Seiki SE22FR01 Retro TV Review
A throwback with a modern twist
A hot-product hopeful from Seiki Digital, the SE22FR01 Retro TV (MSRP $249.99, $199.99 online) is a throwback to the bygone days of the cathode ray tube.
This squat, boxy display actually houses a 22-inch, 1080p, 60Hz LCD panel and modern TV software—it only looks "retro," at the end of the day.
The selling point for this product is obviously its retro-tastic design, but the picture quality we tested is decent for a novelty item: Nothing mind-blowing, but it gets the job done.
Design & Features
Magnavox, Zenith, Sanyo...
... and now Seiki. This squat, primarily-plastic TV's biggest appeal is its throwback design, which calls up memories of classic models from the '60s and '70s. Currently, the SE22FR01 only comes in red, but it's a handsome-looking final product, if a bit cheap to the touch.
A round cabinet perches upon three silver-hued, plastic legs; they hold the screen aloft just like the TVs of yesteryear. Big, pronounced buttons for power, channel, menu, and input selection line the underside of the screen. The buttons operate with a reliable travel that recalls the bygone days of American manufacturing. The power dial is particularly satisfying: Turn it from left to right, and it clicks into place—the screen lights up a few seconds later, with a delay that's almost true-to-form. A volume dial lives within easy reach on the cabinet's right side.
These retro trappings belie the modern nature of the screen itself: a 22-inch LCD panel that refreshes at 60 Hz and is worlds beyond most TVs made before the year 2000. The boxy casing also houses a downward-firing speaker and the TV's connectivity ports.
If the modern screen wasn't enough to betray this retro TV's true timeline, its video connections certainly do. The SE22FR01 is fitted out like the rest of the 2013 crop: Component/composite video in, VGA (D-Sub) input, and three HDMI inputs live beside analog/digital audio hookups and a coaxial jack for antenna or cable connection. This isn't the most ample port selection, but it's plenty for the TV's intended use in a bedroom, kitchen, or dorm.
Alongside the screen casing and stand components, Seiki includes a decidedly non-retro remote: Other than its red coloration, the included remote is almost identical to the one included with Seiki's dubious UHD model. Replete with a full number pad, platforms for channel and volume, and an almost overflow of single-function buttons like "CC" (Closed Caption), "Sleep," and "P. Mode," users will have almost no reason to use the menu interface—convenient, but not very retro.
Software & Interface
Somewhere between outdated and next-big-thing
Complex, aesthetically pleasing menus are a relatively recent thing in TV land. Well, retro purists will be glad to know that this Seiki strikes a fine line: No, it's not exactly nostalgic, but neither is its menu nearly as glitzy and glamorous as some of what's on the market right now—long story short, it's just cheap.
Unfortunately, from a practical standpoint, that really limits this TV's full range of features. Don't expect any apps, 3D, or even media playback via USB. The SE22FR01 is outfitted with a simple, almost ugly menu comprising standard sub-menus like Picture and Audio.
Seiki provides five picture modes: Standard, Dynamic, Movie, Energy Saving, and User, as well as the ability to adjust color temperature. If this sounds like a lot of filigree, you probably haven't used a new TV in the last decade.
The Audio menu has a number of adjustable settings as well. Of note are separate controls for Bass, Treble, and Speaker Balance. The most relevant menu features, however, are those that parents should take note of: Channel Lock and Sleep Timer. It's very likely this semi-cute retro TV will find its way into your child's bedroom, and those two functions mean you can lock unsavory cable/satellite channels and set the TV to shut off automatically so it doesn't run for hours on end.
Before you buy the Seiki SE22FR01, take a look at these other televisions.
Picture quality is not one of this TV's selling points.
It goes without saying that Seiki's Retro TV is something of a novelty item. While its modern panel supports a full 1080p resolution and refreshes at the standard 60 Hz, the overall picture quality is quite lackluster—it's still better than anything from the 60s, but pales in comparison to the year's more serious displays.
The barebones software interface allows little in the way of calibration, so what you see is what you're going to get.
I tested below-average contrast, skewed color fidelity, and a way of outputting light that hurts the SE22FR01's chances as a serious display. In short, this TV is engineered as a secondary display—like for a kitchen or guest room. This picture won't hold up under the eye of a practiced cinephile.
For news, weather, cartoons, or older video games, however, the SE22FR01 is perfectly watchable. It's just not—and is not meant to be—a home theater TV. Cable or satellite content, VHS tapes, and DVDs all look fine, with decent color presentation and acceptable room brightness. This Seiki is definitely better off in a brighter environment, however, as its flaws really stand out in the dark. For that same reason, it could sub in as a computer monitor without issue.
The Finish Line
This Seiki's hip to the max, dig?
For $200 online, you could do worse than Seiki's SE22FR01 Retro TV. While cheaply made up close, it's amusingly retro from a distance, and picture quality's not too shabby, either.
If you're looking to upgrade to an affordable HDTV, though, don't go in for this one: There are better 29- and 32-inch models out there for as little as $50 more, and Seiki Digital even offers a plain, 22-inch flat panel for a mere $83 online.
As a cute addition to a kids' room, or something nostalgic for grandma, however, the SE22FR01 is a great choice. Just remember that it only looks retro—it won't be any kinder to your Betamax collection than other 2013 displays.