Tagged: 1980s

Formats current at any point during the years 1980-1989

Milton Bradley Omni (1980 – early 1980s)

The Omni was, in effect, an audio game console using 8-Track tape cartridges to supply the pre-recorded questions and answers along with some data (not audible to the user) to control the scoring indicators. There was no video output.

It was introduced by MB Electronics in 1980, a division of the Milton Bradley company that had introduced the Microvision handheld video game console the previous year.

Up to four players could play the Omni system at any one time, and each player had a row of 11 buttons displaying numbers, colours and clusters of letters to type in the answers.

Most of the released cartridges contained quiz-type games, and there were four programmes to choose on each tape (in the same way as audio 8-Track cartridge). Cartridges came with a dust cover to protect the tape when not in use, and users were advised not to touch the exposed tape, as the data contained on the tape would be more sensitive to dust and fingerprints than a standard 8-Track.

Fewer than 15 cartridge titles were created for the console, and perhaps partly due to its high price, it doesn’t appear to have been very successful.

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Stereophonic LP (Long Play) 12 inch record (1957 – )

The current system for creating stereophonic (2 channel) phonograph discs date back to 1933 when Alan Blumlein, a senior sound engineer at EMI in London, demonstrated a single-groove system in which the stylus moves both horizontally and vertically.

When the 12-inch Long Play record was launched in 1948, it was initially monophonic, and it wasn’t until 1957 that stereophonic LPs were released, by now using a refined version of the EMI system developed by Westrex (a division of Western Electric) called Westrex 45/45 in which each channel drives the cutting head at a 45 degree angle to the vertical.

In late 1957, Audio Fidelity Records and Bel Canto in the US released demonstration stereo LPs, with the the Bel Canto release on multicoloured vinyl. The first mass-produced stereophonic LPs were released in early 1958.

Mono LPs continued to be released alongside stereo LPs for the next ten years or so with major labels ceasing production in 1968, but 7-inch singles continued to be mono for longer, into the 1970s in some cases.

Stereo records produced using the Westrex system played well on a mono record player, and mono records could be played on a stereo system.

In the 1970s, quadraphonic (4 channel) LPs were produced, but were not a great success partly because there were several competing and incompatible systems.

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Philips Background Music Services cartridge (1970s – 1980s)

Philips Background Music Services cartridges were based on the Fidelipac B size cartridge and were 4-track mono cartridges for background music systems made by Philips. Being based on the Fidelipac cartridge meant they were endless loop tapes and would simply repeat the music once all four tracks had been played through.

There appear to have been two models of player, the BMS 2500 and the BMS 2600.

The cartridges themselves display a description of the type of music contained on them (for example, ‘music for stylish surroundings’) and are contained in a box that had the return address and space for a stamp on the rear, so the cartridges could be returned to Philips Background Music Services after use.

The system could be used for locations such as shops, offices and restaurants, and the pre-recorded music was licensed for public performance

By 1989 Philips had begun using the CD-BGM format, for example in its BMS 3000 player.

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U-matic SP (1986 – late 1990s)

U-matic SP (Superior Performance) was a variant of the U-matic video cassette format, and was introduced by Sony in 1986. It used chrome tape and offered an improvement in performance over previous generations of U-matic (low-band and high-band) with a a horizontal resolution of 330 lines, a better signal to noise ratio, and Dolby C noise reduction.

Like previous generations of U-matic, the SP variant was analogue and used ¾-inch tape. SP tapes can be played on a standard U-matic deck, albeit with a loss in quality.

Two sizes of U-matic SP tape were available, with the smaller one aimed at the electronic news gathering market.

U-matic tape was replaced in broadcast applications by Sony’s own Betacam family of video cassette formats in the 1980s, and for other applications in the 1990s.

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Bee Card (1985 – 1986)

The Bee Card was a ROM card of roughly credit card size, developed by Hudson Soft as a lower cost way of distributing games for use with the MSX home computer architecture. The MSX standard was developed by Microsoft and had been around since 1983. MSX machines had one or two ROM cartridge slots, and a Bee Card could be used in one of these by using a BeePack adapter.

The design of the Bee Card was later adapted to become the HuCard for use in the NEC TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine. In this form, it was slightly thicker and had 38 pins as opposed the 32 pins of the Bee Card. The Bee Card had a maximum capacity of 32 KB.

Only 11 titles were released on Bee Card for MSX systems, some by Hudson Soft themselves along with some from other software developers, and the Bee Card was only produced until 1986.

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S-VHS-C (1987 – early 2000s)

S-VHS-C (Super VHS Compact) was the compact version of S-VHS tape for use in analogue consumer camcorders.

It was introduced by JVC in 1987, and offered a horizontal resolution of about 400 lines over VHS-C‘s 240 lines, on tapes that could hold 30 or 45 minutes at standard speed.

The tapes could be placed in an adaptor and played back in an S-VHS deck, but it needed to be an S-VHS adaptor as the adaptor for VHS-C cassettes was differently notched to identify the tape as S-VHS. S-VHS-C tapes cannot be played back in a normal VHS machine even with an adaptor.

S-VHS-C competed with Hi8, which offered a comparable level of quality, but few S-VHS-C camcorder models were available.

No digital version was introduced (unlike full-size VHS with its D-VHS variant, and Hi8 with Digital8) and it was made obsolete by smaller digital formats like MiniDV, and eventually hard-drive recorders.


SuperBeta (1985 – 1988)

SuperBeta (sometimes called High Band) was a development of the consumer Betamax video cassette format, and was introduced by Sony in 1985. A few other manufacturers also made SuperBeta machines, including NEC, Sanyo and Radio Shack.

SuperBeta increased the horizonal resolution from 240 to 290 lines (a big improvement, but still lower resolution than LaserDisc). In addition, some machines could record at a faster tape speed known as Beta-Is (4cm per second), the same speed as the original Beta-I mode on the first Betamax machines, for even higher quality.

Any Betamax tape could be used on a SuperBeta machine, but high quality tapes such as Sony’s PRO-X tapes were available to take full advantage of the SuperBeta’s higher quality in Super Beta Pro mode. Tapes recorded on a SuperBeta machine could be played without any problems in Beta Hi-Fi machines, but earlier Betamax VCRs showed some highlight streaking. No SuperBeta pre-recorded cassettes appear to have been released.

Shortly afterwards, JVC countered with the introduction of VHS HQ with a small increase in video quality, and in 1987 introduced the even higher-quality S-VHS.

By 1986, the market share of Betamax was down to 7.5% in the UK, and only one SuperBeta machine was marketed in the UK (the SL-HF950, which had the ‘linear skate’ cassette loading system). By 1988 Sony recognised the video format war was over and began producing VHS video recorders, marking the end of Betamax in the UK and Europe. However, Betamax still had it supporters and Sony continued to produce Betamax recorders in the US until 1993, and in Japan until 2002. In 2016, Sony ceased production of Betamax tapes.


Polaroid SX-70 film (1972 – early 1980s)

The Polaroid SX-70 film pack was not the first instant film produced by Polaroid, but it was the first where the print ejected automatically and didn’t need to be peeled apart. The SX-70 film pack offered 10 exposures, and incorporated a flat ‘PolaPulse’ power pack (with exposed contacts on the rear of the film pack) so the camera itself didn’t need a battery. SX-70 film produces square images, but there is a longer border at the bottom edge that contains the chemical ‘pod’ on the rear.

SX-70 film was introduced for the new SX-70 camera series that was introduced in 1972, and despite most models being SLR cameras, they could be folded up for ease of storage. Focusing was initially manual, but the Sonar OneStep version introduced in 1978 offered a sonar autofocus system.

Polaroid also produced a number of non-folding instant cameras that used a lot of the technology of the SX-70 series, such as the Model 1000 OneStep, Presto and The Button.

SX-70 film was developed into the SX-70 Time-Zero Supercolor film in 1980, and this allowed an even shorter development time, and offered brighter colours.

Although SX-70 film was produced by Polaroid until 2005, the SX-70 camera series that used the film had been discontinued in the early 1980s, and later models in the SX-70 series such as the 680 and 690 used the later 600 film packs.

SX-70 film used a gelatin-based emulsion that stays soft for several days as water vapour cannot pass through the Mylar covering. This allowed the image to be manipulated, and is the effect used, for instance, on the cover of Peter Gabriel’s 1980 album that is sometimes referred to as ‘Melt’ due to the cover image. Later Polaroid films such as 600 and Spectra can’t be manipulated in this way.

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8-inch hard disk drive (1979 – late 1980s)

The 8-inch hard disk drive was a magnetic storage device mainly used in minicomputers, and was first introduced in 1979 eventually replacing the 14-inch disk pack and the earlier 14-inch ‘Winchester’ sealed disk drives.

The first 8-inch drive was the IBM ‘Piccolo’ drive, using six 8-inch platters and offering 65 MB of storage in a sealed unit to reduce the possibility of dust contamination. The smaller size also meant the drive didn’t need to be a standalone unit.

8-inch drives were produced from 1979 by a number of different manufacturers, but in 1980 Seagate introduced the 5.25-inch hard disk drive aimed at the microcomputer market, and it was the 5.25-inch hard disk drive that was introduced in the IBM PC-XT in 1983.

However, 8-inch hard disk drives continued to be used in minicomputers for some years.

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5.25-inch ‘flippy’ disk (1976 – mid 1980s)

Flippy disk was a nickname given to single-sided floppy disks that had a second write-enabled notch cut into the sleeve so that the second side could be written to by a single-sided disk drive. Generally, these were 5.25-inch minifloppy disks, but 8-inch floppy disks could be modified in the same way, and this was possible because most of the openings on the sleeve of the disk were duplicated on both sides. It was a way of doubling the capacity of a floppy disk at a time when disks were expensive, although of course they had to be removed from the drive and turned over to access the extra capacity.

When the 5.25-inch minifloppy disk was introduced in 1976, all drives were single-sided. Double-sided drives were introduced in 1978, but suffered from early reliability problems. It wasn’t until 1982 that double-sided drives were supported by IBM PC-DOS in version 1.1. Drives such as Apple’s Disk II and the Commodore 1541 remained single-sided.

The second write-enabled notch could be made by hand, or special ‘disk doubler’ rectangular hold puncher could be bought to do the job. Flippy disks were also sold ready-made, and software was distributed on flippy disks that might have different programs on each side, or the same program but for different operating systems. Flippy disks sold for use in double-sided drives needed to have two index holes on either side of the hub hole.

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