Revisiting the gxTV, a "television for gamers" from 1997

You may or may not remember the Samsung gxTV, but it’s a pretty unique piece of gaming history. The gxTV (formally known as the GXE1395) was billed as a “television for gamers,” released starting in 1997 through Funcoland and other video game retailers for $300. Its edgy style, onboard stereo system, and multiple composite inputs made for a great gaming rig, before widescreen and HD were ever considerations. While slim LCD monitors and HDMI cables have taken over the market at this point, many players are seeking out the gxTV for optimal retro gaming experiences, and surprisingly, there’s more to it than simple nostalgia.

First and foremost, it’s worth acknowledging that the gxTV is a product firmly of its time. Its 13-inch screen is puny by today’s standards, but because it was considered a kids’ bedroom TV, the tiny screen size makes a lot more practical sense. In my mind, the gxTV’s design is inextricably tied to big beat music, which reached peak popularity around the same time, with popular acts like The Chemical Brothers and The Crystal Method breaking through on MTV. The electronica vibe shines through in the gxTV’s bulky, rounded visual design, evocative of the music genre’s push to meld technology with more organic structures, not to mention the bass-rumbling subwoofer growing from the TV’s top-back edge. Suffice to say, the gxTV would look out of place in the slick, angular living room entertainment hubs of 2014, and its lack of modern input ports makes it incompatible with them, too.

The gxTV was an exception though—a television whose designers looked at what games were and how they were being played and made a product that specifically fit the bill. 

The gxTV is, and always has been, more of a niche display, best suited for playing Nintendo 64, the original Playstation, and earlier games, and in some ways the gxTV is better equipped for that task than the newfangled flatscreens that pushed it into obsolescence. If you’ve ever dragged out an 8 or 16-bit console and hooked it up to a modern television, you’ve probably noticed that the games don’t look or feel exactly how you remembered. Granted, if you’re like me, your eyes and reflexes aren’t what they used to be, either, but the fact remains that LCD screens simply aren’t built to properly display the low-resolution feeds put out by old consoles. In truth, these TVs have to work extra hard to project old-school graphical images, which can contribute to noticeable input lag on the controller end. Remember scanlines? Well, when that scanlined signal comes out of an NES and into an HDTV, the TV fills in the gaps, often poorly and slowly. While lag doesn’t matter for all games, action or rhythm titles that require precision button pressing can become unplayable on new screens when what you’re doing as a player doesn’t match up with what the screen says. As a CRT monitor, the gxTV does not suffer from theses issues.

It’s the gxTV’s combination of era-specific aesthetics and functionality that make it an appealing retro gaming monitor for me. On its own, the gxTV isn’t as capable as other CRTs suggested by retro gaming enthusiasts, but it does tread a more accessible middleground. Taking a quick glance at the competition, the massive 40” Sony Trinitron Wega also weighs a proportionately massive 300 pounds, and the Sony BVM-20F1E is a speakerless broadcast TV studio monitor that will require any layman to trudge through the user manual to comprehend the features that make it worthwhile in the first place. The gxTV doesn’t offer as robust of a picture as these other monitors, but for someone like me who just wants an era-appropriate television without the hassle or lower-back problems, I’ve found the gxTV to be a capable alternative. Plus it has hinge-mounted speakers that, when closed like saloon doors over the screen, form a bizarre, hemispherical bump, which serves no purpose other than looking cool.

These days it feels like games are just trying to keep pace with TVs, and in a way, that’s always been the case. Games jumped on the HD bandwagon because that’s the direction tech companies pushed screen media to go; you didn’t have to be a pixel-counter to notice the vast improvement in image fidelity. More recent TV tech initiatives, like 3D and 4K resolution screens, seem gimmicky or blandly incremental, painting with a wide brush instead of giving videogame players something specific to enhance their hobby. The gxTV was an exception though—a television whose designers looked at what games were and how they were being played and made a product that specifically fit the bill. And considering the speed of technology, it’s somewhat ironic that a dated device like the gxTV can still have a role to play today. The gxTV is as ostentatious as it is deeply functional and user-friendly—a product of its time that communicates quite a bit about the era from which it came.