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Hacked TV Only Works When You Smile

Don't even try to watch the most recent season of 'Louie' with 'Smile TV.'

With today's technology, television looks so crisp that sometimes it feels like every show—from The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones—has the same curious filter found in soap operas or reality TV. Even the most fantastical narratives look like real life in HD. In the antenna era, bad reception and picture quality was pervasive and frustrating, but ultimately defined the aura of classic American television. One artist is revisiting the TV static of yesterday with a tongue-in-cheek twist: to watch David Hedberg's Smile TV,you have to literally smile to get quality reception.


It's as simple as it sounds: sit in front of Smile TV with a frown and the display will only show scrambled images. But grin widely, and the image focuses into clips of retro television programs (hopefully funny ones). The reception will be strong for as long as you can strain your cheeks.

The installation is made from an open frame CRT monitor with a Kinect-like vision system embedded inside a label that says "SMILE TO WATCH." The camera monitors the facial expressions of viewers through a Max/MSP customization called FaceOSC, and once it sees your pearly whites, the faltering images becomes clear.

Writes Hedberg on the project page:

"Bad reception used to be associated with the poor technical performance of an antenna. Just a decade ago it was much clearer who dictates the information which we absorb. Now, with content widely accessible the question is no longer if we can receive but if we are receptive.

By expressing that we like something, we have very much become antennas ourselves - transmitting the content on to somebody else. This TV installation elaborates with facial recognition technology and a last-decade TV set to re-consider viewers engagement and how content is accessed. It only works if we smile."

Smile TV was the artist's submission at the Royal College of Art's SHOW RCA within the School of Communication’s Information Experience Design program. We'd love to see this device hooked up to modern day programming, though let's be honest: don't even try to watch True Detective or the most recent season of Louie—you won't even get a glimpse of programming.


For more on Hedburg's work, visit his website here:

h/t Creative Applications


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