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.

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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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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Talking View-Master Electronic 3-D Viewer (1984 – late 1980s)

The Talking View-Master Electronic 3-D Viewer was a device for viewing stereoscopic film images with accompanying audio, and was introduced by View-Master International in 1984. It was a development of an earlier Talking View-Master which has been introduced in 1970 by GAF that used a small transparent phonograph disc attached to the View-Master reel.

The new version of the Talking View-Master used a cartridge containing (and protecting) a separate film reel and flexible black phonograph disc. The viewer provided better sound quality by using a sapphire stylus, linear tracking tone arm and microprocessor controlled motor for better speed control. The new version also had volume control, and headphones.

When a cartridge was inserted, a beep sounded until the reel was aligned to picture one, and then the record was started. A beep then sounded for the viewer to advance the reel, and at the end a message plays to remind the viewer to remove the cartridge.

As well as Disney and other cartoons, there were reels for contemporary live action TV programmes such as the A-Team, Fraggle Rock, Knight Rider and Sesame Street, and a Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ reel.

Although View-Master International indicated before launch that retailer response was strong, the new Talking View-Master didn’t appear to have lasted very long and less than 45 titles were released.

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MPEG IMX (2001 – 2016)

MPEG IMX (also known as D10) was a standard-definition digital video cassette format introduced by Sony in 2001 and was part of the Betacam family of professional video formats. It was priced between Sony’s Betacam SX and the more expensive Digital Betacam, and was intended to compete with the Panasonic DVCPRO 50 system. As the name suggests, MPEG IMX recorded in MPEG video format, in case MPEG-2 using only I-frames and 8 channel audio.

Like other Betacam formats, tape width was ½ inch and cassettes were available in small or large form factors, with the S size holding up to 60 minutes of video, and the L size up to 184 minutes. To distinguish MPEG IMX tapes from other Betacam formats, the shells were coloured green. Metal particle tape was used.

All IMX video recorders could playback Betacam SX tapes, and some could playback Digital Betacam as well as analogue Betacam and Betacam SP tapes, the video from which could be encoded into MPEG-2 format. Only IMX tapes could be used for recording in IMX video recorders.

Like all Betacam formats, no new MPEG IMX video recorders are being made, having been discontinued in 2016.

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Exatron Stringy Floppy (1978 – 1986)

The Exatron String Floppy was introduced in 1978, and was an endless loop tape cartridge system for microcomputers. At the time, floppy disk systems were still expensive, and cassette tapes were very slow. Despite the name, so-called stringy floppy systems are unrelated to floppy disks.

The tape cartridges, called wafers, contained a 1/16-inch loop of mylar-based chrome dioxide tape, in different lengths according to the capacity of the wafer. The smallest wafer contained 5 feet of tape and could hold 4 KB of data, and the longest was 75 foot and, capable of holding 64 KB of data. A 16 KB file took just 24 seconds to load.

The Exatron Stringy Floppy system was most commonly used with the TRS-80 range of computers, and did not require an expansion interface. By 1982, the price has fallen to $99.50. As well as being used to save data, software, including programs and games, was available on Stringy Floppy wafers.

Although popular with TRS-80 owners, the system could be unreliable, and as the price of faster and more reliable floppy disk drives fell they became less attractive. They continued to be advertised until 1986.

Similar stringy floppy tape systems were available during the 1980s, including the Sinclair ZX Microdrive, and the Rotronics Wafadrive.

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Minifon wire reel (1959 – 1967)

The Minifon name was applied to a range of miniature wire recorders introduced initially by the German company Monske & Co GmbH in 1951, and then produced by Protona GmbH from 1952 until 1967, although they were also sold under the Telefunken, ITT and EMI brands.

The recorders ran on batteries, and could record over 2 hours on a single reel of wire (later models allowed for 5 hours of recording). As the reels turn, the recording/playback head moved up and down so the wire was spooled evenly on each reel.

They were popular for covert recordings, and an accessory microphone that was made to look like a wristwatch was available. Minifon recorders were sold in overseas markets such as the US and UK.

In 1959 the Minifon Ataché was introduced, using a tape cartridge for the first time, but the wire-based recorders continue to be produced until Protona ceased production of all Minifon models in 1967.

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