Tagged: 1980s

Formats current at any point during the years 1980-1989

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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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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LP (Long Play) 12 inch record (1948 – )

The LP (Long Play) record is an audio format for phonograph records, introduced by Columbia Records in 1948 and still in use today.

LP records are made of vinyl (either virgin or recycled) and together with a playing speed of 33⅓ rpm and the use of microgrooves, allow for a playing time of around 45 minutes. Previously, 78 rpm records had a playing time of just around 3-4 minutes per side, so an ‘album’ of records was sold as a set, and this name continued to describe a collection of songs on a single disc.

Each side of an LP contains a single continuous groove, with an average length of 460 m.

LP records are generally 12 inches in diameter, but 10 inch LPs have also been produced at different times. The amount of vinyl in an LP is generally 130 g, but some records were produced with less (sometimes as little as 90 g). Modern high-fidelity LPs tend to use more, such as 180 g. Generally LPs are pressed on black vinyl, but coloured vinyl and picture discs (with a card sandwiched between two clear sides of vinyl) have been produced, as have shaped vinyl and even neon vinyl.

By as early as 1952, LPs represented 16.7% of unit sales, rising to 24.4% in 1958 (by then, most of the remainder was 45 rpm singles, 78 rpm only representing 2.1%).

Stereo sound was introduced in 1958, and quadraphonic records were sold in the 1970s for a time.

The LP had no serious competitors for long-playing recordings until the 1970s when the Compact Cassette improved in quality, and then in the 1980s with the introduction of the Compact Disc. LPs ceased to be a mainstream format in the early 1990s, but continue to be produced in small but increasing numbers.

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35mm film (1892 – )

35mm film was the most common film gauge for cinematography, and was also used in still photography (in the form of 135 film).

The name derives from the width of the film strip. When used for motion pictures, the image is across the film and each frame usually has four perforations giving 16 frames per foot, whereas when used for photography the image is lengthways along the film and each frame uses eight perforations. In conventional motion picture film, the image is 22 x 16mm (known as the ‘Academy ratio’). The shape and frequency of the perforations differed in the early years.

The 35mm format was introduced in 1892, soon after the introduction of transparent flexible film in 1889,  at a time when a large range of different film gauges were in use. By 1909 it became accepted as the international standard gauge and remained so until largely replaced by digital cinematography. Although other gauges have been used for cinematography, 35mm remained the most popular with professional film makers as it provided a good trade-off between cost and image quality.

Until the 1950s, 35mm film was made of cellulose nitrate which was highly inflammable and difficult to extinguish once alight. It was replaced with ‘safety film’ (cellulose triacetate). From the 1990s, film stock was made with a synthetic polyester safety base.

Sound was introduced around 1926, with Warner Bros. using synchronised phonograph discs. Later sound-on-film systems include optical analogue, optical digital, and magnetic strips. DTS soundtracks use a timecode printed on the film to synchronise with Compact Discs.

Between 2005 and 2015, most cinemas rapidly converted to digital projection, and in 2014 Paramount Pictures announced that it would no longer supply 35mm prints of movies in the US. Whilst 35mm film is still in use for both shooting and showing movies, it is rapidly becoming a niche format.

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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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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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Cigarette card (1875 – early 2000s)

Cigarette cards were a particular form of trade card, initially popularised by tobacco companies as a way of selling their products, and after World War II were also used by some other manufacturers such as tea companies.

Card was used as a stiffener in paper packs of cigarettes, and beginning in 1875 in the US, these cards began to carry images, for example of actresses, sportsmen or Native American chiefs. In 1878 they also began to include information about the image on the back of the card.

In 1887, W.D. & H.O. Wills began to issue cigarette cards in the UK.

The range of images expanded over time and began to be issued in colour, and the cards became popular as a way of viewing and collecting exotic images from around the world. They also began to be issued in sets, and around 1900 albums began to be produced to enable people to collect and store the cards together.

In 1939, cigarette card production virtually ceased in the UK as paper was in short supply during the war. After the war, ‘cigarette’ cards were issued by tea companies such as Brooke Bond in the UK, who issued cards until 1999. There have been some cigarette cards issued since, such as by the US tobacco company R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company who issued several series through a couple of its brand in the early 2000s.

Not all types of cigarette cards are the same size, but the standard size was around 67 x 36mm.

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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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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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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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