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405-Line Television Today FAQs

Why do people collect old TVs? Do many people do this?

For the same reason they might collect old radios, telephones, furniture or whatever. It's a hobby, an interesting one, and the source material is still fairly inexpensive. One of your friends or relatives probably has an old set in the loft, whilst charity shops, furniture auctions and car boot sales are another good source of sets. Vintage and amateur radio swapmeets, also vintage wireless dealers often have old TV sets for sale, whilst some really choice sets come up for sale at the big London auction houses. We have over 320 people in our Group and there must be many more collectors.

Why do they get so passionate about it?

For anyone who lived through the black and white era, nostalgia has a lot to do with it simply because television was so special to them. Families made a major investment in their first TV, or else, because of the high price, they had to rent it but still at a significant price. The family TV was a prized and well used possession, also a status symbol for many people.

I'm still not sure why you do this. Is the idea to (a) restore old sets so that modern 625 transmissions can be picked up on them, (b) restore old sets so that video tapes of old shows can be watched in 405 lines through them or (c) some other reason?

Mainly (c) with a bit of (b). You can derive a strange satisfaction in the perversity of having and maintaining in good order a mechanical object that has had its day in terms of practical utility but it far too good to scrap. It is akin to having a 1950s car fully restored; you don't drive around in it often but it's a thing of joy that gives pleasure to you and to other people. There is also considerable satisfaction in restoring a beat-up old wreck into a showpiece. Yet another source of pleasure is acquiring at low cost something that years ago would have cost a fortune to own.

I often see old sets in my travels around bric-a-brac emporia and would love to have one that works, but it seems to me that a discouraging amount of electronics work needs to be done for which I have no intellectual capacity!

That may be true but there's no harm in saving, say, one really superb set for potential restoration at a late date. In this case, go for one whose looks appeal, doesn't cost a fortune and is superficially complete (no knobs missing, still has its fibreboard back, without nasty scratches on the cabinet).

Do you operate a lending library of old TV archive programmes? Do you sell these or does anyone else?

No and no. But there are many people who have acquired these from various sources (recorded off TV, transferred from old 16mm telerecordings found in attics or junk shops, 'leaks' from the TV companies' archives, etc.) so these programmes are in circulation. Generally if you put a want advertisement in our magazine, you may well get somebody offering what you're looking for. Of course, it helps if you have something to offer in exchange or you may offer to cover the wear and tear costs for their video recorder in a generous fashion. Most of these tapes are on 625 lines for convenience of viewing.

There is also a groups called the PPS (Programme Preservation Society) whose members lend each other copies of old television and radio programmes. If you would like more information on PPS, then please send an SAE to the club treasurer Richard Berry at 230 Selsdon Road, Croydon, Surrey CR2 6PL. We understand that the STARS group has been incorporated within PPS.

 And on the Internet see

Do you people swap recordings of TV test card music and so on?

Some of us do and there is a separate club for this interest. It's called the Test Card Circle (write with SAE to 20 Seymour Road, Wollescote, Stourbridge, DY9 8TB).

Do you recommend any books?


HISTORIC TELEVISIONS & VIDEO RECORDERS, by Michael Bennett-Levy. Large colour illustrated paperback, £15 post-paid. Tv IS KING, by Michael Bennett-Levy. Large colour illustrated hardback, £17 post-paid. Both from MBL Publications, Monkton House, Old Craighall, Musselburgh, Midlothian, EH21 8SF.

OLD TELEVISION in the Shire Albums series on old television, written by Andrew Emmerson. ISBN 0-7478-0367-6, £2.95.

Are old TVs easy to renovate and repair?

Generally yes - they are not very complicated or intricate inside. There is no real shortage of valves and other spares either. Only some picture tubes are hard to find now.

But television sets were desperately unreliable until the 1980s, so won't an old set be a maintenance liability?

You have a point. Everything needed more maintenance in those days - just consider the greasing needed for the nipples underneath cars, a truly filthy job! And it's true that older TVs, no matter who made them, required a good deal of service, at least when they were in regular use. It seemed that a day didn't go by when you did not see a TV service van in the neighbourhood. Components and technology were just not nearly as well developed as they are today. The heat generated had a good deal to do with it too; some of the older sets had in excess of 20 valves and developed a lot of stored heat that broke down components and connections. On the other hand, when you repair your set you will inevitably replace many of the most unreliable parts (resistors and capacitors) and afterwards your set will be used only occasionally, so you can expect good service from it.

How do you find a repairer if you don’t have the skills yourself?

TV ServiceMany of the longer-established and smaller local radio/TV dealers have technicians with the skills to repair valve sets; some of these people relish working on a ‘real’ set again. Use Yellow Pages and make enquiries locally. It might be worth trying your local amateur radio club (the public library should have their address). Alternatively there are a number of people who restore and rebuild old tellies for a living; some names are given below.


We do three kinds of job - quick, cheap and good. You can have any two of the three.

You can have a good, quick job but it won't be cheap.
ou can have a good, cheap job but it won't be quick.
And you could ask us to do a quick, cheap job but it wouldn't be any good.

Adapted from a repair shop sign in Canada, reported in The Guardian and submitted by Mark Brailsford.

Surely there are no programmes on the 405 line system now – so do you watch blank screens?!?

No, because it's no great problem getting 405 line TVs to work with programmes recorded on a VHS (or Betamax) recorder. Most VCRs will record and play back 405 line material quite well, even though they were not designed to do this. Obviously the TV must be in good working order, then all you need do is build or buy a modulator which translates the video signal from your recorder onto a VHF channel suitable for the TV. Your video recorder already has a modulator which puts out a signal on channel 36, but 405 line TVs don't normally have UHF tuners, so you need to make a VHF modulator. Also it has to be positive modulation, with AM sound, but those finer points are all covered in the design details.

Modulators, Test Card C generators and 625-to-405 standards converters of excellent quality were available until recently from Dinosaur Designs but production has ceased for the time being. Negotiations for another individual to take over their construction fell through.

Why not just convert the old sets to work on the current 625 line system?

It is generally not a feasible project to convert an old 405-line set to work on 625 lines, or rather, it’s as much work as converting a gas cooker to electric! The process is expensive and destroys the sets' authenticity. Would you put a new Formica surface on top of an antique oak kitchen table? Most collectors would not do this kind of thing ... Better to use a standards converter and watch in 405-lines (admittedly this will cost money, say just over £300) or you could have the original chassis removed and the ‘innards’ of a modern black and white set substituted. This is what is done for old sets that appear as props on television but it offends purists.

I have an old 405-line TV and wish to watch pictures on it occasionally. What's the minimum-cost way of doing this? Is there some adapter that will allow me to watch today's programmes on an old set?

First things first. Are you sure your old TV is in working order? If not, don't just plug it in to find out. If it has suffered from damp during storage (and you may not know this), it could be a fire hazard if plugged in. Certain components may fail if subjected to 250 volts, although in the hands of experts, they could be brought back to life slowly, by applying a low voltage first and gradually increasing the voltage over a period of hours.

But let's assume your set is fine (and even if not, it can probably be refurbished by a good technician – most old-established TV dealers have someone who can repair valve-era sets). The simplest way to make it show pictures again is from a VHS video recorder, not using tapes that you record or buy but using tapes which have been recorded specially in the 405-line system (we can put you in touch with people who can supply 405-line tapes). You need a special device called a Band I Modulator which will cost between £30 and £150, depending on quality, and we have details of the suppliers. Then you're in business and can show pictures (but only the programmes recorded on the tape). Incidentally, there is one kind soul who advertises in 405 Alive magazine who will copy your 625-line recordings onto 405-line tape, so there isn't any problem in this respect.

If you want to go the whole hog, you'll need a standards converter that actually transforms today's 625-line pictures into 405-line images. These are not cheap; you are talking of extremely complex technology, not a simple DIY job. And don't believe anyone who tells you there's a cheaper way of doing it, because apart from finding a 405-line era TV camera (where would you find one outside a museum?) and using this to shoot the screen of your 625-line television, there isn't any cheaper way. Twenty years ago, the standards converter would have cost about £12,000 in today's money but until recently some gifted designers were selling new ones at about £300, which was extremely good value for money. Unfortunately production has ceased for the time being.

Why do people make such heavy weather about standards converters? They must be easy to design and produce.

Oh yes? I forget the number of times I've heard people say they are thinking of bringing out a low-cost standards converter. Lots of people have waffled on about using a PC to do the conversion too - but none have ever come up with the goods. If all these 'simple' solutions were that simple, someone would have come up with the answer by now. In truth you have three design tasks: generating 405 line syncs and blanking (fairly easy), throwing away one-third of the picture information (not too difficult) and interpolating the remaining lines of information to keep circles round and avoid jagged lines on diagonals (not at all easy). Of course there's analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue conversion to be done, all in real time if the pictures are not to get out of step with the accompanying audio. Still convinced it's easy? Of course, making and selling devices of this complexity to cheapskates who expect to get them for tuppence-ha'penny is another occupational hazard! But if people do achieve this, they'll have the world beating a path to their doorstep. Probably.

Where do you find the technical information on old television?

There are countless textbooks in libraries and second-hand book shops. There have also been several articles specifically on restoring old TVs in Television magazine. Our own magazine 405 Alive is full of information too!

We will try and help with other problems but this is done as a gesture to subscribers. Please don't ask for tons of help if you aren't a subscriber. If you're that interested in old television, it must surely be worth your while joining in!

Are old TVs valuable now?

Not necessarily, unless they date back to the pre-war period and are in fine condition. One or two sets – for instance the moulded bakelite Bush TV22 – are considered design classics and have become very popular as "yuppie antiques". This has pushed up their price but true collectors are not concerned with the cash value of their collections. Within our circle we try to keep prices low, and new collectors should avoid over-priced items in antique shops. Salerooms and charity shops – and friends – are a much better source of supply.


N1500 and N1700 tapes converted to VHS or U-Matic free of charge (I can also convert them to 405-line in the process if you require). Please send a blank VHS or U-Matic tape, your original N1500 / N1700 tape and an adequately stamped addressed Jiffy bag to Mike Bennett G7TRF, 3 High View Gardens, Exmouth, Devon. EX8 2JR. Phone: 01395-279732 or e-mail mdb (at)

I will convert your 625-line tapes to broadcast-standard 405 lines on my digital line-store standards converter. Free of charge to subscribers of 405 Alive. Please send blank tape (VHS only) for output and return postage. Input tapes can be accepted on Philips 1700, EIAJ, Video2000, Beta or VHS. David Looser, Maristow, Holbrook Road, Harkstead, IPSWICH, Suffolk, IP9 1BP. Phone 01473-328649.

(These offers are most generous and users may care to send a free-will donation towards costs as well. There may be a delay in handling conversions if many people take up these offers.)

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