RCA Sound Tape Cartridge (1958 – 1964)

RCA introduced its Sound Tape cartridge, a magnetic tape audio format, in 1958. Sound Tapes were designed to be more convenient than open reel as they avoided the need to thread tape into the machine.

Like open reel it used quarter inch tape but ran at 3.75ips (the slower speed that was available on open reel machine), and like the later Compact Cassette the cartridge was reversible (some players even had auto-reverse mechanisms). There are four tracks on the tape, two interleaved stereo pairs, and a typical play time of 30 minutes per side.

Sound Tapes are around three times the size of a Compact Cassette.

The format was not a success, as players were slow to appear, and RCA were slow to license pre-recorded music. It had disappeared from shops by 1964.

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RCA Studio II (1977 – 1979)

The Studio II was a video game console introduced by RCA in 1977.

Rather than joysticks it had two ten button keypads built-in to the unit, making two-player games difficult. It only showed black and white graphics, and sound consisted of simple beeps from within the console itself.

As well as five built-in games, ten cartridge games were available on the US market.

The Studio II was not a commercial success, as the previously released Fairchild Channel F made it obsolete at launch, and the Atari VCS was released only 10 months later.

It was discontinued in 1979.

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16mm film (1923 – )

16mm film is a format for cinematography, introduced by Kodak in 1923 as a less expensive amateur alternative to 35mm film. An original selling point was the availability of films to buy or rent from the Kodascope library. 16mm film stock has always been on acetate safety film.

Sound was added by RCA in 1930 (film for sound use was perforated on one side only to make room for an optical or magnetic soundtrack), and colour in 1935 with the introduction of Kodachrome.

By the 1930s, 16mm film began to make inroads into the educational film market, and in the post-WWII years there was a huge expansion of professional filmaking for government and industry. Television production also made use of 16mm film, especially for new-gathering and exterior filming (in the UK, most exterior television footage was shot on 16 mm film from the 1960s until the 1990s). The BBC played a large part in the development of the format, working with Kodak in the 1950s and 1960s to bring 16 mm to a professional level.

Home cinematographers moved to the smaller 8mm and Super 8mm formats.

Super 16 was developed in 1969 and has a larger picture area and wider aspect ratio, but this is at the expense of the space for the soundtrack so the film is optically or digitally enlarged onto 35mm film for projection.

16mm and Super 16 film is still used in television, and sometimes in film making.

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Preservation / Migration

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7-inch single (1949 – )

The 7-inch 45 rpm vinyl record was a phonograph disc format introduced by RCA Victor in 1949, to compete with Columbia’s 33⅓ rpm 10-inch and 12-inch long-playing records.

Like the 33⅓ rpm record, the 7-inch 45 rpm record used microgrooves, allowing a similar playing time to the 10-inch 78 rpm records it partly replaced.

RCA initially used eight different colours of vinyl to indicate the genre of the music, with popular releases on black vinyl, children’s records on yellow vinyl and classical music on red vinyl for example. This didn’t continue as coloured vinyl was more expensive to produce, although coloured vinyl is still used for some special editions by different record companies.

Until 1950, a ‘War of the Speeds’ took place, and consumers were unsure which of the two new formats would prevail. In the end, the 12-inch long-play (LP) record became the predominant format for music albums, while the 7-inch 45 rpm become predominant format for singles, with a song on each side.

The 7-inch 45 rpm format was also used for the Extended Play (EP) record from 1952, which achieved up to 7½ minutes of playing time per side at the expense of lower volume by reducing the width of the grooves. These generally contained between three and six songs.

Outside of the US, 7-inch singles generally had small centre holes, like an LP, but a central section could be punched out (such as for use in jukeboxes). Inserts or adaptors were available to allow the use of 7-inch singles with a larger centre hole to be used in standard record players. Many record players of the 1950s and 60s had a tall centre spindle that allowed records to be stacked, to play a number of 7-inch singles in sequence.

In the UK, sales of the new 7-inch single format surpassed those of the 78 rpm record by 1958. By the 1980s however, 7-inch vinyl records were competing with cassette singlesCD singles, and later with downloads, and by 2012 accounted for around 0.1% of all single sales, although this still represented sales of around 96,000 copies.

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Preservation / Migration

Capacitance Electronic Disk (CED) / SelectaVision (1981 – 1986)

Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) was an analogue video disc playback system developed by RCA, using a special stylus and high-density groove system similar to phonograph records. The name ‘SelectaVision’ was RCA’s brand name for the CED system. It was also used for some early RCA brand VCRs.

The 12-inch discs were crafted using PVC blended with carbon to allow the disc to be conductive, and a thin layer of silicone was applied to the disc as a lubricant. Discs were stored in a caddy from which the disc was extracted by the player. CEDs could store 60 minutes of video per side, so almost all films needed to be flipped over at some point.

A stylus with a titanium electrode layer rides in the grooves with extremely light tracking force (65 mg), and an electronic circuit is formed. The video and audio signals are encoded into vertical undulations in the bottom of the groove, that the stylus rides over; the varying amount of air pressure between the stylus tip and the undulations under it controls the capacitance between the stylus and disc. This varying capacitance is then decoded into video and audio signals by the player’s electronics.

CED players, because they have fewer precision parts than a VCR, cost about half as much to manufacture. The discs themselves could be inexpensively duplicated, stamped out on slightly-modified audio gramophone record presses. Since CEDs were a disc-based system, they did not require rewinding. Early discs were generally monaural, but later discs included stereo sound. Monaural CED disks were packaged in white protective caddies while stereo disks were packaged in blue protective caddies.

RCA estimated that the number of times a CED could be played back, under ideal conditions, was 500. Since the CED system used a stylus to read the discs, it was necessary to regularly change the stylus in the player to avoid damage to the disc. When a disc began to wear, video and audio quality would severely decline.

First conceived in 1964, by which time it was released in 1981 it was already outmoded by LaserDisc, and the emerging Betamax and VHS videocassette formats. Sales for the system were nowhere near projected estimates (although the discs themselves sold well), and in 1984, player production ended, with discs ending production in 1986. Over 270 titles were released in the UK.

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CD-4 (Compatible Discrete 4) / Quadradisc (1972 – 1979)

Compatible Discrete 4 (CD-4) or Quadradisc was a 12-inch LP format created by JVC and RCA and introduced in 1972.

It was the only fully discrete quadraphonic phonograph record system to gain major industry acceptance.

In the CD-4 system, each of the two main channels contained the sum of the front and back signals. A separate carrier was recorded onto each groove wall that contained the difference signal for that side. From this, the combined  signals for each side could be resolved into two separate signals, creating discrete quadraphonic playback. CD-4 LPs could be played on stereo turntables,

The grooves on a CD-4 record are broader than on conventional stereo LPs, so the maximum playing time is reduced, and it was recommended that consumers play CD-4 records with a special ‘Shibata’ stylus, which increased the surface area of the stylus, thus decreasing the pressure on the grooves.

Most of the CD-4 releases by RCA were in the period between 1972 and 1975, with only 11 releases in 1976 and the last release in 1979.

Quadraphonic 8-Track (Q8) (1970 – 1978)

Quadraphonic 8-Track (also know as Quad-8 or Q8) was a discrete 4-channel magnetic tape cartridge system introduced by RCA Records in 1970.

It was based on the 8-Track cartridge, and cartridges were almost identical except for a small sensing notch in the upper left corner of the cartridge. This signalled a quadraphonic 8-Track player to combine the odd tracks as audio channels for the first program, and the even tracks as channels for the second program. The format was not fully compatible with stereo or mono 8-Track players – although quadraphonic players would play stereo 8-tracks, playing quadraphonic tapes on stereo players results in hearing only half the channels at a time.

Q8 cartridges had two ‘sides’ whereas 8-Tracks has four sides or programmes. To compensate for the reduction in programmes due to the doubling of tracks, Q8s used thinner tape to try and increase playing time.

Around 200 different Q8 titles were available in mid 1972. Blank media was also available for home recording.

The last release in the quadraphonic 8-track format was in 1978, although most had stopped appearing by the end of 1976.