For the ’80′s: a decade of wonders in home electronics (Nov, 1981)

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For the ’80′s: a decade of wonders in home electronics

Look for 3-D TV, hand-held VCR-cameras, giant-screen TV, and noiseless discs

By JOHN FREE

Video. That word and its companion hardware dominated three home-electronics shows I attended this year. Exhibits brimmed with new videotape and videodisc machines, computerized TV games, accessories, mammoth earth-station antennas, an umbrella-size direct-broadcast-satellite antenna, and more.

Giant-screen TV, the most dramatic video eye-catcher, was everywhere, too, as the leaders in color TV finally entered the field: RCA showed its Hitachi-built front-projection console, and Zenith unveiled its pop-up screen, rear-projection console IPS, Aug.].

But significant new technology was also rolled out by Sylvania and Mag-navox, both now owned by North American Philips. Sylvania’s (1) and Magnavox’s 50-inch rear-projection consoles have exclusive screens with narrow vertical black stripes on the front (see detail). The stripes absorb ambient light so you can have high-contrast pictures even in brightly illuminated rooms. Sylvania’s 1981 SuperScreen model has a plump 41-inch-deep cabinet. But next year’s model will be slimmer. A new mirror-lens system from U.S. Precision Lens positioned before each of the three projection tubes (diagram) will halve the cabinet depth.

Shrinking VCR’s

Beta-format video-cassette tapes are somewhat smaller than competing VHS-tape packages. Now, Sony and other Beta-format firms have exploited this by totally reengineering their decks. Sony’s SL-2000 portable deck (2, left), for example, weighs just over nine pounds and measures 8-1/2 by 3-1/8 by 12 inches. It can record up to five hours on one tape (one hour per battery charge).

But JVC and other VHS-format companies are readying a counterblow: a VHS mini-cassette a little larger than an audio cassette. Next year VHS firms will have portable decks weighing some 5.5 pounds. You’ll be able to play one-hour VHS mini-cassettes back either with these compact portables or in standard VHS machines by slipping them into an adapter the size of a standard VHS cassette.

Meanwhile, for the next jump in size reduction—combination VCR-camera units—Japanese firms are trying to settle on a single tape format. Matsushita was showing its design entry (2,right) at its advanced-technology show in Chicago. This model is slightly smaller than an earlier one ["Look and Listen," PS, July], since the camera has a solid-state image sensor instead of a V2-inch pickup tube. Matsushita’s micro video system puts two hours on a cassette slightly smaller than a standard audio cassette by using metal-evaporated tape.

This high-density videotape is only 10 microns (millionths of a meter) thick-half that of VHS tape. These upcoming micro-videotapes are Va inch wide, compared with Beta’s and VHS’s 1/2-inch widths. One firm suggests a VCR-camera combo will be available as early as 1982. Next? How about still-smaller 1/8-inch tapes and hardware? Another Matsushita futuristic system at Chicago was a 3-D TV receiver (3) and a stereoscopic TV camera (4). The camera can record 3-D pictures on ordinary videotape machines and could be marketed soon.

The depth illusion is startlingly realistic. But you must wear special eyeglasses with photoelectric lens shutters synchronized to the images. There’s some eye strain. Matsushita says the 3-D technique can be used with high-resolution TV [this issue], too. For 3-D TV in homes, though, many researchers are attempting to perfect a standard system that wouldn’t require glasses.

Some audio components have a new look, too. Increasingly, you’ll see turntables with nearly invisible tone arms—or arms mounted in “odd” positions. These are so-called linear-tracking models [PS, June '80]. They move the phono cartridge in a straight line across the disc—the way records are cut—instead of in an arc. This improves playback fidelity. And it makes exceptionally small, low-mass arms feasible.

Southern Engineering Products (Canton, Mass.) has developed a linear-tracking mechanism (5) with an arm that weighs only 1.3 grams. The tiny arm glides along a track of glass rods, driven only by stylus force in record grooves. The mechanism, a $500 turntable add-on, is said to have constant zero tracking error. By contrast, most linear-tracking turntables use electronic sensing techniques that continually play catch-up—adjusting tracking error back toward zero after it develops.

More low-noise LP’s

CBS, the company that invented the 33-1/3 LP disc, has introduced a new encoding scheme for records that sharply cuts surface noise and boosts dynamic range by 20 dB to about 85 dB. To achieve this, you need an addon decoder like an MXR model I tried (6).

CBS calls its technique CX (compatible expansion). It’s similar in principle to the dbx disc-encoding system [PS, March]. But unlike dbx discs, which sound very muffled if played without a dbx decoder, CBS’s CX discs sound normal on hi-fi systems without a decoder. You just don’t benefit from reduced surface noise and expanded range. CBS notes, though, that CX is designed for “minimum audible pumping”—the “breathing” sound that has plagued some compression-expansion techniques such as this.

CBS has equipped all its mastering facilities with CX encoders. Also, RCA and the multi-label WEA group have adopted the process—with more disc firms expected to join. CBS is offering the technology on a royalty-free basis.

A listening test with a new release, Korngold’s opera “Violanta” (CBS 35909), demonstrated the total lack of surface noise and dramatic music peaks typical of dbx discs. Yet with the MXR decoder switched out the discs sounded normal.

Unless you look closely at one of the newest hi-fi components starting to appear (7), you’ll think it’s just another cassette deck. Actually, it’s a “cas-seiver”—a combination deck and hi-fi receiver. Several firms have introduced their own. This JVC $650 model R-5000 includes two speakers. As microcircuits encompass more hi-fi functions, component integration like this becomes easier. You don’t have to pay extra for separate chassis and power supplies.

4 comments
  1. jon says: September 10, 20071:30 pm

    Interesting there’s no hint of the compact disc, which was released only the next year.

  2. Charlie says: September 10, 20071:36 pm

    Actually, this article was in the same issue:
    http://blog.modernmecha…

  3. Casandro says: September 10, 200710:21 pm

    Simple, the compact disc wasn’t an US made product and this focused mostly on US products. Likewise they ignored VCR, a system which allowed you to record 4 hours of video onto a casette the size of a few stacked CDs.

    By the way, the CD is just a fad. It’ll go away as it features virtually no advantage over pirate copies. I predict the industry will either move to something better, or switch back to some sort of record.

  4. jayessell says: September 11, 200712:01 pm

    I had the Canon version of the “Camera in hand, Recorder on sholder” video systems like in picture #2 in 1985.

    The first thing I recorded was this:

    http://www.youtube.com/…

    IT DOES!

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