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

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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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

This entry is why I decided to do this crazy gallery in the first place. Apparently, <a href="http://klout.com/#/jperlow/topics">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.

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2 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

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.
 

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3 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Before we had hard disk drives in our personal computers, or even the
more modern flash or solid state storage that is becoming more
commonplace, the floppy or flexible removable disk was the primary
method of storing removable data on a personal computer.

Floppy disks were introduced in the mid-1970's originally in 8", then
5.25" and 3.5" format. They reached the pinnacle of their popularity
in the early 1990s before being replaced by CD-ROM and other removable
storage types such as USB thumb drives and DVD-ROM.

Maximum storage capacity of these disks were measured in hundreds of
kilobytes (180K, 360K) or as much as 1.44 or 2.88 megabytes. That's
barely enough to store a single MP3 song or a medium resolution
digital photograph.

Major software applications or an operating system might take a dozen
or more floppies when distributed as a product. Like other storage
media used at the time, such as tape, they employed magnetic storage
technology, so if you were unlucky enough to keep them near something
that had a strong magnetic field, your data would get degaussed
(erased).

Prior to floppy disks the Compact Cassette tape (mentioned earlier)
was used to store data on early personal computers. To say that it was
slow and painful compared to what we use today is an understatement.

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4 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Before HDTV, before digital cable, FiOS and satellite, there was
terrestrial broadcast television. All 525 lines of Standard
Definition, 4x3 aspect ratio glory.

Prior to the early 1970s, when analog cable television began to be
deployed with the rise of subscriber TV services like HBO, TMC and
Showtime on networks such as Cablevision and COX, all television
programming was broadcast using terrestrial radio towers over the UHF
(Ultra-High Frequency) and VHF (Very-High Frequency) bands.

VHF channels, which operated in the 30Mhz to 300Mhz range, were
limited to a dozen in each broadcast market to represent the major
networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) plus local independent affiliates.

Due to frequency overcrowding in the 1950s the UHF band, which
operated in the 300Mhz to 3Ghz range was assigned to new channels,
primarily to independent and educational stations.

Many homes, particularly apartments, did not have large antennas on
their roofs connected to their TV sets, so in order to deal with
reception problems they used "Rabbit Ears", or small antenna devices
that could be bought in stores like Radio Shack to help enhance the
signal.

Today, much of the UHF and VHF frequency blocks have been reclaimed by
the move in 2009 towards digital television which uses compressed data
streams even when broadcast over the air (OTA). The spectrum that
broadcast analog television used to occupy will be sold on the open
market for use in other wireless applications.

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5 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

If you've read Steve Jobs' biography, you'd know that one of the
people he most admired was Dr. Edwin Land, who was the inventor of the
Polaroid Land Camera.

Introduced in 1947 and manufactured and sold through the early 1980s,
the Polaroid Land Camera used a unique chemical process which allowed
a photo to be taken and within several minutes, to have the photo
instantly develop and printed on photographic paper.

This was considered to be a huge technological achievement because
with regular film cameras, if you weren't a professional or amateur
photographer with your own photo lab, you had to send your film out
for developing and enlargement, which took as much as a week or
longer.

Although this type of film was considerably more expensive than
traditional 35mm or 110mm film, and you could only have 8-10 exposures
per pack, the Polaroid camera took amateur photography to new heights
of popularity.

Photographs taken with the Polaroid process included the transfer
paper and film/chemical reagents on a multi-layer sandwich. Over time,
the colors would fade and images would degrade, much faster than
traditional photographic paper.
 

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6 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet


Before there was personal computing, before there was word processing,
there were typewriters. They were noisy, they required ink ribbons,
they used paper, and they did not correct your mistakes. If it was a
manual (non-electric) typewriter, they were also known to jam if you
didn't have the correct typing "rhythm".

Our own David Gewirtz recently did an ode to typewriters, so I'll
direct you to his great piece instead of waxing rhapsodic about them
myself.

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7 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

From the 1890's up until the early 1960's when the DTMF or "Touch
Tone" method of keying in telephone numbers was introduced, the rotary
dial or pulse dial method was the predominant form of calling someone.
That's where the anachronism "dial" or "dial tone" or "I dialed it
wrong" actually comes from, despite the fact that all phones currently
use some kind of keypad.

Instead of sending a digital tone over the POTS line, these phones
used electromechanical relays that sent electrical pulses over the
telephone line which corresponded with the number that was being sent.
The switch equipment at the carrier (also electromechanical) receiving
the signal then routed the call.

These types of phones used a circular dial with holes that
corresponded with each number, 0 to 9. There was no "speed dial" or
re-dial, and you also didn't know who was calling you on the phone --
there was no caller ID of any kind. Someone called, you simply
answered, and you had no idea who was on the other end unless you
asked.

Excessive use of rotary phones was also painful and hurt one's
fingers, so people used to use pens and pencils to stick into the
dialing holes instead.

Pulse dialing was still operational and considered basic service in
the United States up until the early 1980s when DTMF dial service was
incorporated as a basic feature of land-line telephone service bills
and the electromechanical switching equipment at the carriers was
fully converted to digital.

Up until that point touch tone service was charged extra to the
customer on their monthly bill. The bastards.

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8 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Today, we have smartphones to receive messages when we are on the go.
But back in the 1950's through the late 1980's, there were radio
pagers, or "Beepers".

These cigarette-pack sized devices originally were used by doctors and
other professionals that needed to be reached off-hours or when they
were not in the office.

The first models didn't even have a display of any sort, they just
buzzed or beeped, and then you were supposed to call into a central
number to receive your message, or know that you were needed and had
to get back to the office, stat.

They also were only good for within a limited range of the radio
tower, so if you left the metro area, the pager wouldn't work.
Eventual'y, the introduction of national paging services like Skypager
in the early 1990s made it possible to receive messages anywhere in
the US.

Later on, they had numeric displays that told you which number to call
back, and then alphanumeric so that a short message could be sent.
Finally, two-way alphanumeric devices like the first RIM BlackBerrys
allowed you to send a text message back to the sender. Now that's
progress!

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9 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

While not yet fully extinct, the day of the Cathode Ray Tube or CRT
screen is coming to an end. Many people have already replaced their
"Tube Sets" for flat screen LCD, Plasma or LED sets, and the same has
occurred with desktop computer monitors. But there are still a lot of
places, such as airports and other public venues like railway stations
that have not yet upgraded equipment.

Within 10 years, CRT monitors in the United States will become only a
memory, except for those holders-on using OTA digital converter or
cable TV boxes on their battle-axe 4:3 TVs mounted in expensive
entertainment center furniture. Some people just don't want to change.

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10 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Today, the majority of people who use the Internet have some sort of
broadband or wireless data connection in their home or office. But
dial-up modem service is still used in many parts of the world, and it
is also the technology that is still used in FAX machines over POTS
(Plain Old Telephone Service) lines. Oh yeah, POTS lines and FAX
machines? Also going extinct.

Modems, which were integral to this type of technology, converted
digital information into screeching bursts of analog sounds which
encapsulated the data that was was being transmitted. In the early age
of personal computing they had speeds of 300, 1200, 2400, 9600 and
19200 bits per second.

At the time they were generally discontinued for Internet access in
the early 2000's, they had a maximum transfer rate of 56,000 Kbps. Now
that was really cooking with gas.

To put that in perspective, that is about half of the effective
transfer rate of a 2.5G data connection on a first generation iPhone.

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11 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

While the Compact Cassette is long dead, having since been replaced by
the Compact Disc and digital music formats such as MP3 and devices
like the iPod and iPhone, the vinyl record, or LP, has resisted death.

Introduced by Columbia Records in 1948 -- the ancestral grandparent to
CBS, the company that owns ZDNet, LPs are black vinyl, 12"
double-sided discs that play analog monaural or stereo music on
turntables that spin at 72 RPM. Up until the age of the Compact
Cassette's popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s mentioned earlier,
it was the predominant form of distributing music in album format.

A smaller form of vinyl record, which spun at 45 RPM, was introduced
in 1949 by the RCA Victor company in order to sell singles, much like
99-cent single song downloads are sold on iTunes and other digital
music services.

Vinyl has resisted death because it is highly collectible among
classic rock/jazz/classical music connoisseurs and many titles have
not been re-published legally on CD or downloadable formats.

Additionally, the album cover art itself on some LPs have value and
has a collectable following. While still considered to be a dying,
esoteric recordable format, certain publishers and music artists are
also releasing new limited-edition LPs pressed in colored, rather
standard black vinyl as "picture disks" in order to meet this demand
for collectable products.

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12 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

While digital photography has pretty much become ubiquitous with the
use of prosumer/professional DSLRs, point and shoot digital cameras as
well as integrated on smartphones and other devices such as tablets,
film cameras which shoot in 35mm, medium and full frame formats are
still being used by amateur and professional photographers, simply
because of the large investment in equipment, accessories and lenses
that fit those cameras and cannot easily be moved to newer systems.

There is also a certain aesthetic and artistic preference that film
photographers have to analog photography, particularly as it relates
to portraits and longer-exposure photographs.

And while digital cameras at the professional level are now more than
capable of exceeding the detail level of 35mm, medium and full frame
format film -- at 30 megapixels and higher, these cameras are still
quite expensive, so photographers working in these formats are not
likely to switch over unless there is a cost benefit or a significant
advantage (portability, miniaturization, etc) to moving over, or until
the film manufacturing industry itself goes completely belly-up.

This has already happened for one type of popular and iconic film
format , Kodachrome, which had its last canisters of film developed in
late 2011.

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13 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

While analog instruments are still very much part of our music
culture, and there's no indication that they are going to go away
anytime soon, perhaps even for decades -- the synthesizer, for the
most part, has gone completely digital.

But that wasn't always the case. The analog synthesizer -- popularized
by companies like Moog and keyboardists like Ray Manzerek and
composers like Wendy Carlos (the trans-gender recording artist that
created the soundtrack for the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange
and Switched on Bach) was a big part of the rock and roll revolution
of the late 1960s and 1970s.

While Moog and other analog synthesizers are still being made in
limited amounts, and older instruments are being maintained/restored
in working order because of their historical significance or collector
value, they are primarily only being used for "vintage" rock sounds
that cannot easily be reproduced by digital-sample type synthesizer
equipment. At some point in the near future, their use will probably
disappear altogether.

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14 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Today, most printed office documents are printed using laser or inkjet
printers. But before these two technologies became commonplace, there
was impact/daisywheel (think automated typewriter) and dot-matrix.

Dot Matrix printing uses sprocket-fed perforated stacks of paper which
are imprinted with text and graphics line-by-line using an electronic
printer head that uses heated pins to form the image of each character
against an inked cloth ribbon.

The action of moving the head back and forth across the ribbon is
extremely noisy, and the quality of the print is extremely low when
compared to even the lowest-cost ink jet printer or even a classic
typewriter or impact printer.

While these printers have largely become obsolete, they still have
limited applications in ATM machines and cash registers, as well as in
certain other vertical market systems that need to do multi-part forms
like bank tellers, auto repair shops, and car rental agencies.
Naturally, these electromechanical printing devices are much more
expensive to produce than ink jets.

However, within 10 years or perhaps even less, these systems are
expected to conform to more commodity printing technologies.

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15 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Today, most people who listen to AM/FM terrestrial radio do so in
their automobiles, or may even use satellite radio systems like
SiriusXM. Some folks listen to radio programming which is simulcast
over Internet audio streams. Still, as a whole, portable music
listening has largely become the domain of MP3 player devices like the
iPod and iPhone.

However, back in the day, if you wanted to hear music on the go, from
the mid-1950s onward (and heavily popularized in the 1960s) people
used small, portable radios that were made possible by the transistor,
an electronic component which was invented in 1947 by the good folks
at Bell Labs.

The small, eraser-head sized, solid state transistors used in these
portable radios were preceded by Vacuum Tubes, which were huge (think
lightbulb sized) generated tons of heat, burned out fairly quickly,
and made mobile technology extremely impractical.

As transistors became more and more miniaturized, radios and consumer
electronics as a whole became smaller and smaller. Eventually, during
the late 1960s and early 1970s, the use of hundreds of thousands of
extremely tiny transistors using specialized lithographic processes on
silicon wafers at companies like Intel, MOS and Zilog would give birth
to the semiconductor industry and the personal computer.

The tiny transistor, first used in portable radios, has made all
virtually all technology popularized in the late 20th century onward
possible. But good luck finding people listening to portable
transistor radios nowadays.

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