Category: Format

View-Master Virtual Reality Experience Pack (2015 – )

The View-Master Virtual Reality Experience Pack is designed to be used with the View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer introduced by Mattel in 2015 – a headset that holds a smartphone and allows the viewing of 3D virtual and augmented reality images via an app.

There are a number of Experience Packs available as of 2017, including educational titles such as ‘Destinations’, ‘Wildlife’, ‘Dinosaurs’ and ‘Space’, as well as some entertainment titles such as ‘Batman’ and ‘Masters of the Universe’. Each pack contains a Pass Card to activate the app, and three ‘reels’. The Virtual Reality Viewer also comes with a preview reel.

The reels, which are made to look a bit like the original View-Master reels, do not contain any information but trigger the app to display an augmented reality icon above the reel when viewed through the Virtual Reality Viewer, and the user can then select the reel to view virtual reality content. Unlike previous versions of the View-Master, the reels are never inserted into the device and it’s possible to access the Experience Pack contents without the reels, which merely act as a menu system.

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7-inch EP (1952 – )

The 7-inch EP (for Extended Play) was a format introduced in 1952 by RCA Victor, just a few years after the introduction of the 7-inch single format in 1949.  It sat between the 7-inch single and the 12-inch Long Play (LP) record, and like the 7-inch single it span at 45 rpm so could be played on any photograph with a 45 rpm setting.

By using narrower grooves, it was possible to squeeze 7½ minutes of playing time on each side at the expense of volume, allowing more than one song on each side (generally EPs have between three and six tracks). Like LPs, EPs did not necessarily have ‘title’ tracks, and could have different names to the songs on them (for example the 1963 Beatles EP simply called ‘The Beatles’ Hits’).  They were also packaged more like an LP with a cardboard picture sleeve, whereas 7-inch singles until the 1970s generally had paper sleeves with just the record label on them.

Whilst less common in the US, the 7-inch EP was widely sold in the UK and some other European countries, and between 1960 and 1967 they were popular enough for Record Retailer magazine in the UK to compile a separate EP chart. They were a good way for artists to produce something more substantial than a single between LP releases.

They declined in popularity after the 1960s, and faced competition from formats such as 10-inch and 12-inch singles or EPs (which could allow for more sound volume with wider grooves), as well as Cassette and CD singles or EPs. However, small numbers of 7-inch EPs are still released.

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Dictaphone Dictet (1957 – early 1960s)

The Dictaphone Dictet was a portable dictation device introduced by the Dictaphone Corporation in 1957. It was perhaps the earliest magnetic tape dictation system – at the time of its introduction, most office dictation systems were using discs or belts onto which grooves were pressed, such as the SoundScriber, Audograph, or Dictaphone’s own Dictabelt system. An earlier portable system, the Protona Minifon used wire recording.

The Dictet was fully transistorised and weighed 1.2kg. The cassette had a metal shell and could record up to 60 minutes (30 minutes per side) on ¼-inch tape that ran at 2½ inches per second. Using special mercury batteries, the Dictet could operate for 20 hours.

The Dictet lasted until at least 1962, but it is unclear how much longer it lasted against newer competitors such as the Compact Cassette of 1963.

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LightScribe (2004 – 2013)

LightScribe was not a format as such, but a technology introduced by Hewlett-Packard in 2004 that allowed optical drives to laser-etch labels onto compatible media.

As well as a compatible LightScribe enabled drive, LightScribe drivers and suitable disc-burning software that supported LightScribe was required. Finally, a LightScribe compatible disc was needed. After burning data to the disc, the disc is turned over so the label side is face down, and the same laser that burnt data is used to etch the reactive dye coating of the disc.

LightScribe-compatible discs came in the form of CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW. No Blu-ray discs were LightScribe compatible.

The LightScribe technology could only etch in monochrome, and it was possible for the design to fade over time, especially if the disk was exposed to direct sunlight. Etching a disc took a considerable amount of time; up to 30 minutes for a high-contrast image.

As of 2013, the technology was no longer promoted by Hewlett-Packard, but it is possible to obtain the software from elsewhere. Drive manufactures have now ceased making LightScribe enabled optical drives (optical drives in computers are under threat in general).

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Philips EL 3581 (1958 – early 1960s)

The Philips EL 3851 was an office dictation machine introduced by Philips (known as Norelco in the US) in 1958 and was one of the earliest magnetic tape dictation systems (the Dictaphone Dictet was launched shortly before it). At the time of its introduction, most dictation systems were using discs or belts onto which grooves were pressed, such as the Dictabelt, SoundScriber and Audograph systems.

Although the EL 3851 uses a cartridge so no threading is required, the tape is housed on two separate 3-inch reels with ¼-inch tape and cine spindle holes suitable for domestic open reel tape recorders. Removing a clip from the cartridge shell allows the reels to be removed.

Like some other dictation machines, the microphone also doubles as a speaker, and contains some tape controls. A foot pedal and external speaker were also available.

Philips later introduced the much smaller Compact Cassette format in 1963, followed by the mini-cassette in 1967 and it doesn’t appear the EL 3851 was produced for long.

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Enhanced CD (1994 – )

An enhanced CD (or ECD) is a Compact Disc that contains both audio content playable on a standard CD audio player, and multimedia content playable on a computer CD-ROM.

Introduced in 1994, the idea behind enhanced CDs was to offer the music buyer some extra bonus features using space on the disc that was unfilled by the music. This might take the form of music videos (similar to the earlier idea of CD Video), interviews, wallpapers, pictures, lyrics, or links to an artists website.

Rather confusingly, there were three different ways on combining the different content on the disc. Prior to 1996, enhanced CDs were created in one of two ways. One was to have the multimedia content in the first track, but this meant that track 1 needed to be skipped when played in a standard CD audio player or else the multimedia track could cause an unpleasant noise to be heard. A subsequent solution was to have the multimedia content in the pre-gap before track 1 (rather like the way a CD-i Ready disc worked). Both of these methods were known as ‘mixed-mode’, combining Red Book Digital Audio and Yellow Book CD-ROM information in a single ‘session’ on the same disc.

To get around the problems of mixed-mode discs, Philips and Sony released the Blue Book standards in 1995, and worked with Apple, Microsoft and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to develop them. This new standard specified multisession technology that used two sessions on the disc, the first one containing audio tracks, and the second one containing data that is invisible to CD audio players. In 1996, most enhanced CDs used mixed-mode with the multimedia in the pre-gap, but by 1997 most were using Blue Book standards. The only downside to the newer multisession technology was that CD-ROM drives made before 1996 might not recognise them if they were not multisession capable.

Enhanced CDs can usually be recognised the official ‘Enhanced CD’ logo recommended by the RIAA. They may also have the CD EXTRA logo (previously known as CD Plus), which was trademarked by Sony for use on Blue Book discs.

Later technologies like DVD-Audio or DualDisc tried to perform the same function of offering the music album with bonus material such as videos, but later albums often came instead with the videos on a separate DVD-Video.

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DVD-10 / double-sided DVD (1998 – )

DVD-10 discs are double-sided, single-layer DVD-Video discs and are sometimes referred to as ‘flippers’ since they need to be turned over to access the content on the second side. The DVD-10 format is much less common than DVD-9 (single-sided, double-layered discs) but were used more in the early days of DVD-Video, before dual-layer disc production was widely supported. DVD-10 has a storage capacity for video of 9.4 GB (4.7 GB per side). Single-sided, dual-layer discs (DVD-9s) were a feature of the DVD standard from the start, but some early players did have problems with them or needed a firmware upgrade.

DVD-10s don’t feature any artwork on the disc apart from a small area near the spindle hole to indicate which side is which. This is a criticism of the format, along with the difficulty of avoiding finger marks and scratches on the playing surfaces of the disc.

Some DVD-10s contained the movie on one side and bonus material on the other, or a widescreen version on one side and a fullscreen version on the other but some discs did split the film into two parts so the disc needed to be turned during the film, rather like a LaserDisc. Some people reserve the term ‘flipper’ for DVD-10s where the main feature is split over the two sides.

It is possible to find double-sided, dual-layer DVDs (DVD-18s), but these are uncommon, and reportedly more liable to playback problems.

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Nintendo Wii U Optical Disc (2012 -2017)

The Wii U was a video game console introduced by Nintendo in 2012 as the successor to the Nintendo Wii. On release, it was the first eighth-generation video game console, and supported high-definition graphics.  It later competed with other eighth-generation consoles such as the Sony PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft Xbox One.

The controller contained its own screen and could either supplement the main display, or in some games could be used independently of the television.

The Wii U could play discs from the previous Wii system, but no longer supported Nintendo GameCube discs. Games for the Wii U could be downloaded from the Nintendo eShop or bought on the proprietary Wii U Optical Disc. The discs themselves stored up to 25GB (only single-layer discs were used) and were similar to Blu-ray discs having been developed for Nintendo by Panasonic. However, the Wii U could not play Blu-ray discs.

Like the previous Nintendo Wii Optical Disc, the discs for the Wii U have rounded edges both on the outside of the disc and inside the spindle hole.

By the end of 2016, over 13 million Wii U consoles had been sold, but the Wii U was discontinued in January 2017.

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Durium record (1932 – 1933)

Durium was the name of a UK record label, and also the name of the material used to make the records it issued, which was a synthetic brown resin invented in the US in 1929. Durium was also used by a US record label called ‘Hit Of The Week’ between 1930 and 1932 to make cardboard-backed flexi-discs, initially with one song, and later with two songs on one side of the disc.

The UK Durium label also used the durium material make inexpensive cardboard-backed flexi-discs containing two songs, and sold at newsstands. Sound quality was as good or even better than the usual shellac used for most phonograph records of the time. They could be played with standard steel needles and were as durable as shellac discs (and less fragile). Like shellac records, Durium records span at 78rpm, but had closer spaced grooves to enable five minutes of playing time (at the expense of bass response).

Most discs were 10-inches in diameter, and were contained in flimsy sleeves. They usually had plain cardboard backings, but some had pictures of the artist.

In the UK, the Durium label released around 40 title from April 1932 to January 1933 at the rate of one per week, on Fridays which was traditionally payday in the UK.

Durium records are still playable today, unless they are badly creased. If the records will not sit flat on the turntable, they can be weighted with a upturned mug or similar object.

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CD-i Ready (1991 – 1998)

CD-i Ready was a hybrid optical disc format, combining audio tracks readable by any Compact Disc audio player, and multimedia or interactive elements readable on a CD-i (Compact Disc Interactive) player. It was introduced by Philips in 1991.

The audio tracks conform to Red Book Compact Disc Digital Audio standards, while the CD-i part conforms to Green Book standards, and could contain interviews, photos, biographies, games and more. The CD-i component is located in the ‘pre-gap’ area before track 1, which is skipped over by Compact Disc audio players.

The idea, like CD-i generally, was not a commercial success, and there appear to be fewer than 20 titles released as CD-i Ready discs.

The ideas behind the hybrid CD-i Ready discs were used in later types of hybrid audio/data discs such as the Enhanced CD that contained content which could be read on a standard computer CD-ROM drive rather than requiring a dedicated CD-i player.

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