On 22 March, 1981, RCA introduced a brand new but curiously retro analog video format, the SelectaVision CED VideoDisc system. Today the CED (Capacitance Electronic Disc) is all but forgotten but even at its most popular it wasn’t well-known and was much widely-adopted than contemporaneous video formats like Betamax, VHS, and LaserDiscs.
Although doubtfully part of the plan, with the release of VideoDiscs RCA seemed to inadvertently anticipate the vinyl revival of the future by rejecting the use of lasers to read information (technology used by LDs and Compact Discs, which would be released commercially the following year) in favor of a stylus — a technology developed in the 1870s to play wax cylinders. The result was a format that was neither recordable (unlike magnetic tape formats) nor possessing of superior image quality (unlike LaserDiscs).
The reason the CED was so anachronistic was because the technology was originally conceived seventeen years earlier, in 1964. Back then, it represented in a significant increase in the recording density of vinyl LPs and was therefore a not insignificant technological advance. Unfortunately for the product’s viability, behind-the-scenes bickering and other obstacles held up its release for the next decade and a half.
Sales of the “brand new, you’re retro” format were bad from the get go. In
1986, after having lost a reported $600 million on the VideoDisc, RCA finally performed a mercy killing on the format.
Today when VideoDiscs are encountered, it’s usually at thrift stores (hello Goodwill), yard sales, and occasionally on Amoeba Hollywood‘s mezzanine. That’s where I first saw one — although I didn’t know what it was. Artist Wayne Shellabarger had to educate me. If you don’t see any VideoDiscs at Amoeba, it may because there are none in stock. However, ask at the information counter and you may be pleasantly surprised as they’ve been known not to make it to the sales floor.
19 April is Record Store Day and 7 September is Cassette Store Day but as far as I know, there’s neither a holiday for videodisc stores nor has there ever been such a thing as a videodisc store. VideoDiscs are honored online with an appropriately retro-looking website, CED Magic. It’s actually quite a thorough and loving look at the sometimes-maligned and even more often- forgotten video format. Happy hunting!
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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