Consumer electronics

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A typical CoCo 3 computer system, from the 1980s
A JVC camcorder, a typical consumer electronics device

Consumer electronics are electronic equipment intended for everyday use, most often in entertainment, communications and office productivity.

Radio broadcasting in the early 20th century brought the first major consumer product, the broadcast receiver. Later products include personal computers, telephones, MP3 players, audio equipment, televisions, calculators, GPS automotive electronics, digital cameras and players and recorders using video media such as DVDs, VCRs or camcorders. Increasingly these products have become based on digital technologies, and have largely merged with the computer industry in what is increasingly referred to as the consumerization of information technology.

The CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) estimated the value of 2007 consumer electronics sales at US$150 billion.[1]


The transistor, invented in in 1947 by Bell Laboratories, led to significant research in the field of solid-state semiconductors in the early 1950s. Though radio broadcasting had long been the basis of mass production of radio receivers, the transistor's advantages revolutionized that industry along with other electronics. By 1959 Fairchild Semiconductor had introduced the first planar transistor from which come the origins of Moore's Law.[2]

The development of transistors enabled manufacturers to build circuits on a single substrate as electrical connections between circuits could be made within the chip itself.

Bell's invention of the transistor and the development of semiconductors led to far better and cheaper consumer electronics. Here are some of the previous developments that led to transistors and semiconductors.


1843-1923: From electromechanics to electronics[edit]

  • 1843: Watchmaker Alexander Bain (inventor) develops the basic concept of displaying images as points with different brightness values.
  • 1848: Frederick Collier Bakewell invents the first wirephoto machine, an early fax machine
  • 1861: Grade school teacher Philipp Reis presents his telephone in Frankfurt, inventing the loudspeaker as a by-product.
  • 1867: French poet and philosopher Charles Cros (1842 - 1888) presents the construction principle of a phonograph in his 'paréophone', which turned out not to be a commercial success at the time.
  • 1867: James Clerk Maxwell (1831 - 1879) develops a theory predicting the existence of electromagnetic waves and establishes Maxwell's equations to describe their properties. Together with the Lorentz force law, these equations form the foundation for classical electrodynamics and classical optics as well as electric circuits.
  • 1874: Ferdinand Braun discovers the rectifier effect in metal sulfides and metal oxides.
  • 1877: Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931) invents the first phonograph, using a tin foil cylinder. For the first time sounds could be recorded and played. A phonograph horn with membrane and needle was arranged in such a way that the needle had contact to the tinfoil.
  • 1880: the American physicist Charles Sumner Tainter discovers that many disadvantages of Edison's cylinders can be eliminated if the soundtrack is arranged in spiral form and engraved in a flat, round disk. Technical problems soon ended these experiments. Still, Tainter is regarded as the inventor of the gramophone record.
  • 1884: Paul Nipkow obtains a patent for his Nipkow disk, an image scanning device that reads images serially, which constitutes the foundation for mechanical television. Two years later his patent runs out.
  • 1886: Heinrich Hertz succeeds in proving the existence of electromagnetic waves for the first time - now the groundwork for wireless telegraphy and radio broadcasting in physical science is laid.
  • 1887: Without any knowledge of Charles Sumner Tainter's experiments, German-American Emil Berliner has his phonograph patented. The turntable rotates at 150min−1 and is operated by a crank handle. A steel needle reads the data and transfers the vibrations mechanically to a membrane inside the horn. Berliner used a disk instead of a cylinder primarily to avoid infringing on Edison's patent. Quickly it becomes obvious that flat disks are easier to duplicate and store. This is the starting point of the phonograph record which is at first made of zinc and hard rubber and later, starting in 1896, of breakable shellac and bakelite.
  • 1888:
  • 1890:
    • The phonograph becomes faster and more convenient due to an electric motor. The electric motor brings on the first juke box with cylinders - even before flat disk records were widely available.
    • Thomas Edison discovers thermionic emission. To this day, this effect forms the basis for the vacuum tube and the cathode ray tube.
  • approximately 1893: The invention of the selenium phototube allows the conversion of brightness values into electrical signals. The principle is applied in wirephoto and television technology for a short time. Selenium is used in light meters for the next 50 years.
  • 1895: Auguste Lumiere's cinematograph displays moving images for the first time. In the same year, brothers Emil and Max Skladanowsky present their "Bioscop" in Berlin.
  • 1897
    • Ferdinand Braun invents the "inertialess cathode ray oscillograph tube", a principle which remained unchanged in television picture tubes.
    • The Italian Guglielmo Marconi transmits wireless telegraph messages by electromagnetic waves over a distance of five kilometers.
  • 1898
    • The Danish physicist Valdemar Poulsen creates the world's first magnetic recording and reproduction, using a 1 mm thick steel wire as a magnetizable carrier.
    • Nikola Tesla demonstrated the first wireless remote control of a model ship.
  • 1899: The dog "Nipper" is used "His Master's Voice", the trademark for gramophones and records.
  • 1902
    • Otto von Bronk patented his "Method and apparatus for remote visualization of images and objects with temporary resolution of the images in parallel rows of dots". This patent, originally developed for phototelegraphy, impaced the development of color television, particularly the NTSC implementation.
    • For the first time audio records are printed with paper labels in the middle.
  • 1903: Guglielmo Marconi provides evidence that wireless telegraphic communication is possible over long distances, such as across the Atlantic. He used a transmitter developed by Ferdinand Braun.
  • 1904
    • For the first time, double-sided records, and those with a diameter of 30 cm are produced, increasing playing time up to 11 minutes (5.5 minutes per side). These are created by Odeon in Berlin at debued at the Leipzig Spring Fair.
    • The German physicist Arthur Korn developed the first practical method for telegraphy.
  • 1905: The Englishman Sir John Ambrose Fleming invents the first electron tube.
  • 1906
    • Robert von Lieben patented his "inertia working cathode-ray-relays". By 1910 he developed this into the first real tube amplifier, by creating a triode. His invention of the triode is almost simultaneously created the American Lee de Forest.
    • Max Dieckmann and Gustav Glage use the Braun tube for playback of 20-line black-and-white images.
    • The first jukebox with records comes on the market.
    • The American General and researchers at HHC Dunwoody file for a patent for a carborundum steel detector for receiving radio broadcasts. It is the first semiconductor in history. GW Pickard suggests at the same time a silicon detector with tip contact. The envelope detector is an important part of every radio receiver. Thousands of amateurs tinkering in the following years with galena crystal (lead-sulfur compound) and some simple components their own radio receivers. Since these simple receivers are not active (amplifying) components are used, only strong local stations can be received.
  • 1907: Rosenthal puts in his image telegraph for the first time a photocell.
  • 1911: First film studios are created in Hollywood and Potsdam- Babelsberg .
  • 1912: The first radio receiver is created, in accordance with the Audion principle.
  • 1913: The legal battle over the invention of the electron tube between Robert von Lieben and Lee de Forest is decided. The electron tube is replaced by a high vacuum in the glass flask significantly improved properties.
    • Alexander Meissner patented his process "feedback for generating oscillations", by his development of a radio station using an electron tube .
    • The Englishman Arthur Berry submits a patent on the manufacture of printed circuits by through etched metal.
  • 1915: Carl Benedicks leads basic studies in Sweden on the electrical properties of silicon and germanium. Due to the emerging tube technology, however, the interest in semiconductors remains low until after the Second World War.
  • 1917
    • Based on previous findings of the Englishman Oliver Lodge, the Frenchman Lucien Levy develops a radio receiver with frequency tuning using a resonant circuit.
  • 1919: Charlie Chaplin founded the Hollywood film production and distribution company United Artists
  • 1920: The first regularly operating radio station KDKA goes on air on 2 November 1920 in Philadelphia, USA. It is the first time electronics are used to transmit information and entertainment to the public at large. The same year in Germany an instrumental concert was broadcast on the radio from a long-wave transmitter in Wusterhausen.
  • 1922: J. McWilliams Stone invents the first portable radio receiver. George Frost builds the first "car radio" in his Ford Model T.
  • 1923
    • The 15 year old Manfred von Ardenne is granted his first patent for an electron tube having a plurality of electrodes. Siegmund Loewe (1885-1962) builds with the tube his first radio receiver "Loewe Opta-".
    • The Hungarian engineer Dénes Mihály patented an image scanning with line deflection, in which each point of an image is scanned ten times per second by a selenium cell.
    • August Karolus (1893-1972) invents the Kerr cell, an almost inertia-free conversion of electrical pulses into light signals. He was granted a patent for his method of transmitting slides.
    • Vladimir Kosma developed the first television camera tube, the Ikonoskop, using the Braun tube.
    • The German State Secretary Karl August Bredow founded the first German broadcasting organization. By lifting the ban on broadcast reception and the opening of the first private radio station, the development of radio as a mass medium begins.

1924-1959: From cathode ray tube to stereo audio and TV[edit]


Main consumer electronics products include radio receivers, television sets, MP3 players, video recorders, DVD players, digital cameras, camcorders, personal computers, video game consoles, telephones and mobile phones.[3] Increasingly these products have become based on digital technologies, and have largely merged with the computer industry in what is increasingly referred to as the consumerization of information technology such as those invented by Apple Inc. and MIT Media Lab.


A modern flat panel television set

One overriding characteristic of consumer electronic products is the trend of ever-falling prices. This is driven by gains in manufacturing efficiency and automation, lower labor costs as manufacturing has moved to lower-wage countries, and improvements in semiconductor design.[4] Semiconductor components benefit from Moore's Law, an observed principle which states that, for a given price, semiconductor functionality doubles every two years.

While consumer electronics continues in its trend of convergence, combining elements of many products, consumers face different decisions when purchasing. There is an ever increasing need to keep product information updated and comparable, for the consumer to make an informed choice. Style, price, specification, and performance are all relevant. There is a gradual shift towards e-commerce web-storefronts.

Many products include Internet connectivity using technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, EDGE or Ethernet. Products not traditionally associated with computer use (such as TVs or Hi-Fi equipment) now provide options to connect to the Internet or to a computer using a home network to provide access to digital content. The desire for high-definition (HD) content has led the industry to develop a number of technologies, such as WirelessHD or ITU-T, which are optimized for distribution of HD content between consumer electronic devices in a home.


Many consumer electronics are built in China, due to maintenance cost, availability of materials, quality, and speed as opposed to other countries such as the United States.[5] Cities such as Shenzhen have become important production centres for the industry, attracting many consumer electronics companies such as Apple Inc.[6]

Electronic component[edit]

Main article: Electronic component

An electronic component is any basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect electrons or their associated fields. Electronic components are mostly industrial products, available in a singular form and are not to be confused with electrical elements, which are conceptual abstractions representing idealized electronic components.

Software development[edit]

Consumer electronics such as personal computers use various types of software. Embedded software is used within some consumer electronics, such as mobile phones.[7] This type of software may be embedded within the hardware of electronic devices.[8] Some consumer electronics include software that is used on a personal computer in conjunction with electronic devices, such as camcorders and digital cameras, and third-party software for such devices also exists.


Some consumer electronics adhere to protocols, such as connection protocols "to high speed bi-directional signals".[9] In telecommunications, a communications protocol is a system of digital rules for data exchange within or between computers.

Trade shows[edit]

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) trade show has taken place yearly in Las Vegas, Nevada since its foundation in 1973. The event, which grew from having 100 exhibitors in its inaugural year to more than 3,600 exhibitors in its 2014 edition, features new consumer electronics and speeches by industry pioneers.[10]


Electronics retailing is a significant part of the retail industry in many countries. In the United States, big-box store retailers include Best Buy and Sears, with Best Buy being the largest consumer electronics retailer in the country.[11] Broad-based retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, may also sell consumer electronics.[11] In April 2014 in the United States, retail e-commerce sales were the highest for consumer electronics and computers.[12] Some consumer electronics retailers offer extended warranties on products with programs such as SquareTrade.[13]

Electronics districts[edit]

An electronics district is an area of commerce with a high density of retail stores that sell consumer electronics. An electronics district exists in Shenzhen, China, where consumers "can buy every type of gadget and component imaginable."[14]


Main article: Electronics industry

The electronics industry, especially meaning consumer electronics, emerged in the 20th century and has now become a global industry worth billions of dollars. Contemporary society uses all manner of electronic devices built in automated or semi-automated factories operated by the industry.

Mobile phone industry[edit]

By country[edit]

Service and repair[edit]

Consumer electronic service can refer to the maintenance of said products. When consumer electronics have malfunctions, they may sometimes be repaired.

In contemporary times in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, increased popularity in listening to sound from analog audio devices, as opposed to digital sound, has sparked a noticeable increase of business for the electronic repair industry there.[15]

Environmental impact[edit]

Standby power[edit]

Standby power – used by consumer electronics and appliances while they are turned off – accounts for 5–10% of total household energy consumption, costing $100 annually to the average household in the United States.[16] A study by United States Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab found that a videocassette recorders (VCRs) consume more electricity during the course of a year in standby mode than when they are used to record or playback videos. Similar findings were obtained concerning satellite boxes, which consume almost the same amount of energy in "on" and "off" modes.[17]

A 2012 study in the United Kingdom, carried out by the Energy Saving Trust, found that the devices using the most power on standby mode included televisions, satellite boxes and other video and audio equipment. The study concluded that UK households could save up to £86 per year by switching devices off instead of using standby mode.[18] A report from the International Energy Agency in 2014 found that $80 billion of power is wasted globally per year due to inefficiency of electronic devices.[19] Consumers can reduce unwanted use of standby power by unplugging their devices, using power strips with switches, or by buying devices that are standardized for better energy management, particularly Energy Star marked products.[16]

Electronic waste[edit]

Electronic waste: discarded electronic equipment

Electronic waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. Many consumer electronics may contain toxic minerals and elements,[20] and many electronic scrap components, such as CRTs, may contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, dioxins, or brominated flame retardants. Electronic waste recycling may involve significant risk to workers and communities and great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaking of materials such as heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes. However, large amounts of the produced electronic waste from developed countries is exported, and handled by the informal sector in countries like India, despite the fact that exporting electronic waste to them is illegal. Strong informal sector can be a problem for the safe and clean recycling.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ CEA: Industry Statistics 
  2. ^ Schaller, Bob (26 September 1996). The Origin, Nature, and Implications of Moore's Law. The Benchmark of Progress in Semiconductor Electronics. Microsoft Research. "Moore viewed the 1959 innovation of the planar transistor as the origin of "Moore's Law." 
  3. ^ "Consumer Electronics Manufacturing Industry Overview". Hoover's. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  4. ^ Mike Deng (23 October 2012). "China Moves to Automate Electronics Manufacturing". Quality Digest. Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Baker, Phil (11 August 2014). "Why can’t the US build consumer electronic products?". San Diego Source. The Daily Transcript. Retrieved September 9, 2014. 
  6. ^ Gamble, Craig (22 August 2014). "Shenzhen in China becomes a power source for the electronics industry". Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  7. ^ Hachman, Mark (September 4, 2014). "Microsoft announces two Lumia phones, always-on Cortana, and clever new mobile accessories". PC World. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  8. ^ "Electronics hardware consumption poised to touch *360 bln by 2015". One India. April 13, 2008. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  9. ^ "Signal Converter of Consumer Electronics Connection Protocols (US 20120287942 A1)". IFI CLAIMS Patent Services. November 15, 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  10. ^ Hornyak, Tim (2 September 2014). "Jack Wayman, founder of CES trade show, dies at 92". Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Murphy, H. Lee (January 27, 2014). "Why consumer electronics retailers are the next record store". Crain's Chicago Business. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  12. ^ eMarketer (April 11, 2014). "US Retail Ecommerce Sales Highest for Computers, Consumer Electronics". Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  13. ^ Sherman, Erik (December 19, 2011). "Hold off extended warranties until you read this". CBS News (Moneywatch). Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  14. ^ Cellan-Jones, Rory (December 7, 2012). "Look round Shenzhen's Electronics District". BBC News. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  15. ^ Todd, Deborah M. (August 18, 2013). "Electronic repair industry gets second wind". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 11 September 2014. 
  16. ^ a b Chu, John (1 November 2012). "3 Easy Tips to Reduce Your Standby Power Loads". United States Department of Energy. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  17. ^ Lippert, John (17 August 2009). "Please Stand By: Reduce Your Standby Power Use". United States Department of Energy. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  18. ^ Harvey, Fiona (26 June 2012). "Leaving appliances on standby 'can cost UK households up to £86 a year'". Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  19. ^ Carr, Matthew (2 July 2014). "Electronic Devices Waste $80 Billion of Power a Year, IEA Says". Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  20. ^ Moreno, Julia (8 September 2014). "Normal is recycling out-of-date electronics". Vidette Online. Illinois State University. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  21. ^ Bhowmick, Nilanjana (23 May 2011). "Is India's E-Waste Problem Spiraling Out of Control?". TIME. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 

External links[edit]