Category: Obsolete

Refers to formats not in widespread use either because the media or the systems using the media are not produced. The date when a format becomes obsolete is often difficult to determine because it may continue to be used for many years after being discontinued, or may become a niche format used by a few.

Record album (late 1900s – 1950s)

Sometime during the late 1900s, record companies began to sell sets of 78rpm disc records in hardback ‘albums’. These were much like photograph albums, but with paper sleeves for multiple 10-inch or 12-inch phonograph discs, and they allowed record companies to sell complete musical works such as operas or classical works. The 78 rpm records of the time were only able to contain around 3 minutes of playing time on the 10-inch version, and 5 minutes on the 12-inch versions, so a longer complete work had to be spread across several discs.

Around the same time, empty record albums became available to allow listeners to store and protect their own discs, write information about the contents on an index page, and display the album on bookshelves.

Record albums eventually came to be used to contain compilations by artist, or by genre, in addition to longer works, and a set of 4-5 discs could contain 8-10 songs. Later releases had cover artwork and liner notes.

With the advent of the Long Play microgroove record in 1948 that could hold the same number of songs on a single disc there was no longer a need for record albums containing several discs, and indeed by the late 1950s the 78 rpm disc itself was being phased out. However, the term ‘album’ continues to be used to describe a collection of songs, whatever the format.

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Metal tape Microcassette (1981 – mid-1980s)

The Microcassette was introduced in 1969 by Olympus for dictation purposes, but in 1981 and 1982 several devices were introduced that used the Microcassette for music recording and playback.

Several personal stereo devices, similar to the Sony Walkman were introduced, such as the Olympus SR-11, and there were also several Microcassette decks for Hi-Fi separates systems from brands such as JVC, Sanyo, Technics and Sony.

The Microcassette for music was a little different to the standard Microcassette and used metal tape (coated with pure metal particles rather than oxide) which had been introduced for the Compact Cassette in 1979 as this offered higher sound quality. Many of the new Microcassette music devices offered Dolby noise reduction, and of course this version of the Microcassette offered stereo sound.

A few pre-recorded tapes were released (mostly in Japan), but the format failed to take off and seems to have disappeared fairly quickly. Even at the time the tapes had limited availability and were expensive, and it’s now hard to find original metal tape Microcassettes.

Despite being used for music playback in its metal-tape form, the cassette seen in the 1971 film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was the similar Mini-Cassette format and not a Microcassette.

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Grundig Stenorette (1954 – 1970s)

The Stenorette was an office dictation machine introduced by Grundig in 1954, and successfully sold internationally. 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 Dictabelt systems. The first model, the Stenorette A, was nicknamed the ‘tree frog’ due to its green colour. Like some other dictation systems, the microphone doubled as the speaker, and contained stop/start controls.

The Stenorette cassette contained a single reel of ¼-inch tape, and a loop on the end was pulled out and clipped into the take-up reel. Recording time was 30 minutes per cassette, but some offered 45 minutes. Some tapes, particularly those from the US, seem to have no cover and are simply a small reel.

The Stenorette cassette system lasted into the 1970s with the introduction of the Stenorette SL model in 1972, but Grundig launched its first machine using its new cassette format, the Steno-Cassette in the same year. The Steno-Cassette was a true cassette containing dual reels and as well as being more compact, didn’t need to be rewound before being removed from the machine. The Stenorette name was continued on machines using the newer Steno-Cassette format.

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DASH (Digital Audio Stationary Head) (1982 – mid-1990s)

Sony introduced the DASH (Digital Audio Stationary Head) in 1982 for use in professional recording studios. The DASH system could record two-channel audio on ¼-inch tape, or 24 or 48 tracks onto ½-inch tape, and DASH recorders were produced by Sony, Studer and TASCAM.

The tape itself looked identical to standard NAB open reel analogue tape, but tape for use in DASH and the competing (and incompatible) ProDigi format systems used metal-particle tape which was not suitable for use in analogue systems due to the faster wear on the heads. Several companies produced open reel metal-particle tape for digital audio systems, and some examples included 3M Scotch 275, Ampex 467, EMTEC 931 and Sony own-brand tape. Metal-particle tape was even more expensive than oxide-based tape for analogue systems.

Unlike some other digital audio recording systems using tape such as DAT or U-Matic which used helical scanning, the DASH and ProDigi systems used a stationary recording head.

The audio was encoded as PCM, and included error correction, and all DASH recorders were capable of using 16-bit resolution with a 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling rate, with a couple of models capable of 24-bit 48 kHz operation.

DASH and ProDigi were the two main open-reel digital audio recording systems in use from the early-1980s to the mid-1990s, but eventually the falling price of hard-disk space, as well as more compact systems such as ADAT, made them less viable.

Although DASH was a digital system, it still had the disadvantage of having to wind through the tape to find a particular point, and wear could still be a problem. Poorly maintained machines or tape, dust, or fingerprints could render tapes unusable despite the error correction system.

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 5obsolescence 5

Yaboom MCD Musical Key Chain (1999 – 2001)

Yaboom was a toy manufacturer of the late 1990s and early 2000s that specialised in celebrity musical dolls. It also made a couple of different formats for music, one of which was the MCD Musical Key Chain which was a small music player on a key chain.

Like similar formats such as HitClips, it was aimed at the teenage market. And like HitClips, sound quality was poor but the single songs were at least full length. As well as a play button, there was a switch that meant a 20 second sample was played when the play button was pressed, and this allowed users to hear a sample before buying as the play button could be pressed whilst the device was still in its packaging. There was no volume control and no headphone socket so the song could only be played through the tiny built-in speaker.

Artists such as Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, TLC, B*Witched and Five were released on MCD Musical Key Chains.

Yaboom also made the Yaboom Box, a very small replica boom box on a key chain, that could be used with tiny interchangeable cartridges.

Yaboom appeared to have ceased trading sometime in 2001.

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EIAJ-2 (1972 – late 1970s)

EIAJ-2 was a video tape format developed by the Electronic Industries Association of Japan and sold by Matsushita under the National or Panasonic brands, and also by Hitachi. The format is also referred to as Omnivision. It was introduced around 1972, as Billboard magazine refers to it being under development in August 1972, and in February 1973, Panasonic re-emphasised its commitment to the format.

It was a development of the open reel EIAJ-1 standard and used the same ½-inch tape and recording specifications. However, the tape was enclosed in a cartridge to do away with the need for manually threading it, but unlike later video cassette formats the take-up reel is enclosed within the video recorder so the cartridge needed to be rewound before the cartridge could be removed from the machine.

EIAJ-2 offered colour recording on 30 minute cartridges (a 60 minute cartridge came later, and appears to be rare) and was used in the industrial, educational and consumer markets.

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 5obsolescence 5

Nintendo Game Boy Advance Video (2004 – 2007)

Game Boy Advance Video was a means of watching video on the Nintendo Game Boy Advance handheld game console and was first introduced in 2004. The video came on ROM cartridges that looked similar to standard Game Paks, except they were always light grey and had a film perforation design on the label.

The Video Paks offered digital video with a resolution of 240 x 160 and full colour, but due to the low capacity of the cartridges the video was very compressed and of poor quality. The cartridges could also be used in the Game Boy Advance SP, Game Boy Micro, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo DS Lite systems. They could not be played on the Game Boy Player add-on for the Nintendo Game Cube (the low resolution would have become even more apparent on a television screen) because the Game Boy Player could be attached to a VCR or DVD recorder, so the ability to play video was disabled to prevent illegal copying of Game Boy Video material.

Content was mostly in the form of cartoons from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney, and also by Nintendo themselves with the Pokemon cartoons. Some full-length animated feature films were released by DreamWorks Animation, namely Shark Tale, Shrek, and Shrek 2. Around 25 cartridges were released, with the last ones released in 2007.

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Copy-protected Compact Disc (2000 – 2006)

The original specification for Compact Disc Digital Audio, known as the Red Book, did not make any provision for copy protection, and by the late 1990s millions of ripped audio tracks from Compact Discs were compressed as MP3s and shared over the internet.

The music industry did several things to try and rectify the situation, including setting up online music stores selling music through a subscription model, and the Recording Industry Association of America also prosecuted over 20,000 individuals they accused of sharing pirated MP3s.

Starting around 2000, the music industry also began to put copy-protection onto audio Compact Discs. Companies such as EMI, Sony, BMG, and for a time Warner used copy protection as a means to prevent ripping of audio tracks onto a computer.

Since the discs were non-compliant with the Red Book standard, they were not supposed to display the Compact Disc Digital Audio logo on either the disc or inside the jewel case. There was also a consumer outcry against the disks as they prevented tracks from being copied to the purchaser’s personal audio devices, and some CD players such as those in cars would not play the disks (since these sometimes used some CD-ROM components, especially if they were intended to play disks containing MP3 or other types of compressed files).

In 2005, it was discovered that Sony BMG were using a type of copy protection called Extended Copy Protection (XCP) which installed a rootkit on a user’s computer. This sparked a scandal as it could be used by malware, and Sony announced a recall of disks using XCP and suspended its use.

EMI was the last major label to abandon copy protection in 2006.

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Betacam SP (1986 – 2001)

Betacam SP (Superior Performance) was an analogue broadcast video cassette format, introduced in 1986 as a improvement on the original Betacam.

It used metal-formulated tape and offered increased horizontal resolution of 340 lines. Betacam SP became the industry standard for most TV stations and high-end production houses until the late 1990s.

Betacam SP came in two sizes, with the S-size based on the original Betacam shell and intended for use in camcorders, and the new L-size intended for video editing machines. Whereas Betacam was limited to 30 minutes recording time on the S-size cassettes, the L-size Betacam SP cassette allowed for up to 90 minutes.

A digital version, Digital Betacam was launched in 1993, and subsequently, Betacam SX was launched in 1996 as a cheaper digital alternative.

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Preservation / Migration

MII (1986 – early 1990s)

MII (pronounced as M 2) was an analogue videocassette format introduced by Panasonic in 1986 for professional use, to compete with Sony’s Betacam SP format.

MII was a development of the M format, which was originally derived from VHS, and it used ½ inch wide metal-formulated tape and component video recording.

Two sizes of MII cassette were available. The larger one was similar to a VHS cassette in size and had either a 60 or 90 minute recording time, and the smaller version provided 20 minutes.

MII had more success in the marketplace than its predecessor M, but MII suffered from poor marketing and customer support, and the machines gained a reputation for being less robust than those for Betacam SP.

It was used by a few UK television companies until the early 1990s, including Thames Television and TV-am. It was also used by NBC and PBS in the US, but NBC dropped it in the early 1990s in favour of the digital Sony D2 format.

The tape used in MII cassettes is very thin, and if stored badly can become mouldy and hence prone to tearing.

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 3obsolescence 5