Akai ¼-inch open reel video tape (1969 – late 1970s)

Akai ¼-inch video tape was an analogue open reel video tape format introduced in 1969. It used helical-scanning and initially only recorded in black and white (a colour video recorder using the tape, the Akai VTS-150, was introduced in 1974).

The first machine to use the format was the Akai VTS-100, a portable video tape recorder with a detachable video monitor and a video camera. An optional RF modulator was available for playback through a standard television set.

Video resolution was 200 lines, and the system was aimed at the consumer market. One advantage over other domestic video tape recorders that used ½-inch wide tape (such as the EIAJ-1 ½-inch format) was that tape for the Akai system was much cheaper. A number of different companies produced tape for the Akai format.

Most of the tape was on plastic 5-inch reels with cine spindle hubs but the VT-700, a stationary video tape recorder introduced by Akai in the early 1970s, could accommodate 10.5-inch NAB hub reels of ¼-inch video tape as well.

Tapes recorded on the later colour VTS-150 are not compatible with tapes recorded on black and white models due to differences in tape speed.

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Digital-S / D-9 (1995 – early 2000s)

Digital-S (or D-9) was a professional digital video tape cassette format introduced by JVC in 1995.

The cassette shell was very similar to JVC’s VHS format, but despite this Digital-S is not compatible with the later consumer D-VHS format as the tape formulation and data format are different.

Digital-S competed with other professional formats such as DVCAM, DVCPRO and Digital Betacam, and was a commercial failure. However, it saw some use in the US, Asia, and Europe, including at the BBC.

Digital-S was given the designation D-9 by the SMPTE in 1999. A high-definition version, D-9 HD, was announced but doesn’t appear to have been launched.

D-9 doesn’t appear to have lasted much beyond the early 2000s.

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Brother Micro Disc (mid 1980s)

The Brother Micro Disc was a floppy disc for use in the standalone Brother MD-200 disk drive for use with certain Brother electronic typewriters.

It consists of a 2.5-inch flexible disc in a carrier (rather like a 5.25-inch minifloppy disc). The discs are two-sided, and the cover of the disk leaves a large portion of the magnetic surface exposed when the disk is not in its paper envelope.

The format doesn’t appear to have been very common



Yamaha Playcard (1982 – mid 1980s)

The Yamaha Playcard was a system used by several Yamaha electronic keyboards to playback music. The cards consisted of a large card (a bit smaller than A4 size) with musical notation, and a magnetic stripe on the lower edge. The stripe was read by swiping the card through a slot on the back of the keyboard (which could also act as a holder for the piece of music). The keyboard could then either playback the music, or play an accompaniment and the user could play the tune by following the music or pressing the keys that were lit by an LED.

Playcards were introduced around 1982 and were used by the PC-100 as well as some other models of Yamaha keyboards. The system was not used by any other keyboard manufacturers.

A number of different themed sets of Playcard were available, covering genres such as popular songs, classics, standards and show tunes. Judging by the songs included, Playcards don’t seem to have lasted beyond the mid-1980s.

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Soundmirror (1948 – 1954)

Soundmirror tape (also known as ‘magic ribbon tape’) was a magnetic tape format for use on the Soundmirror tape recorder made by Thermionic Products in the United Kingdom. What was unusual about it was that was made of paper with an oxide coating rather than the standard plastic tape.

Thermionic introduced the Soundmirror tape recorder in late-1948 under licence from the Brush Development Company in the US, after introducing the Recordon dictation disc (also made of paper) earlier in the year. The Soundmirror machine became the first domestic tape recorder on the UK market.

While the Recordon disc was aimed at the dictation market, the Soundmirror format was aimed at longer duration recording such as concerts, meetings and lectures. The tape ran at 7.5 inches per second on a maximum reel size of 7-inches, so allowing up to around 30 minutes of recording.

Production of the Soundmirror continued until 1954 by which time acetate (and later polyester) had become the standard magnetic tape base material.

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Extended Definition Beta (1988 – early 1990s)

ED (Extended Definition) Beta was introduced in 1988 and was the last variation of the Betamax format that Sony created for the consumer market (the Betacam family of formats for professional use went on to have much greater success). It was announced shortly after JVC ‘s rival S-VHS format.

ED Beta offered 500 lines of resolution (compared to S-VHS and LaserDisc‘s 420 lines) by using special metal formulation tape and some tape transport improvements. Because of its special formulation, ED-Metal tape was expensive, as were the machines.

Two ED Beta decks and a camcorder were produced for the US market, but Betamax had already lost the format war to VHS and ED Beta was discontinued in the US market after just a couple of years. It’s not clear when it was discontinued in Japan, where Betamax machines were still produced until 2002.

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HP 82176A Mini Data Cassette (1982 – mid 1980s)

The 82176A Mini Data Cassette was introduced by Hewlett-Packard in 1982 for use in its 82161A mini-cassette tape drive that was designed for use with the HP 41 calculator.

The drive could be mains or battery powered for portable use. Tape speed was 30 inches per second, and each tape had a capacity of around 130 KB.

The 82161A mini-cassette tape drive was later used with the 71, 75 and some other models that used the HP-IL (Hewlett-Packard Interface Loop) interface.

The 82176A Mini Data Cassette looks almost identical to the Philips-designed Mini-cassette, but there are some differences in the shell, such as the tape openings and a notch on the top, that prevent a standard Mini-cassette being used in the HP tape drive.

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Scotch One Five Special (1960s)

The Scotch One Five Special was a 3-inch reel of ¼-inch magnetic recording tape produced by 3M that could be recorded and played back on a standard open reel tape recorder. Once recorded, the reel would be placed back in its packaging which had space on it to write an address and to attach postage stamps to send it to someone. The tape could record for 15 minutes (hence the name) when run at 3¾-inches per second.

Similar reels marketed for keeping in touch by posting voice recordings were available around the same time, such as the Mastertape Voice Letter and the EMI Voice Letter. The Smith Corona Mail Call Letterpack of the late 1960s was a similar concept. Postage overseas was much cheaper than making an international telephone call at the time.

The One Five Special does not seem to have become very popular, and would probably have been superseded by smaller and more convenient products like the Compact Cassette.

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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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Recordon (1948 – mid 1950s)

The Recordon was an office dictation system using 9-inch paper disc with a magnetic coating. It was introduced by the UK company Thermionic Products in 1948 with the Recordon TP503 machine, made under license by the Brush Development Company of the USA that produced the Mail-A-Voice system.

The Recordon Recording Disc had fold lines printed on it, and could be folded for mailing. The system was fairly low fidelity, but was adequate for dictation purposes and as the recording runs from the centre to the outside of the disc, quality improves. Discs could be erased for re-use.

A couple of further models of the Recordon were produced, but in the mid-1950s Thermionic switched to the Agavox system.

Thermionic also introduced the Soundmirror tape recorder to the UK market in 1948, and like the Recordon this also used paper as the base material, in this case for magnetic tape.

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