Would You Like A Cheese Puff?: The Art Of The RCA SelectaVision Videodisc CED

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 13, 2015 04:20pm | Post a Comment
 For a brief moment in time (1981-1986, to be exact) there existed a film delivery system based on needle/groove technology, just like a record player.

Launched by RCA and dubbed the CAPACITANCE ELECTRONIC DISC (CED), it was quickly supplanted by both commercially available VHS tapes and Laserdiscs, the precursor to the DVD, which read the information with light beams.

Ultimately, it was a clunky, inelegant technology prone to problems and RCA lost about $600 million on it, but there was a curious upside to its brief arc through the collective consciousness...the cover art.

For many of the CED packages, promotional artwork was commissioned for the face of the cartridge that was singular for the release of the RCA SelectaVision format. 

Below I have displayed a gallery of some of the cover art from that time, in most cases, different images than were ever seen on the more popular VHS, Laserdisc or DVD releases of the same films. 

Enjoy the beauty!


VideoDisc Day -- An introduction to the Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED)

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 19, 2014 10:30am | Post a Comment

On 22 March, 1981RCA 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

CED collection, Ron Treverton of Brantford, Canada (source: Personal Computer Museum)

In early 1981, shortly before the VideoDisc (as it was "commonly" known) hit the shelves of roughly 5,000 dealers across the USA, the first stainless steel, gull-wing doored DeLorean DMC-12 automobile rolled off of an assembly line in Northern Ireland whilst nearby, in Her Majesty's Prison MazeBobby Sands embarked on what would soon prove to be a fatal hunger strike. Meanwhile in America, I was entertained by Joel Schumacher's film, The Incredible Shrinking Woman... a film which would ultimately be released on LD, VHS, and (in edited form) on DVD-R  -- but never VideoDisc

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.


By the time of the CED's release, the home video consumer already had several recordable analog videocassette options (e.g. U-matic, Cartrivision, Betamax, and VHS) and the playback-only but higher end LaserDisc from DiscoVision to choose from. The only real advantage of CEDs offered were their relative inexpensiveness -- both to produce and purchase. 


Originally there were only about fifty titles available on VideoDisc. By the time of the format's demise that number had grown to about 1,700 -- a really small number for all but the least-discriminating film-lover. With the limited selection and few superiorities over its rival formats, it's almost inconceivable that any well-informed consumer would adopt the technology unless they were a magpie (the discs are shiny) or that even less-intelligent species, the brand loyalist. I doubt it but perhaps dancing twins or a 45 minute spiel from a friendly salesperson could change the methaqualone-addled mind.

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!

Burnt Offerings

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 1, 2007 03:29pm | Post a Comment
When I was a young'un, my parents exposed me to many horrifying films which they correctly reckoned I wouldn't understand but wrongly assumed wouldn't scar me for most of my adult life. I was four or five when my father took my six-year-old sister and I to see Alien. When I saw it again about twenty years later I was surprised at how vivid my memories were, although I could now recognize that the decapitated Ash was an android, and not, as I had previously surmised, someone with milk in his veins.

Another movie that haunted me when I was young that I have spent many years wondering about. I saw it in the late 1978 wood-paneled RCA Selectavision VCR. I didn't have much to go on. I remembered a country house, black & white sequences, an old woman in a chair that gets spun around and, most importantly, a chauffeur with an awful and inappropriate smile that he flashes during a funeral. After that I used to smile creepily at my younger brother whilst my sister relied on draping her long hair over her face like a Yūrei.


Anyway, for years I have repeated those vague details to co-workers and horror aficionados, blogged about it and watched things like The House of Seven Corpses which turned, in every cast, out not to be what I was looking for...

A few years ago a Korean
guy came in and asked about a movie with a creepy chauffeur and a country house. We started talking excitedly, hoping to reach a breakthrough. He too had seen it when very young and been scarred and he thought it was based on an Agatha Christie novel, which seemed likely because my mother loved Agatha Christie and so I set about watching the many Agatha Christie adaptations that take place in country houses, which is pretty much all of them, it turns out... unless it's on a train. Years passed. The Korean guy came back and asked if I'd figured it out. Neither had he.

We have some new guys in the horror section at Amoeba now so I thought I'd ask Rigoberto aka Riggs aka Rigo. Remaining calm, he snapped his fingers and replied, "Burnt Offerings." I looked at the back of the DVD. An old woman in a chair! I googled "Burnt Offerings" and "chauffeur." Lo and behold...

said there was a movie he was trying to figure out from his childhood and it involved a turbulent pool. Same movie. I got goosebumps. Now what am I going to ask God? How did Evan's doll "Becky" disappear from the pond and end up in a tree? Who spilled the jelly on the chair in the living room that I got blamed for? I fear that I have no reason to live now... except to get my three dollars back from preppy scum Jim Garbez, who, owing me money as he does, had the gall to say to write in my yearbook, "Change the hair, lose the jacket."

I watched the movie. It's not terribly scary to me now, although I did get goosebumps and chills now and then and it was fun to dredge up so many memories attached, still, to a toddlers point-of-view. It's pretty brutal for a PG film as well (although it was the 1970s... remember they made Dark Night of the Scarecrow for television!)


I skipped ahead in the commentary to listen to director
Dan Curtis talk about how at his mother's funeral a chauffeur had been laughing and smiling with his friends, which gave him the idea for the iconic image.

When I was four, there was this kid in my preschool who used to frequently don a Superman Underoos shirt as outerwear and I had a dream about him getting sucked into this supernatural pool and disappearing whilst the adults stood frozen at the water's edge. I woke up crying and ran to the living room where my mom was working on a quilt. I told her about it and she explained that it was just baby's first nightmare and I wondered what brought it on...


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