Gallery: Dead technologies Gen-Y and younger will only find in old movies and TV

Gallery: Dead technologies Gen-Y and younger will only find in old movies and TV

Summary: Remember the days when you dialed a phone number, turned your rabbit ears for better reception, and took pictures on film?


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  • This entry is why I decided to do this crazy gallery in the first place. Apparently, <a href="">Klout believes</a> I am an authority on VCRs.

    Ah, the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). How quaint. Today, we have Digital Video Recorders such as the TiVO and streaming media services like Hulu or Netflix, or even pay-per-view on-demand content like iTunes or Amazon Video if we want to time-shift our TV viewing.

    But back in the day (that being the late 1970's when VCRs first came to market and up until the late 90s when the very first DVRs were introduced) if you wanted to watch a TV program when it wasn't showing live when it was on the air, you had to use one of these clunky things, which used large magnetic-based tape cassettes.

    There were originally two VCR standards, VHS and Beta. Due to a number
    of factors, the primary one being cost, the VHS standard that was developed by JVC won the consumer war. The higher-quality and arguably superior Beta, which was developed by Sony, was relegated to use in professional/broadcast quality video cameras.

    Most people used 120 minute cassettes, so in their native recording capacity they were good for maybe one feature length movie or perhaps two 1-hour TV shows, since you had to record the commercials as well. However, VCRs had the ability to double the recording time at the expense of video quality using what was referred to as EP/SLP mode.

    Unlike modern digital storage, over the years and successive viewings the tapes themselves would deteriorate and so would the video quality.

    Unlike DVRs which allow the user to quickly fast forward through a recorded program, and allow random access to any number of recorded programs on the system, VCRs were sequential storage devices so if you had a program towards the end of the tape, it could take a couple of minutes before you get to view what you wanted.

    So if you liked to collect movies and TV programs, you had to be well-organized and write down on the cassette box what you were recording and at what time index on the tape they were recording at. VCRs were also incredibly difficult to program compared to today's DVRs, and frustrated enough people that they never even set the clocks on them properly, so that they would perpetually blink "12:00".

    Many people didn't actually use their VCRs for recording movies -- they simply went to the video store such as Blockbuster (yet another cultural anachronism) and rented a tape, which you had to return within a certain specified period (usually 24 or 48 hours) or face fines.

    Many independently-owned video stores even had special back rooms for
    Adult/Porn titles, which inevitably resulted in a certain skeeve factor and a certain level of embarrassment if someone you knew saw you walking in to browse the porn section. You could also buy movies on VHS tape, but in the early years before mass adoption, they were crazy expensive, in the $40-$50 range.

    For the movie rental industry, VHS tapes were eventually replaced by DVDs. However video rental stores went the way of the dodo bird due to an inability to compete with pay-per view subscriber TV services such as cable and satellite, and mail order rental services such as Netflix which are currently being challenged by broadband based on-demand content like iTunes, Amazon Video and Netflix's own Instant Play.

  • Today, if you enjoy collecting music, unless you are an esoteric connoisseur of eclectic vintage titles on vinyl (we'll get to that later) you're almost certainly using some type of digital storage device, like an MP3 player device like an iPod or a smartphone like an iPhone or even storing the files on a personal computer. You might even buy albums on Compact Disc.

    But before MP3 and CDs, there was analog, magnetically recorded audio tape, which existed in several formats from the 1970s onward was the
    predominant way of distributing (non-LP) music.

    Reel to Reel, which was used by the professional recording industry since the 1940s remained popular for many years among audiophiles although it was not really a consumer music distribution medium.

    The recording industry's most popular tape format was the Compact Cassette, which was introduced in 1964 by the Philips corporation.

    The Compact Cassette was a double-sided storage medium which could record about 30 to 45 minutes of music per side. Early player devices required that the cassette be ejected and then flipped over to play the other half of an album.

    Later on, "auto reverse" based systems were able to play without user
     intervention. Like the VCR's VHS tapes, the cassette was a sequential storage technology, and songs played one after the other unless you fast forwarded to the song on the album you wanted.

    The Compact Cassette was briefly challenged by 8-track (Stereo 8 format) cartridges which had the ability to have four stereo programs on them simultaneously, which the user could select on the player device using one of four buttons. Mechanically, 8-track players were also lot simpler.

    Consequently, this made them popular for use in automobiles. However, the 8-track cartridges were considerably larger and were essentially limited to being play-only, and over time, the players had numerous reliability issues and were known to "eat" the tapes.

    The Compact Cassette reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Portable player devices like the Sony Walkman in the early to mid 1980s allowed an entire generation of people to become mobile and on the go with their favorite music.

    Prior to that time period, private listening to recorded music was an activity that was essentially confined to the home, unless you were listening to broadcast music on a portable transistor radio (more on that later.)

    In the 1980s, portable cassette players with integrated high-powered stereo speakers and AM/FM radios called "Boom Boxes" or "Ghetto Blasters" were the rage in inner cities and were frequently associated with rap and hip-hop music, which as a music genre developed at around the same time.

    An entire multi-billion dollar industry of music stores that sold these (play-only) cassette tapes, such as Virgin Megastore, Tower Records and Sam Goody, could be found in just about every town and major shopping center.

    Due to the rise of Internet-based music distribution like iTunes/Amazon MP3 and Internet-based mail-order commerce, these brick and mortar music stores, for the most part, no longer exist, with the exception of independently owned boutiques that serve the collector market for used CDs and vinyl.

    Cassette tapes, like VHS on VCRs, had no form of copy protection or digital rights management -- anyone with a simple set of stereo RCA cables and a recording-capable cassette deck could dub or record an infinite number of copies. But this lack of copy protection didn't really do a tremendous amount of harm to either industry as a whole, despite considerable protest and efforts from the RIAA and MPAA at the time.

    Sales of the cassette tape slumped in the mid-1990s when the Compact Disc eclipsed it, and eventually the music stores switched almost entirely to the new medium, before dying out in the late 2000's.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Telcos


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Except the Analog Synthesizer I've owned or used all of those.

    Except the Analog Synthesizer I've owned or used all of those. I've only used the typewriter briefly.

    VCRs, walkmans, floppy disks, 35mm cameras, dial-up modems, CRT TVs, dot matrix printers and transistor radios (although it was nearly pocket size) I used a lot.

    Neither vinyl or 35mm camera are dying. They both have niche markets. Google lomography to see the popularity of 35mm cameras, a lomography store opened a few months back in Manchester, England.
    • Lomography

      Lomography is a unique, fun and very interesting hobby but I don't think it's big enough to sustain the film industry. I also don't think as a hobby it is dependent on film as low cost, shoot from the hip digital cameras that produce the same "effect" already exist and I see no reason why that can't be built into smartphones. Purist lomographers might balk at digital but everyone else will just accept it as the natural order of things. 35mm film will probably be around for at least another 10 years provided Fuji and others can sustain a business around it. Kodak obviously has issues.
    • 35 mm film is dying.

      Plain and simple. It takes a multi-million base infrastructure to support and it almost at the point where it will simply cease to exist. That time is coming very very fast. I suspect 35mm film has less than 3years of life left.
      • I'm afraid you're right

        The first brick to fall from the wall was Kodachrome. I was absolutely stunned when the Gold Standard for slide film stopped being produced. I fear that the whole wall will come tumbling down, and a sad day it will be. I love digital photography, but I have so many sweet memories of developing T-Max and creating my own B&W prints...
  • Analog Synthesizers resurrection

    Analog music gear is actually pretty big with the young folk and heavily used in new music these days, and not just for recreation of Wendy Carlos. Moog is back, new analog synths pop up everywhere, the Arturia Minibrute being the most recent example. This also resonates with what's going on the Maker scene with simple micro-controllers like Arduino & friends. They utilize technology from the 80's to teach low level computing and enabling the internet of things. Retro doesn't necessarily mean backwards, it can be very innovative and cool. Just compare Braun/Dieter Rams design with Apple if you need more proof.
  • Strange but true

    The funny part, all those older devices were built far better and will last far longer than the devices you can buy today.
    • You said it

      I still have cassettes that play perfectly. I have VHS tapes that work perfectly on a Toshiba player. Those devices were not made in China. Sony Japan and Minolta Japan made very good hardware. Now Sony just outsources manufacturing to China.
  • re:

    "they still have limited applications in ATM machines and cash registers"

    And even there, they seem to be rare, with most machines having basically switched to thermal paper.
  • Thank you for the memories, Jason. Please enjoy these addendum's.

    I wonder how many readers will recall that Sir Laurence Olivier's one and only commercial that he participated in was for the introduction of the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera. Those curious can search YouTube for this or, hopefully, use this link to view that video clip.

    BTW, I bought that camera when it first came out. Unfortunately, a year later, I placed it on the top of my car just before driving away from a camp site. I came back a few minutes later only to discover that some unknown-to-this-day lucky soul verified that old saying: Finders keepers. Losers weepers.

    The picture you used to describe 35mm cameras brought back many fond personal memories. That exact Olympus model was a faithful companion during the 80's. To this day, those optics produced some of the sharpest film images I have ever taken.

    I still have a working Betamax player and tapes somewhere boxed up. I never did find out how to set the clock!

    I say - Bring back the pocket pagers!

    Finally, regarding transistor radios. I'm surprised you didn't mention this comparison to modern day digital cameras. I'm referring to a similar marketing ploy used to sell these devices. For transistor radios, the astute consumer was always informed of the number of transistors inside the radio. (As if the sheer number was an indication of superior performance.) Much like the number of mega pixels that the digital camera sensor incorporates is an indication of image rendering superiority.
    • SX-70

      My dad purchased an SX-70 for doing dental photography. It was an amazingly cool camera, and I enjoyed using it when he wasn't sticking it in people's mouths. :) I can certainly understand why Jobs was impressed with the device, especially how it folded up.
  • Analog Synths

    I picked up a MiniMoog Voyager Old School a couple years ago when Moog discontinued the model. It is the closet you can get to the classic MiniMoog Model D. No midi, no memory (presets are for the weak).
    Mark Kunnecke
  • Don't for get 33-1/3

    After 72 RPM's came out, vinyl records switched to the true 'LP' format playing at 33.3 RPM. This was the prodominent vinyl format up until today. Some say we lost audio quality switching from vinyl to CD's/digital. I say our greatest loss was album cover art.
  • where 72 rpm?

    If you spun an LP at 72 rpm, it sounded like Donald Duck. And as far as I know, nothing was recorded commercialy in '72", the old standard was 78 rpm, replaced by the smaller 45 s , and then by the LP (Long Play) at 33 1/3 rpm, improperly called "albums" because they replaced the earlier albums of 78 rpm, which were kept a in scrapbook of paper sleeves.
  • Dial phone

    Before about 1953, we picked up the phone and gave the operator the number, localy just the last 4 digits. We got one of the first dial phones in town in 1953, and it was hard to remember to dial all 7 digits. I still have 2 or 3 dial phones, they work fine, and work on at least the 3 VOIP systems I've tried also.
  • what do you consider gen y?

    I was born in 86. I believe that falls under Gen y. I used half of those products regularly when I was young and some of the others came out in my youth (like the beeper). And while most of these items will fall into obscurity, i doubt they will actually die. typewriters still have a place with enthusiasts, just like vacuum tube radios, vinyls, and old PCs. I still keep a CRT around because any game that uses a light-gun (think NES's duck hunt or other, later ps2 games) don't work on HDTVs due to the matte screen. I only bring this up because I believe that the title of the blog is off.
  • Man, I remember as a kid going with my dad down to the local

    drugstore to use their tube tester
  • LP disk formats

    I worked on WHRB, the Harvard radio station, in the Fifties (OK, I'm older than most/all of you!) and I seem to recall that there was a 16 rpm standard for records -- call it "extreme long play" -- that never made it commercially. Anyone remember that? Also, while I have your attention, tape recorders were all reel-to-reel back then, and the broadcast standard was 15 inches per second! High quality consumer performance meant 7.5 in/sec, low quality (good for voice only) was 3.75 in/sec. (For comparison, those little cassettes played at 0.75 in/sec. The technology that drove this drastic increase in storage capacity, I assume was improvements in the deposition of the ferromagenetic layer on the tape.)
    • 16 RPM

      I had a phonograph whose speed control lever had a 16 position. We had no records at that speed, but found that it made out Alvin & the Chipmunks album sound like three grown men singing slowly.

      And 72 rpm? The old disks were 10 inches and ran at 78 rpm. LPs (Long Play) were/are the new, improved, version: 12 inches in diameter and running at 33 1/3 rpm, with stereo and a frequency response approaching human hearing..
  • Missing video system

    You only talk about the Betamax and VHS. What about the Video 2000 system from Philips and Grundig ( That was the best quality and could be used on both sides line audiocassetes.

    But this brings back some golden memories ;-)
  • Happy days??

    Yes, I started in the tube and selenium rectifier age. Built a couple of analog synths (based on Xerographic reproductions of European designs) and guitar effects boxes (wah-wah pedals, fuzz boxes etc). Had a bleeper at work - dumb thing always going off and you could never read the display.

    Happy days, lots of employment, gas was cheap, could buy a house within a lifetime.