Tagged: ¼ inch

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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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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HDV (2003 – 2011)

HDV was a high-definition digital video format for camcorders. Because of its high quality, it has been used for broadcast television as well as amateur video recording. JVC was the first company to release a HDV camcorder in 2003, with Sony and Canon producing camcorders later.

HDV video can be recorded at 720p and 1080p, sometimes referred to as HDV1 and HDV2 respectively.

Although special HDV tapes are available, their use was not required as the tape formulation (Metal Evaporate) is the same as standard MiniDV cassettes. One Sony camera could also use the large DV cassette format. HDV devices could usually play and record in DV format as well as HDV.

Accessories were available to allow HDV camcorders to record to non-tape media such as CompactFlash cards.

By 2011, Canon, JVC and Sony had discontinued their HDV products, and invested instead in fully tapeless formats such as XDCAM.

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3M Cantata 700 (1965 – 1990s)

The 3M Cantata 700 was a background music system introduced by 3M in 1965.

The tape cartridge was the largest ever available and consisted of two 8-inch open reels of ¼-inch mono tape stacked on top of each other. Each cartridge could hold up to 700 songs, hence the name of the system.

The 3M Cantata system could be used for locations such as shops, offices and restaurants, and the pre-recorded music was licensed for public performance (it wasn’t possible for the user to record onto the system). It was used into the early 1990s.

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Stereo-Pak 4-Track Cartridge (1962 – 1970)

The Stereo-Pak 4-track cartridge was the forerunner to 8-track cartridges. It was based on the Fidelipac cartridge, the industry standard tape cartridge used at the time for radio broadcasting of commercials and jingles, but used 4 tracks to provide 2 stereo programmes.

It was introduced in 1962 by Earl ‘Madman’ Muntz (a merchandiser of used cars and consumer electronics). Players were usually fitted to cars (including those of a number of celebrities) but home players were also available, and these were capable of using the larger cartridges based on B and C size Fidelipac cartridges.  The Stereo-Pak system lasted until around 1970, by which time 8-Track was more popular despite being of poorer quality.

Muntz licensed music by many popular artists from most of the major record labels, and released hundreds of titles in many genres. Columbia Records was one of the few major record labels to release music recorded on Stereo-Pak cartridges themselves on a widespread basis.

The tape is arranged in an infinite loop which traverses a central hub and crosses a tape head at 3¾ inches per second, pulled by tension. The tape is dampened by a lubricant on the back, usually graphite. A lever on the player allowed the switching between programmes. Due to the method the tape is moved, it is impossible to rewind, and often risky to fast forward a 4-track tape.

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Fidelipac (1959 – late 1990s)


Fidelipac (commonly known as an NAB cartridge) was a magnetic tape cartridge format, used in radio broadcasting for playback of material such as radio commercials or jingles. It was the first audio tape cartridge commercially available when it was introduced in 1959 by Collins Radio.

Fidelipac used ¼-inch endless loop tape, with two or three tracks one of which was used to cue the tape. Most players ran at 7.5 inches per second, though some could also run at 3.75 or 15 ips.

There were three sizes of Fidelipac available; the 4-inch wide A size (up to 10.5 minutes playing time), the 6-inch wide B size, and the 8-inch wide C size. The most commonly used for broadcasting purposes was the A size, and the B and C sizes were usually used for background music applications where the tape speed usually was 3.75 inches per second for longer playing times.

Fidelipac was adapted as the basis for the 4-Track Stereo-Pak cartridge. Other similar cartridge designs were later used in broadcasting, such as the Audiopak and Scotchcart.

Unlike the 8-Track cartridge (but like the 4-Track cartridge), the pinch roller was built into the player and swung into place through a hole in the cartridge.

Fidelipac was widely used at radio stations until the late 1990s, when such formats as MiniDisc and computerized broadcast automation made it obsolete.

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DVCAM (1996 – )

DVCAM is a variation of the DV format introduced by Sony in 1996, and aimed at the semi-professional and lower-end professional market.

DVCAM uses the same type of tape and compression as DV and MiniDV but at a higher speed (almost 50% faster). In common with all DV formats, DVCAM uses tape that is ¼-inch (6.35 mm) wide. DVCAM uses metal evaporated (ME) tape

DVCAM tapes come in two different sizes. The smaller size uses the same form-factor as MiniDV and can hold up to 40 minutes, which the larger size (which is actually the medium size DV tape) can hold up to 184 minutes.

Technically, any DV cassette can record any variant of DV video.

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Preservation / Migration

Elcaset (1976 – 1980)

Introduced by Sony in 1976, the Elcaset (taken from L-cassette, or ‘large cassette’) was intended to marry the performance of reel to reel with Compact Cassette convenience. The concept was similar to RCA’s Sound Tape Cartridge from nearly 20 years previously.

The Elcaset used ¼-inch tape (double the width of Compact Cassette tape), and 3.75 inches per second (twice the speed) for better reproduction. The case was also larger (about three times the size of a Compact Cassette) and more rugged. The playback mechanism pulled the tape out of the case for more precise tracking across the head.

The system was technically excellent, but a total failure in the marketplace, with a very low take up by a few audiophiles only. The performance of Compact Cassettes improved dramatically with the use of new materials such as chromium dioxide and better manufacturing quality, and for most people were adequate.

No pre-recorded Elcaset tapes were produced and the machines were withdrawn from the market after only a few years.

When Sony pulled the Elcaset from the market in 1980, the remaining equipment was sold off in Finland for bargain prices.

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Echo-matic II (1962 – early 1970s)

The Echo-matic II was a two-track endless-loop magnetic tape cartridge invented by Bernard Cousino and marketed by Orrtronics.

It was intended for use in commercial applications such as point of sale, most famously as the audio system for the Zolton fortune teller arcade machine. The players allowed the tape to run continuously or to stop after a single play.

Cousino invented the use of tape treated on the back with colloidal graphite, which not only lubricated the tape in the pack but conducted away static. This was first used in 1952 in the Audiovendor cartridge which looped the tape around the heads of an open-reel tape recorder and was later developed as the Echo-matic enclosed cartridge.

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Compact Video Cassette (CVC) (1980 – 1983)

Compact Video Cassette (CVC) was an analogue video tape format introduced in 1980 by Funai Electronics for portable use. The first machine, the Model 212, was jointly developed by Funai and Technicolor and included a VCR and handheld camera.

The cassette itself was slightly larger than a Compact Cassette but significantly smaller than previous video cassette formats such as Betamax and VHS. It used 6.5mm (¼-inch) tape, and the initial tape capacity was 30 minutes on the VC30 cassette. V45 and V60 cassettes were introduced later. The tapes were capable of recording in colour, but sound was in mono.

It was hoped that CVC would compete with 8mm film in the home movie market, but the camera had poor low-light sensitivity, limiting its usefulness for home indoor use, and the tape was prone to dropouts during playback.

Funai Electric began producing VHS machines in 1983.

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