[ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012)

November 8th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

The First CD-Player - Sony CDP-101

When I write articles about the history of technology — which, I'll admit, is fairly often — a few readers will sometimes say, "The author is obviously too young to remember X or Y," or "He forgot to include X." Sure, I don't know everything. But most of the time, if there is ever an omission of something notable in one of my articles, a) I know about it, and b) it was done for a good reason.

(That reason, by the way, is usually brevity — editors almost always trim things out to make the article shorter. The second most common reason is that the omitted info, while generally understood to be true, is actually false.)

VC&G Anthology BadgeWhen the occasion warrants it, and if time allows, I do the most exhaustive research I can manage on a topic. While browsing through my old writing files recently, I came across a fairly vivid illustration of this: a very detailed timeline of CD technology that I created while writing an feature about the 30th anniversary of the CD Player for TechHive back in 2012.

During that process, I set out to understand the history of the CD Player and the Compact Disc medium as much as possible so I could explain it with confidence. One of the best ways to do that — to cover 30+ years of history and get it all straight — is to make a timeline. So that's what I did.

The published article on TechHive includes key selections from this timeline at the bottom, but not everything. With the hope that my more detailed CD timeline might some day help future researchers, I am publishing it below, complete with sources when available.

This kind of thing makes me wonder how many other man-hours of journalistic research lay just out of reach because there is no proper context in which to share it. In this case, I'm lucky to have the VC&G Anthology series.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Anthology ] A Detailed Timeline of Compact Disc Technology (2012) » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] PlayStation Sampler CD

September 7th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Sony PlayStation 1 PSX PS1 Interactive CD Sampler Pack Volume Three 3 CD case cover sleeve - 1996That is one intense swirl, man

Twenty years ago this week, Sony released the PlayStation in the United States — on 9/9/95, in fact.

The first time I remember seeing a PlayStation in person was a demo unit at my local Blockbuster video rental store. At first they had a single kiosk playing Battle Arena Toshinden. A few months later, they upgraded to a new kiosk with a trio of PlayStations arranged in an outwardly-facing triangle formation (if that makes any sense), with each running a different playable demo. I think that two of the three games were Battle Arena Toshinden and Twisted Metal. The third escapes me.

I rented a complete PlayStation system from that Blockbuster not long after it came out, along with two games: Loaded and Twisted Metal. I had read in a positive review in EGM that Loaded incorporated Gauntlet-like elements — overall, I was not too impressed with its gritty atmosphere or gameplay. But I did enjoy putting the Loaded CD in my computer's CD-ROM drive finding that it had a compatible file system on it, and that I could take a peek at the game's file structure. (Although that was irrelevant to gameplay, it raised the system's cool factor in my young tinkerer mind.)

Twisted Metal was a blast. I loved that game. I remember playing as Hammerhead (the monster truck) and running over everybody repeatedly. There is fun in digital mayhem.

In 1996, my brother's best friend bought a PlayStation and Twisted Metal 2 (released Oct 1996), and he brought it over to our house to play with us a few times. We loved it. After that, we knew we had to have one. In my mind, Twisted Metal 2 was the system's killer app — until Symphony of the Night came out, of course.

(I also rented a Nintendo 64 from Blockbuster in 1996, but I didn't buy one of those until summer 1997. Speaking of renting systems, I also rented a Virtual Boy from Blockbuster in 1995. I write all this down for my benefit as much as yours, so I can try to keep all this history straight.)

So after asking kindly to our parents, my brother and I got our PlayStation as a joint Christmas present in 1996. I was 15; my brother was 20. Having gone through prior console phases with the Atari 2600 (and 800, which we treated like a console), NES, TG-16, Super NES, and Jaguar, we felt like we were growing up along with the video game industry.

The scan you see above is the front and back of the sleeve of the sampler CD that came packed in with our new PS1 in 1996 (titled "Interactive CD Sampler Pack Volume Three"). I would have scanned the disc as well, but I seem to have separated it from this sleeve — maybe I put it in a jewel case long ago. I know I still have it somewhere.

[ From PlayStation Interactive CD Sampler Pack - Volume 3, ca. 1996]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you get your first PlayStation 1? What were your favorite games for it?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Tandy Memorex VIS

March 9th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Tandy Memorex Video Information System VIS - Tiger Electronics Catalog - 1995CD-ROM ON YOUR MOTHER LOVIN' TV!!

Back in 2009, I made a list of the worst video game systems of all time for PC World, and the Tandy Memorex Video Information System (1992) was #2 on the list.

Six years later, I am not fond of dishing out bad vibes toward any game console. But the VIS was indeed an underwhelming commercial product.

And honestly, calling the VIS a video game console is a stretch. As more of a multimedia appliance than a straight up "video game system," its lineage lay half-way between game machine and general purpose PC. Its designers intended it to run educational software as frequently as games.

For fans of odd an interesting systems, the VIS definitely stands out. Under the hood, it sported a modified PC architecture based on an Intel 286 CPU and a custom embedded version of Windows called "Modular Windows." In addition, the VIS allowed storing data on removable memory cards that plugged into the front of the console (a feature that, in game consoles, arrived second only to the Neo Geo, I believe).

Of course, ever since I saw this section of a 1995 Tiger Software catalog (Tiger had apparently bought up a clearance stock of the machines — see also this scan of the Jaguar CD in a Tiger catalog), I wanted a VIS regardless of its faults. While I have used them before — including some in-store demos at Radio Shack — I still do not have one in my collection.

[ From Tiger Software CD-ROM Buyer's Guide - Vol. V Issue 6, 1995, p.56 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you own any CD-based game consoles from the multimedia console era? (i.e. CD-i, VIS, 3DO, CDTV, Jaguar CD)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Kodak Photo CD

February 2nd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Digtial Photo scan Kodak Photo CD advertisement Picture CD - kids next generation on a TV set - Scientific American February 1993Because the best place to look at photos has always been your TV set

In September 1990, Kodak announced a brand new system for storing and viewing photographs: Photo CD. At a time when Compact Discs represented the vanguard of consumer electronics technology, Kodak capitalized on the excitement by blending digitized photos with a custom CD format.

Kodak designed that format for viewing through special a Kodak CD Player device (think DVD player for still photos) that hooked to a standard TV set. Using such a player, one could view the digitized photos via a virtual slideshow.

It would not be until August 1992 until Kodak finally launched the system, releasing its first Photo CD player and beginning production of Photo CD discs for customers.

With a base image resolution of 512 x 768, Photo CD was far from an archival medium. It tried to offer convenience, but instead ended up adding needless cost and encumbrance to the photo viewing process. In an era before most people were equipped to view, edit, or print digital photos from a PC, the fact that the photos came in an electronic format did not add anything notable to the experience. Predictably, adoption of the Photo CD system never gained much steam. (Wikipedia's article on Photo CD has some pretty good additional analysis of why Photo CD never took off.)

I personally remember encountering a Kodak Photo CD player in either a photography store or a Radio Shack as a kid. I thought it was amazing — your own photos on a TV set! But my dad, an experienced photographer, never bought into the system.

P.S. For more CD history, check out my Compact Disc 30th Anniversary article that I wrote back in 2012.

[ From Scientific American - February 1993, p.17 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever use the Kodak Photo CD service or own a Photo CD player?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Google in a Box

December 1st, 2014 by Benj Edwards

Microforum Internet Connection advertisement - 1996"The Most Comprehensive Directory of Internet Sites Ever Produced"

18 years ago, a fairly complete index of the entire Internet — circa 1995 — could fit on a single CD-ROM — about 20,000 sites, as the box for Microforum's Internet Connection '96 says. [Update: See comments below for a discussion on the number of websites in 1995 and 1996] I ran a website back then, and the Web did indeed feel that small. FTP sites were still a big deal in those days, so that number may include them as well.

Today, some estimates say that the Web alone consists of over one billion websites. Consider storing a simple list of one billion websites URLs. If each URL was about 25 characters long (I'm just making this up as an example), it would take around 25 gigabytes to store the list alone (or about 39 CDs worth). Google stores that list and copies of individual websites for caching. Needless to say, that takes quite a bit more storage room.

So it's amusing to think back to a time when you might actually buy a professionally mastered and duplicated CD-ROM containing web addresses, many of which were potentially obsolete by the time the disc landed in your hands (I just used Yahoo's web directory). Now we have Google. Imagine that: using the Internet to index itself.

[ From Internet World - February 1996, p.117]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What year did you create your first website?

See Also: Internet In a Box (RSOTW, 2014)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Low-End Virtual Reality

January 7th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

PCVR Magazine Cover Jan-Feb 1994Every new idea is an old idea with more transistors.

A few years ago, a relative gave me a couple issues of PCVR Magazine, a low-circulation 1990s periodical dedicated to virtual reality. Here's the cover of the Jan/Feb 1994 issue, which features an illustration of the magazine's build-it-yourself head tracker project.

In the early 1990s, the "virtual reality" concept hit a peak in the popular media that coincided with dozens of companies pursuing motion-tracking head-mounted displays — both with honest attempts and blatant gimmicks.

If I had to guess why VR exploded in the popular tech consciousness at that particular time, I would trace it it to the emergence of small, relatively low-cost color LCDs — the kind that made portable consoles like the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear possible. Compared to bulky, power-hungry CRT displays, the (relatively) thin, low-power LCDs could be worn on the head with mobility and without too much discomfort. That prompted a minor Cambrian explosion of VR headset hardware.

But the display technology just wasn't there yet. Affordable LCDs were very low resolution (think 320×200 or less), and higher-resolution LCDs cost thousands of dollars a piece.

In addition, the hardware and software required to generate convincing virtual reality experiences were neither affordable nor generally available. So genuinely immersive VR found itself stuck in corporate and university research labs; meanwhile, the public got trickle-down fad headsets like the Stuntmaster.

Today, we find ourselves in the middle of a VR renaissance thanks to Oculus Rift. But this time, we may actually be at the edge of mainstream virtual reality headsets because the technology has come quite a long way since 1994. I look forward to meeting your 3D virtual avatar in cyberspace soon.

[ From PCVR Magazine, Jan/Feb 1994, cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a virtual reality headset of any kind? Tell us about it.

See Also: Retro Scan of the Week Special Edition: "At Last! Reality For the Masses!" (VC&G, 2007)
See Also: The History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming (PC World, 2011)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] SNK Neo-Geo CD

December 30th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

SNK Neo-Geo CD system CD-ROM Arcade advertisement- 1995"Don't cross the line unless you're serious."

In all my two decades of video game collecting adventures, I've never personally owned a Neo-Geo console. (I have owned a Neo-Geo Pocket Color, but that's different.) It's probably because I started collecting with inexpensive systems, games and accessories, and the Neo-Geo line was always scarce and expensive. Also, I was never particularly drawn to the Neo-Geo's brand of action-heavy arcade games.

So part of me wants to rectify the lack of Neo-Geo in my life, even if only for completion's sake. But then again, I've played the games on emulators for over a decade now, and I've been satisfied with that. What do you guys think?

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, September 1995, p.74-75]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was your first CD-based video game system?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Jaguar on Clearance (Atari Jaguar Turns 20)

November 11th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Atari Jaguar and Jaguar CD on Sale in TigerDirect Catalog - 1997Atari Jaguar on Sale in 1997: "Includes RISC Processors!"

The Atari Jaguar launched at retail 20 years ago this Friday — November 15, 1993.

In April 1994, I received a Jaguar for my birthday, and it was one of the most exciting days of my life. That Christmas, my parents gave me Doom for the Jaguar, and I had a blast. After that, not many truly great games came out for the Jaguar (I'd say Tempest 2000 is the system-exclusive standout).

Partly because of that lack of great software, the Jaguar sunk fast — especially in the face of strong competition from Sony, Sega, and Nintendo (throw in some 3DO and Neo-Geo in there as well). The mid-1990s was a hard time to be a video game console.

By 1997, the Jaguar was toast. If I recall correctly, TigerDirect bought up a huge inventory of unsold Jaguar and Jaguar CD systems and sold them through their catalog.

This scan is a page from a 1997 TigerDirect catalog advertising the Jaguar for a mere $59.99 and the CD add-on for $89.99. Lucky for me, this is how I bought my Jaguar CD system, along with the advertised ultra-cheap game packs. CD exclusives Myst and Cybermorph 2 were worth the purchase alone.

So happy birthday, Jag. Sorry I can't write more about you now. But I've written a lot about you on VC&G in the past. To read more, check out the links at the bottom of this post.

[ From TigerSoftware Winter PC Sale Book 1997, Vol VII Issue 2, p.2 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite Atari Jaguar game?

See Also: Rayman and Frustration (RSOTW, 2013)
See Also: Atari Jaguar Debut Photo (RGOTW, 2013)
See Also: War + Mech = "Kinda Cool" (RSOTW, 2007)
See Also: Anatomy of a Young Collector's Room (2006)
See Also: The First Atari Jaguar Press Release (2005)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] TurboGrafx-16, Fully-Loaded

October 7th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

NEC TurboGrafx-16  TurboGrafx-CD Turbotap Turbopad Turbostick Fully-Loaded Setup - circa 1990TG-16 Accessories: Designed specifically to tease children

I don't usually isolate a photo from a document I've scanned these days, but I found this neat TurboGrafx-16 pamphlet scan in my older scans folder and thought I'd share it. It's from a small accordian-style fold-out pamplet that likely shipped with a TurboGrafx-16 game or accessory. (If I had previously scanned the whole pamphlet, I'd share it with you. The pamphlet is currently packed away somewhere.)

I particularly like this photo because it shows a fully-loaded TurboGrafx-16 system, complete with TurboGrafx-CD add-on, TurboStick, TurboTap, and of course, a TurboPad. The only thing missing is the TurboBooster, which plugged into the back of the TG-16 (currently occupied by the CD unit in this photo) and allowed composite video and stereo audio output through RCA phono plugs.

[ From NEC TurboGrafx-16 fold-out pamphlet, circa 1990 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite TurboGrafx-16 game?

See Also: TurboGrafx-16 Logo (RSOTW, 2009)
See Also: Too Little, Too Late? (RSOTW, 2008)
See Also: Keith Courage in Alpha Zones Mini Comic (RSOTW, 2007)

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Capcom's First PC CD-ROM

August 19th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Mega Man X CD-ROM advertisement - 1995Digging up video games in a mall ashtray

I was a huge fan of Mega Man X when it first came out on the Super NES in 1993.

…Well, I rented it, anyway, and I played it more than any other side-scrolling Mega Man game before or since. I loved finding the secret Hadoken fireball power up, which I read about in Nintendo Power.

Much to my present-day surprise (even though I owned this magazine when it was new), Capcom produced a version of Mega Man X for the PC, and on a CD-ROM no less. Has anyone out there played it? I'm wondering if the adaptation was any good.

[ P.S. Shortly after writing this entry, I tracked down a warez copy of Mega Man X for the PC, and it's surprisingly well done. However, its utilization of MIDI music provides for a pretty surreal Mega Man experience — surreal in the sense that the tunes generally sound horrible compared to MM games that are famous for their music. ]

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, September 1995, rear cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite Mega Man game of all time?

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