awesome stuff! Just as I expected from the MAKE: readership.

    Stuart, that Wave Vessel is very cool looking.

    Arthur, I bet that would look incredibly hip, in a mad science kind of way.

    A.RistauStudio, auto direction sensing automata sound perfect and creepy.

    Connor, I thought that little window up top looked pretty compelling. I think it’s a channel number display. (Turns out I’m getting it tomorrow night, so I haven’t seen it in person yet).

  14. James says:

    Get the original guts working again. This might take some doing. Then wire in a DTV set-top conversion box and hide it inside the TV. You now have a modern DTV receiver in an old, working B&W TV cabinet. It will only display 480i, but it will be the only one on the block!

  15. Lon says:

    Fishtank! But with only B/W or greyscale (scales!) fish and plants!

  16. John Park says:

    I just found out more about the set’s origins from Diana:

    “I can’t wait to see what becomes of it! We acquired it when we were still living in an apartment (around Olympic and La Cienega) and we came home one night after midnight to find it sitting in our parking space (someone just dumped it there). We thought it was cool and carried it upstairs. We have had it for about 13 or 14 years and it’s done nothing more than sit there with stuff on top of it.(My mother-in-law thinks it’s the ugliest thing and couldn’t understand why we ever wanted it!)”

  17. Pierce S. Boaz says:

    I despise the look of silver plastic, which is why I did this:
    The tv is probably from around the 40s, it didn’t work at all, I plopped in a flat CRT TV I got for free. I think I despise flat panel TVs more than the silver plastic, CRTs looks so much better.

    BTW, thanks for posting my wave vessel article.

  18. Cathal says:

    You could try upping the voltage, replacing the phosphor with an angled metal sheet, and having the powerful beam of electrons in a semi-vacuum produce x-rays for home food sterilisation applications!

    Be sure to get yourself some decent shielding first. Always consult your doctor. This might be illegal to own in your country.

  19. alpinebutterfly says:

    Ohhhh, it will be so fun !!

    Personally I’m partial to the bar ;-)

    Think of the possibilities with a mini keg..

    Or, I think considering the set, it would be totally cool to make a giant paper TV. Maybe use floor cloth, or canvas instead of paper.

    Ok, I’ll stop drooling now.

  20. teknynja says:

    Thanks for the link to my TV conversion project! Along the same lines as James’ idea, I also have a working Predicta TV set that is hooked to a satellite box – It’s a blast to watch space-age technology on a “space-age” TV! It is an especially interesting effect to watch old black and white movies on it.

  21. yesnoyesno says:

    replace the tube with a mirror.

  22. David says:

    I think this tube is perfect for storing and viewing a collection of old black and white movies. Basically throw a media PC into it to hold the movies, DVR all the TCM you can, and enjoy the movies as they should be watched: on a classic screen.

  23. Aud1073cH says:

    these cabinets have lots of room inside!

    Depending on its construction, you may be able to add hinges to the front, and re-finish the inside with shelves to hold whatever you like.

    The opening for the tube could be replaced by:
    -a photo frame to hold perhaps a dozen photos,
    – LCD TV/digital photo frame (I think I’ve seen some LCD TVs that have an SD slot to show photos)
    -blackboard/chalk message board (or whiteboard)
    -large clock

    Alternate Idea: Cat Condo

    If you’ve got pets that like a place to hide, you could line the interior with a couple layers of vinyl contact paper for easy cleaning, and make a pet bed inside. Perfect for cats, ferrets, caged animals, or perhaps small dogs, if they are willing to get inside.
    Food could be stored below.

  24. Jonathan Peterson says:

    assuming the tube is dead, replace it with a used tube TV (those analog TVs are going to be on curbs nationwide in a couple weeks).

    Turn the color all the way down to go B&W, then stick an atari flashback or other retro gaming system in the cabinet and play pong, breakout, etc.

  25. john says:

    replace the screen with a color one and then add this to the front of it for nonsensing whatever is displayed there.

  26. CMHDave says:

    Something like the Digital Newsstand maybe?

  27. Scott says:

    How about installing an LCD pannel that could be streaming on line shows such as Make TV?

  28. Anonymous says:

    It’s definitely a media center…at least that’s what I did with mine. Of course, mine was mahogany, and I never had the guts, except for the 10″ speaker. I took that out and hid a powered subwoofer in the compartment. I painted the inside black; put in one shelf, a power strip in the back and stashed all my stereo components inside. Be sure to leave plenty of ventilation space for the receiver and position it on top so that it doesn’t heat up the other components. A largish TV sat on top of the whole thing, remoted the speakers. When the doors were closed (it had doors), it looked like a TV on a cabinet. Opened, it was a stylish retro entertainment center.

    If I did it over again, I’d probably mount a media center pc where I put the sub….


  29. Shawn says:

    I think a fully functional black and white TV would make a great device to torture your children with. Find a way to hide the converter box and make it work using the original dial. Then plop a set of foil covered HD “rabbit ears” on top. Any time the kids complain that “there is nothing on TV”, punish them with what you grew up with; five fuzzy network stations with no color.

    It would be a great centerpiece for a “Redneck 70’s” themed Superbowl party.

    Hook up a VCR, pop some popcorn over the stove, and watch “the Honeymooners” with the kids every Friday night, while you and Erin sip on Old Fashions.

    Just throwing it out there.

  30. John Park says:

    Great idea Shawn. Everyone say “hi” to Shawn please, he’s my childhood friend. We used to take things apart, build dangerous things, set stuff on fire, and get up to general mischief together. Looks like nothing changes.

  31. 75 gallon aquarium says:

    Fishtank! But with only B/W or greyscale (scales!) fish and plants!

  32. austin says:

    i have the same exact set, it was the best set made in 1957. mine didnt work either, so i gutted it, and slipped a early 2000’s CRT TV behind it. i also gutted the speakers and mounted a speaker system in its place. then were the cloth grille is, i removed that and put a hinge on it so it can flip up, and made a shelf so i can put my cable box, DVD player and storage for stuff. then i bought some 50’s must have accessories like the black panther light with the green eyes and a TV antenna from the 50’s on eBay. plug everything in and it looks so cool, it matches my living room so well.

  33. Robert A says:

    Just saw an old TV modified into a bar that was fantastic. Looked a lot like your TV.

  34. Chris says:

    Or you could *gasp* leave it intact and enjoy a pristine piece of 1950s history. It will look nicer too. Or you could go one step further and get someone to restore it, and purchase a digital converter box so you can still watch television on it.

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John Edgar Park likes to make things and tell people about it. He builds project for Adafruit Industries. You can find him at and twitter/IG @johnedgarpark

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