Tagged: 1980s

Formats current at any point during the years 1980-1989

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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1-inch Type B (1975 – 1980s)

1-inch Type B (also known as B-Format) was an open reel magnetic tape format for professional analogue video recording.

It was introduced by Bosch in 1976 for use in its BCN line of video recorders and although it found success in continental Europe, 1-inch Type C was more successful in the UK and US. Unlike Type C, Type B in its standard form could not perform trick-play operations such as slow-motion or frame step play, due to the way the each field was segmented over 5 or 6 tracks (Type C recorded one frame per helical scan). An expensive digital framestore was needed to perform trick-play operations.

Type B had a standard capacity of 96 minutes on a reel, although later this was increased to 120 minutes. Long play versions eventually became available that could fit up to 6 hours on one reel.

Video quality was excellent, and as well as standard recording/playback machines, portable and random access cart machines were available.

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Preservation / Migration

media stability 5obsolescence 5

Compact LaserDisc (1986)

Compact LaserDiscs were 12-inch LaserDiscs that combined a complete music album (as would be found on the equivalent Compact Disc) in digital audio, along with music videos for some of the tracks. When played as an audio album, the screen would show a picture of the sleeve and the name of the track.

Around just seven titles were released by Pioneer Artists in 1986, for distribution in the US.

The name is a bit of a misnomer as they were anything but compact, but it was meant to emphasise that these were essentially a Compact Disc album with added videos. They are very similar in concept to CD Video, except able to hold an entire music album.

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Luminous vinyl record (1978 – )

A small number of phonograph records have been pressed on luminous vinyl, two of the first being the 12-inch single version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’, and the Penetration album ‘Moving Targets’, both in 1978. Since then, a small number of releases have been made on luminous vinyl.

In normal light, the records look like standard coloured vinyl (usually white in colour, but some other colours have also been used such as yellow for Kraftwerk’s 1981 7-inch single of ‘Pocket Calculator’) but give off a phosphorescent glow in darkness. They glow brighter after being exposed to bright light for a while.

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dbx disc (1979 – 1982)

dbx was a noise-reduction system that was employed on a number of 12-inch LPs in the late 1970s and early 1980s..

The dbx system was premiered in 1973 and a promotional disc produced, but no record companies were interested. It wasn’t until 1979 that BSR, a UK producer of turntables, acquired the dbx company and persuaded several record companies to begin producing discs using dbx Type II encoding.

dbx used linear decibel compounding to compress the signal when recording, and expand it on playback. It meant that surface noise was almost completely eliminated, and the dynamic range of vinyl records could be greatly increased. In addition, dbx releases were made on heavy virgin vinyl and produced from the original master tapes. However, playing back dbx discs required a decoder, and without one playback sounded poor. This was one of the reasons it failed in the marketplace.

With a dbx encoder, users could also record onto tape with dbx noise reduction, and playback from dbx encoded tape recordings, but by this time, Dolby B was already widespread as a noise reduction system for tape.

It appears that less than 200 titles were made available, and no new releases appear to have been made after 1982.

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Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer (1980 – 1991)

The TRS-80 Color Computer (often called the CoCo) was a home computer system introduced by the Tandy Corporation in 1980 and sold through their RadioShack stores. It is not to be confused with the monochrome TRS-80 that was aimed at the business and education market and had been introduced in 1977; the two systems are incompatible despite the similar names, and used different microprocessors.

The Color Computer did not have dedicated chips for sound and graphics like some other competing home computers such as the Atari 400 or Commodore VIC-20, so these were handled by the main processor (a Motorola 6809) which was more advanced than those used by competing systems, but consequently had more to do.

The Color Computer had a ROM cartridge slot for ‘Program Paks’. These were mostly games, but some other applications, and even a floppy disk controller could be used to control the 5.25-inch floppy disk drive that was made available as an option later. Initially, data could only be saved using a cassette recorder.

The Color Computer went through three generations before being finally discontinued in 1991, by which time it had gained a full-travel keyboard and 128 KB of RAM (which could be upgraded to 512 KB).

Many (though not all) Program Paks can be read by all three generations, but some require more RAM or joysticks to operate. The Dragon 32 and 64 shared many components with the Color Computer, and many Color Computer cartridges will also work in the Dragon.

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Commodore 16 / Plus/4 (1984 – late 1980s)

The Commodore 16 and the Plus/4 were two home computers introduced in 1984. The Commodore 16 was intended as a replacement for the VIC-20, and was named after its memory capacity of 16 KB. A more basic version of the Commodore 16, the Commodore 116, was sold in Europe, in addition to the Commodore 16.

The Commodore Plus/4 was intended as a higher-end model and came with 64 KB of RAM and four built-in office applications, though these were criticised as not being up to the task.

The Commodore 16 and Plus/4 were software compatible, and ROM cartridges would work on either machine provided the program worked within the Commodore 16’s 16 KB memory. As the Commodore 16 was the bigger seller of the pair, this meant that most software was written with the lower 16 KB limit in mind and didn’t take advantage of the greater memory of the Plus/4. Both machines could also record to Compact Cassette, and optional 5.25-inch disk drives were also available.

Neither model was successful, partly because they were not compatible with the Commodore 64 which had a large software library. After the Commodore 16 was discontinued in the US market in 1985, it was sold in Hungary, and also in Mexico. Similarly, the Plus/4 was discontinued in 1985, but was available from liquidators for some year afterwards.

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Coleco Adam High Speed Digital Data Pack (1983 – 1985)

The Coleco Adam was a home computer introduced by Coleco in 1983. It was available as a standalone computer, or could be bought as an expansion pack for the ColecoVision game console.

Like other home computers of the time, the Coleco Adam used a tape drive as one means to store programs and data, but this was not a standard Compact Cassette drive. The dual ‘Adam High Speed Digital Data Pack’ tape drives used a slightly modified type of Compact Cassette that ran at much higher speed than usual, had a different configuration of holes in the shell, and used thicker tape. These could store 256 KB, and ran at 20 inches per second (ips) when reading/writing and and 80 ips when rewinding. Blank Digital Data Packs  were supplied pre-formatted and could not be formatted by the user.

As well as the Digital Data Pack drives, the Adam had a ROM cartridge slot that accepted all ColecoVision cartridges as well as its own (it could play ColecoVision games even as a standalone computer). Later in production, a 5.25-inch disk drive was made available as an accessory.

The Coleco Adam had other unusual features such as a dedicated daisywheel printer (that also contained the power supply), built-in word-processing software, and the CP/M operating system as an option.

Unfortunately, delays in its introduction, and build quality issues led to it being discontinued in 1985. One particular problem was that tapes left in the drives or near the machine when it was turned on could suffer data loss.

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