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November 2014 Retro Gaming Article

November 2, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

CED players were a low-cost option to laserdisc w/ more similarity to phonographs- stylus included

RCA SelectaVision logo When I bought my first Laserdisc player, it was hard not to draw comparisons between it's shiny media discs and the vinyl records than formed and enlivened my childhood. Every LP I bought was meticulously recorded onto a cassette and then the record was placed safely on a shelf. Knowing I could make endless copies on tapes, I stored my records - largely unaware of the uniquely awesome tones that can only come from vinyl.

My stereo at the time was of the lo-fi all-in-one variety, so I wasn't really robbing myself of the tonal joys of a phonograph. Many audio and video technologies came to fruition long before I was even aware of their possibilities. Back in the 70s it wasn't uncommon for a lengthy time between technological advances and appearances on retail shelves. These days, we seem to churn thing out and try to make a profit minutes later!

size comparison: vinyl record, laserdisc, CD Betamax, VHS, and laserdisc were introduced, respectively, in 1976, 1977, and 1978! My first Laserdisc player came home in the early 90's and I had no idea the technology was over a decade old! It took me a long time to realize how behind I was. But there were other formats I'd never heard of... CED VideoDiscs, for example.

Capacitance Electronic Discs (CED)

As Laserdiscs gave way to DVD and as Blu Ray fades in popularity today, it's hard to imagine an analog technology involving a physical stylus reacting to grooves, producing both audio and video for your TV. RCA's brand, SelectaVision, delivered this technology known as CED players, in March 1981.

Unlike a phonograph in which the needle vibrates in reaction to the grooves, CED's stylus (needle) had an electrical component and didn't rely on the same physical "touching". In fact, the stylus' pressure against the disc is very minimal - partly due to design and for the preservation of the media.

At that time, this technology seemed behind video tape and CED was not a user-recordable medium. Like laserdiscs, you bought prerecorded media. This technology emerged in the mid 1960s but several factors allowed it to stew for nearly two decades before being available to consumers. Worse still, was the small number of titles released for CED - around 1,700 titles.

RCA ceased CED sales in 1986 when sales were significantly behind projections. One has to wonder how realistic any prediction could be when there were 2 video tape formats that allowed you to record show and movies from the TV. Laserdisc's in ability to record was problematic, but it's digital capability was clearly above the CED's analog stylus.

RCA Spectravision VideoDisc player Didn't we call "Playing sound and pictures through your TV" - playing a movie? Just as I feared my vinyl records would degrade and become scratched, CED media was subjected to this. Over time, the media would degrade from the physical contact with the stylus navigating the high density grooves. Of course Laserdisc aficionados claimed laser-rot to be a detriment to laserdiscs, but that resulted from circumstances outside the normal use of the heavy discs.

Superman CED VideoDisc From the start (delayed into the 80s) CED players were a "low cost" solution in the prerecorded entertainment. Like laserdiscs it was necessary to flip the disc to view an entire movie. CED discs only held 60 minutes per side which was fine for a majority of features. Studios often pared down longer films for CED release to avoid the costlier option of a 2-disc release.

My first form of external television entertainment was my Atari 2600. From there, I decided Betamax was superior to VHS and enjoyed that format until is ceded and VHS took over. Impressed with laserdisc technology, I bought a player which I loved dearly for several years. Alas, every format is usurped by something better that forces me to buy my favorite media on yet another platform.

This has happened to video games too. I have copies of the same game across as many as five different consoles. As we enter the "cloud" era, I worry that this hails the end of what was formerly known as "ownership".

Even though I'd never experienced CED, I see how interesting it is as a phonograph-like technology and it's release among other more formidable devices. As one who has downloaded both songs, movies, and video games - I always have great respect for any form of media that I can hold in my hands and share with my friends.

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