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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Stereoview (1850s – 1920s)

Stereoviews consist of two nearly-identical images, each taken a few inches to the side of the other. When viewed through two lenses set 2½-inches apart, approximately the space between the eyes, the result is the illusion of a three-dimensional image. They generally consist of two photographic images pasted onto a 3½-inch by 7-inch card, although earlier ones were sometimes images on glass.

They became popular first in Europe in the 1850s, followed by the US in the 1860s. Until the 1880s, most of the photographic images were created using wet plate negatives printed on albumen paper. From the 1890s, dry plate negatives printed on gelatin silver paper were produced by large companies, such as Underwood & Underwood in the US, or the London Stereoscope Company in the UK.

They faded in popularity in the 1920s, but the idea behind them was used in later formats like View-Master and Vistascreen.

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Vistascreen (1955 – 1960s)

Vistascreen was a system for viewing photographs or illustrations in 3D, similar in concept to the earlier Stereoview. Each card consists of two images at slightly different angles that when viewed together through a special viewer appear as a single stereoscopic image.

The Vistascreen Co Ltd was formed in the UK in 1955. Although the competing View-Master system was already available at this time, the content of most of the View-Master reels was of limited interest in the UK. Most of the original sets of black and white Vistascreen photographs were taken by photographer Stanley Long on a 1920s Rollei Heidoscope stereo camera. Picture cards were supplied in packs of 10 cards, and eventually almost 300 Vistascreen sets were produced. The bulk of Vistascreen card sales were as souvenirs at UK tourist attractions. A small number of glamour photos were also available by mail order.

The original Vistascreen viewers were manufactured in ivory coloured plastic, with plastic lenses, and were designed to fold flat.

In the 1960s, the Vistascreen business was sold to the Weetabix cereal company, and the viewers had the Weetabix logo added. Single cards were given away with Weetabix cereal in a promotion that lasted for a number of years and featured 6 different sets of 25 cards; Working Dogs, Thrills, British Cars, British Birds, Animals and Our Pets. Viewers could be purchased by mail order directly from the Weetabix factory. The original Vistascreen picture cards had a glossy, photographic finish and were of a much higher quality than those given away by Weetabix, which were made from printed card.

The Vistascreen system was cloned and made available in some other markets under different names (such as True-to-Life View-A-Scope in Australia).

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Talking View-Master (1970 – 1981)

The Talking View-Master was a variant of the standard View-Master that as well as containing stereoscopic images, also contained accompanying sound for each frame.

Three different types of Talking View-Masters were produced, the first being introduced in 1970 by the GAF company, and this used a small transparent phonograph disc attached to the back of the View-Master reel. As the reel was advanced for viewing, the user pressed the ‘sound bar’ which engaged a needle on the record and amplified the sound through a speaker cone (the batteries were only used to spin the record). Sound quality was poor and on the basic model there was no way to control the volume. Additionally, although the phonograph disc was transparent, it did still reduce the quality of the images to some extent.

As well as cartoons, scenic and educational sets of Talking View-Master reels were produced.

The original version of the Talking View-Master was discontinued in 1981, and a new version released in 1984 (the Talking View-Master Electronic 3-D Viewer) which attempted to increase sound quality, and had the reel and phonograph disc separate.

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View-Master (1949 – )

View-Master is a format for viewing still colour photographs in stereo vision, and was first introduced in 1939 by Sawyers Inc.

Each View-Master reel contains seven pairs of stereoscopic colour film images mounted in a cardboard disc, which when viewed together in a View-Master viewer combine to give a 3D image. Early reels contained images of tourist attractions and were intended as an alternative to the scenic postcard. They were also used for US military training during WWII.

In 1952, a View-Master Personal Stereo Camera was introduced to allow people to make their own reels. This was discontinued ten years later.

In 1966, Sawyers was acquired by GAF and this saw a move away from scenic views towards reels aimed at children containing cartoons and images from television series. From 1970 to 1997, there were versions of Talking View-Masters which included audio as well as images.

Despite 25 different View-Master viewer models and over 1.5 billion reels sold, the basic design stayed the same and every reel will work in every viewer.

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