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The CED: No really, it coulda made sense! (Part 2)

Jun 02, 2021
Yeah… things didn't go as planned, did they? Welcome to the second

part

of our exploration of the CED, RCA's very strange but still marketed videodisc system that effectively used vinyl records to store up to 2 hours of video. We go over its history and a little bit of the context surrounding why RCA bothered to do this in the first

part

, so if you haven't seen it, you might consider clicking on that thing that clicks up there. Anyway, let's move on... ...let's get on with the show. We'll start by taking a closer look at this player, as well as the device that RCA thought was too complicated to make even though they were already selling them.
the ced no really it coulda made sense part 2
At a fundamental level, the RCA video record player is simply a record player. It has a slightly funky pickup, as well as an automated “arm,” so to speak, but it's still just a spinning record with a needle following a spiral groove. An incredibly small groove on an incredibly delicate record, but with the engineering complexities dedicated to the record manufacturing process and not the player, it was thought that maybe it could have been a good idea, maybe possibly. In fact, in one of the first demonstrations of the system, Richard Sonnenfeldt, VideoDisc's vice president of operations, put it simply;
the ced no really it coulda made sense part 2

More Interesting Facts About,

the ced no really it coulda made sense part 2...

And that's exactly how it turned out. These records are marvels of precision manufacturing, but the players are primarily a bunch of off-the-shelf parts. The most complicated part of the player is how it handles fine tracking control. I briefly showed you the visual search feature and explained that an electromagnet can move the pen with precise control, but I didn't

really

explore that at all and I should because it's certainly impressive. Look in the stylus compartment and you'll see this pair of small coils. These are controlled by the player's electronics to move the stylus, either to get it out of a stuck situation or to move forward or backward across the surface of the disc for visual search.
the ced no really it coulda made sense part 2
You'll also see this little solenoid that can lift the stylus off the surface of the record. And it does a surprisingly good job. With a disk in good condition, visual search is very fluid. Surprisingly. Much better than any VCR ever achieved, and practically as good as the smooth searching of a CAV laserdisc. The only thing you'll notice occasionally is some screen tearing, as there are several frames encoded with each disc rotation. But since the concept of screen tearing was not, I'm pretty sure, even a recognized phenomenon in 1981, who cares? I think the reason it works so well is precisely because the discs have the timing signals encoded and their speed is constant.
the ced no really it coulda made sense part 2
Even if the pen jumps to the next track mid-frame, it doesn't interrupt the video signal at all because each adjacent track is EXACTLY four frames ahead or behind, to the precise location on the scan line. So although it lacks the precise control of a laser optical system, the effect is exactly the same. However, that's pretty much the only thing impressive about how the player works. Everything else is cost-optimized as much as possible. Were you looking for a composite video output? NO. Very expensive. They only get RF, fools. As mentioned above, the turntable motor is simply a standard AC motor and drives it with a belt, although I should note that later models had a direct drive turntable that could stop only in a defined position to allow for a load. of the most elegant album. operation.
But we'll talk about that later. My favorite cost reduction has to do with the mechanism that moves the pencil carriage. Notice how the function lever engages this felt clutch. When the lever is in the loading position, the mechanism that moves the carriage is completely disengaged. Because? Well, because they used the insert cart action to move the cart back to the starting point. It's... a little violent. Check it out! It's just...so inelegant. Just… BOOM! You can, with a conscious effort, make this not so bad by slowly inserting the cart, but I mean... who was going to bother with that?
However, I will say that if for some reason you use one of these machines on a daily basis, you should probably make that effort. Anyway, once the stylus has been belligerently snapped back into place and you move the stick to play, the clutch is re-engaged and the player now has control over where the stylus lands. And the first thing it does is push the carriage forward to hopefully find the start of the disk. Oh, and since I haven't mentioned it yet, the disc is read from the outside in, like a normal disc, and not from the inside out, like a Laserdisc and the vast majority (if not all) of its optical discs. offspring.
From here, the player simply monitors the track signage to watch for problems. If the user does not press any button, he will simply advance the pad from time to time while the stylus follows the record. If it notices that it is in a blocked slot, it will try to get out by kicking the stylus forward with that electromagnet. Unfortunately, as these machines aged, their motor's felt clutch and belt became worn to the point that the carriage itself can jam, and the player was not programmed with any way to rectify that. This can create the appearance of a badly damaged disc, when in fact it is a problem with the player.
To get out of this problem, you can use the hot buttons to move the cart backwards and then use visual search to get back to where you were. That's a modern age-related problem, so I doubt it was a problem in the past. And I want to point out that there is an optical encoder here that the player uses to monitor the movement of the cart, but it is apparently only used for the quick access function, since it barely rotates in normal operation. Too bad they couldn't have

made

it a little more useful. You may have noticed that the player has a pause button.
Well, instead of providing a freeze frame, that simply leaves the screen blank. This TV shows a white screen, but it's the TV that does that, not the player. Because there are four frames of video encoded with each rotation, it is impossible for the player to provide a true freeze frame without a frame buffer, and that certainly wouldn't be possible at low cost in 1981. However, there was a mode called "mode of page". ” which would lock the stylus and force it to read the same four frames over and over again, and can be activated in this player by holding the visual search back and forward buttons.
This mode, while not officially supported by this player, could be used to navigate more advanced interactive discs, but more on that later. Now, we've basically covered everything this player can do. Remember, your goal was not to be very exciting or particularly advanced. It was trying to be a modified turntable, and to that extent, it is. Now let's look at a video recorder. This RCA VDT-600 is a Matsushita-built model introduced in 1979. Removing the case immediately reveals that there is a lot more going on here. You have your rotating video head drum. An erase head, an audio head and a pulse tracking head.
Movable tape guides are used to pass the tape around the drum. There is a winch and pinch roller to move the tape through all of these heads, which is done at three different speeds with this model. And there's a light bulb on a stick, which is used to detect when the tape has reached the end by shining a light through the cassette, through the clear tape leader, and out of these holes in the side. All VHS machines optically detect the end of the tape, which is why the ends of the tape are clear, but these early machines use an incandescent bulb as a light source, rather than the infrared LEDs of newer machines.
All of that is just part of transporting the tape. I haven't even mentioned the electronics that deal with the tape signals, how tracking is achieved, the fact that the video heads are coupled via a rotating transformer, or the simple fact that the tape is scanned helically. If you want to learn more about videotape technology, you can watch this much older video of mine, but keep in mind that it is a much older video of mine. Anyway, now you can see why RCA thought the video disc might still make

sense

. This VCR is tremendously complicated compared to a CED player, and it also lacks some useful features like real-time viewing or smooth visual search, and this particular VCR does not have any kind of visual search function.
And these things were not cheap to make. The precision required to manufacture the head drum and carriage was pushing the limits of mass production at the time, so these machines were sold at extravagant prices, with this particular unit probably selling for around $1250, about $5000 in today's money. Knowing that VCRs were out of reach for many consumers, and also knowing how difficult it must be to mass produce prerecorded tapes, RCA thought that the CED would still have a significant place in the market. And they were... somewhat right, at least for a while. Remember, both the CED and Laserdisc were pioneers in home video, since although the VCR would eventually become the device on which you would watch the latest movies, at the time it was simply too expensive to use blank $20 cassettes.
Spend a couple of hours recording them and sell them at a reasonable price. So, no one knew how the home videos would be received. No one would know until someone tried. And one could argue that the RCA experiment was the first successful attempt. Although MCA DiscoVision had released laserdiscs before, they never got much traction. RCA seems to have done a better job licensing content, and while their discs certainly haven't held up well over time, the first laserdiscs were plagued with problems and many mistakes were

made

when learning how to make them. To their credit, while RCA took their time bringing this product to market, at least they worked out all the kinks and released something that actually worked well.
In fact, those who bought the players

really

liked them. They liked them so much that it is not surprising that the average buyer of this player also purchases 20 to 30 of these discs during the first year of ownership. This surprised RCA; in fact, they were selling about twice as many records per household as they expected. Their goal of having the system in 50% of American homes by the end of the decade was incredibly optimistic, but they produced over half a million players and, with the help of other OEMs, a total of about 750,000 were produced. players. Still, it was clear from the beginning that things were not going so well.
At first they only sold half as many players as expected and the general public seemed quite apathetic. I mentioned in my video about Laserdisc that a big part of the reason it (laserdisc) never took off was that home video was a completely new and completely foreign concept. On the other hand, a VCR that could record shows while you were away, or that could record one show while you watched another, was a real solution to the problem. RCA seems to have been more successful than Laserdisc in convincing audiences to take a leap of faith into the world of home video, but not as successful as they needed to be.
However, they did not abandon the project immediately. They made some improvements. Notice how this disk has a blue cart. In the CED ecosystem, blue caddies generally mean the disc is in stereo, and later players were able to decode stereo sound for output through RCA connectors. And even on this mono player, you can tell that the sound quality can be quite good depending on the disc. STAR WARS!!!!! But I was going to the Tosche station to pick up some power converters! Oh, and some later models also included composite material. The much fancier second-generation players had a semi-automatic disc-loading mechanism, whereby you only needed to insert the caddy about ⅔ of the way in, and it would take it off, release the spine, and spit out the empty caddy again. for you to delete it.
I used to have one of those players and I will tell you that while it is great, it slows down everything drastically. Especially disc flips, since you have to wait for the stylus to return to the park position, have the player return the disc to the loading position, and then once you finally allow it to return to the caddy, the motorized action prevents you from doing so. a quick one of these. Unfortunately that player never worked well so I removed it years ago, but I put some links in the description so you can see some of thoseplayers in action.
Regardless of that minor annoyance of later players, RCA planned to use the disc's digitally encoded position signals to allow things like true random access and chaptered discs. However, that never got very far before RCA threw in the towel. In April 1984, RCA formally abandoned the system and announced that players would no longer be manufactured. The rest of the players were sold at deep discounts and people bought them because RCA committed to producing records for three more years. That's right, RCA was so surprised by how many records people were buying that they decided, well, no one buys new players, but at least those who own them are making us some decent money.
Unfortunately they did not fulfill their three-year commitment, not only because sales of new records began to decline when the owners abandoned the format, but also because in a somewhat cruel case of irony, RCA was purchased by its original owner. GE, in 1985 and quickly destroyed. What was once a huge company with its hands in the buckets of communications, broadcasting, television, music, and sometimes even the military industrial complex, was now a little quick cash for GE and a lot of trash. Although records continued to be made for about a year after the GE acquisition, by 1986 the format was officially dead.
So. What went wrong? And what could have been if things had gone better? Well, fundamentally what went wrong was that the system was delayed, delayed, and delayed more, until finally it was delayed again, and subsequently delayed before its final delay occurred before its eventual delayed release. RCA's internal goal was a 1977 release, although I personally think that might have been too late to have a real hit, so let's imagine they had managed to achieve it in just 11 years and put it out in 1975. In 1975, there were basically no VCRs Nowhere. Yes, these weird experimental things have been coming out for a while, and I hear Sony is getting ready to release this new Betamax system, but you have to be really dedicated to the idea of ​​recording TV at this stage of the game.
And quite rich. But here comes RCA with their fantastic video album! A player for only $500? And some of my favorite movies are available for as little as $20? Hmm. That sounds intriguing. The magic of RCA VideoDisc. A simple and affordable album that, as if by magic, can provide not only sound, but also sound and images. Clear, beautiful images right in your living room. I would bet a lot of money that if this system had existed in 1975, it would have been a huge problem. On the one hand, in retrospect, these discs and caddies are comical compared to a videotape.
But I guess in 1975 they wouldn't seem too out of place. Music can still be played on these devices and the video disc is only a little larger. By the way, I'll take this opportunity to admire how RCA used a circular theme in most of their artwork to emphasize that there is, in fact, a record here. I'm probably sounding sarcastic but I honestly love this aesthetic. In 1975, this would have been the only way to convert your television to SelectaVision, and doesn't it sound great? We've never had movies at home! Do you know what we are going to do?
We're going to ♫ bring the magic home ♫ ♫ with RCA ♫ And it's going to be wonderful. The fact that RCA sold half a million players and a few million records, 4 years after the VCR was pretty well introduced, should alone prove that the idea was pretty sound. So in a world where VCRs just... didn't exist yet, this would probably be an extremely attractive product. And, since home video proved its worth before VCRs became truly affordable, many people may have seen little reason to buy a VCR. At least, until they got really cheap. With a strong installed base of perhaps 10 million units in 1980, blockbuster movies in theaters could expect to make another $20 or $30 million after being released on home video, and you know the movie studios would jump on board. that train very quickly.
With the increased manufacturing capacity funded by this successful system, RCA could start making more niche content like TV shows, and maybe third parties would start making their own records, and oh god, this is horrible! If RCA had been successful here and everyone was selling their content to have on video disc, would the VCR have been... outlawed? You may remember that there was a Supreme Court case about whether VCRs violated copyright law, and in large part we have this wonderful man to resolve that with an emphatic "no." Yes, I know this record is in horrible condition, but come on, I'm not going to pass up trying to use this photo of Mr.
Rogers on a video record, I mean, sure. That case was resolved in 1984, when it became clear that the CED was a disaster. But if the CEDs had been successful and everyone from TV studios to independent filmmakers were putting their stuff into the CEDs, then suddenly the arguments against time shifting would become much stronger. Of course, you can't record your own TV shows, since NBC will release that season next October. That would be infringing on their ability to make profits and we can't allow that, oh no. In fact, the movie studios continued to push for Congress to pass some kind of legislative action that would make daylight saving illegal, and the fact that they were making a lot of money from the rental and sale of home videos is cited as one of the main reasons. reasons why Congress basically said buzz.
Although, to be fair, asking him to leave seems to be Congress' default strategy these days. That horrible hypothesis aside, a 1975 release would have beaten Discovision to the market as well, and I have a feeling Philips and MCA would just give up if that had happened. Look, while I don't think the existence of the laserdisc was really detrimental to the CED, confusion between the two standards definitely existed, so having a single videodisc on the market would help RCA even more. And RCA did not repeat Sony's mistake and was not very stingy with licensing its technology. They were open to third-party OEM participation; in fact, Hitachi, Sanyo and Toshiba made third-party players, so it is unlikely that there would have been a VHS disc to displace RCA's CED.
Now, of course, RCA failed to bring their product to market in 1975, but they still thought it would be worth a try. His idea that the cheap discs and player would be a good value compared to a VCR was not wrong. But they fundamentally misjudged something about the home video market. RCA basically forgot about the rental concept. Okay, "I forgot" isn't entirely fair, but their research led them to believe that people would rather own a movie than rent one, and with that in mind, VCRs could never make

sense

. But of course, for the VCR, renting was a perfect two-birds-one-stone scenario.
Pre-recorded VHS tapes are expensive and time-consuming to make, sure, but if you rent them, you're spreading their use over 10 or 20 people. And of course, that means you only need one-tenth or one-twentieth the number of tapes you would need if people bought them, so tape duplication facilities don't have to be huge. Really, this was the only thing RCA failed to imagine. Their product essentially depended on economies of scale and people wanting to buy their movies, and lots of them. In fact, that would get expensive very quickly if you bought pre-recorded VHS cassettes. But with a VCR, not only could you go to your corner video store and pay about five dollars to borrow a movie for the night, but you could also record television while you were out.
And once people started getting into that groove, they weren't interested in RCAs anymore. God, I love word games. Good. I didn't think I was going to end up making three videos about this format... but it seems so. Before we finish this one, have you noticed anything about the CED? Those of you who know a thing or two about Laserdiscs will know that they come in two versions, CAV and CLV. CAV discs only lasted 30 minutes per side, but CLV discs could last an hour by reducing the rotation speed of the disc while playing, taking advantage of the geometry of the disc.
Good? CEDs are CAVs! They rotate at a constant speed of 450 RPM. And yet, they last an hour per side. If RCA had said, you know what? We will make the players a little more expensive by using a variable speed motor, but at the same time we will get 2 hours of video on each side, I think that could have made the format work. They had incredible information density on these disks, but they wasted a lot of potential by using a constant rotation speed. If they discovered constant linear velocity, it would basically eliminate two disc titles, and most movies wouldn't even need a spin in the middle!
Double feature specials could be sold, two classic movies for $20! And, if TV shows had started being released on CED, a full season could only take up 4 discs, with bonus material! Look, it's a little late, but if I had a time machine... I could whisper some thoughts in someone's ear. For now, I hope you enjoyed part 2. I think it's safe to say that if RCA had timed this a little better, the CED wouldn't have failed. And I also think it's a fair bet that if that had happened, our media landscape would be quite different. Maybe VCRs wouldn't be illegal, but you can bet the home video scene wouldn't be anything like what it is today.
Well, streaming is king these days, so go for it... But you can bet that the home video scene of the 1980s and early 2000s would be nothing like what it is today. In the third and (probably) final part, we'll look at why RCA couldn't release this product on time. It turns out that the story is much more complicated than you might initially think. I'm waiting for the materials to arrive, so maybe I'll do something completely different next, but be sure to subscribe if you haven't already so you don't miss part 3. As always, I'd like to thank all the wonderful people who support this channel at via Patreon, with special thanks to the fine folks scrolling up.
It is with the support of viewers like you that I am able to make videos like this and I really appreciate your support. If you would like to join these people in supporting my work with a pledge of your own, you can visit my Patreon page via the link on the end screen or in the description. Thank you for your consideration and see you next time! ♫ unfortunately smooth jazz ♫ ...and that certainly wouldn't be bu baa buh buh buh You may have noticed that the player has a pause button, well…. There was a noise. Over there. Cool. ...clear leader tape, and these holes on the sides of the...wow!
I skipped some words! The albums are marvels of the pre… oh yes. hold on. This is going incredibly well. Very good. Because we have planned all this. I definitely didn't rush anything. Arrgh. Come on. Come on. Be a good defeat device. Thank you. Look at that, it's so... No. And also knowing how difficult it must be: this is a very loud, loud cassette.

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