Hall of Fame Consumer Electronics: Stories of the Best Gadgets of the Last 50 Years, Part 5

Original author: Brian Merchant
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Fourth part

Sony DCR-VX1000

Digital video camera VX1000 combines professional features with a price affordable for fans

Skateboarders favorite: The Sony DCR-VX1000, which hit the market in 1995, was one of the first compact digital camcorders priced at ($ 3,500) low enough that buyers could afford.

Imagine how easy and even boring it is to shoot high-resolution digital video from your smartphone - a device that weighs 150 grams and knows a lot of everything else except shooting. But not so long ago, shooting in digital meant buying a special gadget. And shortly before this, no one, except professionals with a large budget, could not make digital video.

One of the main milestones on the way to today's capable cameras of smartphones was the Sony DCR-VX1000 , a video camera that shot high-quality digital video at a price suitable for the consumer market, namely $ 3,500. She appeared in 1995 and was universally recognized as a miracle of portability and capabilities: “My eyes saw unearthly beauty. The future of home video arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago, "- admired columnist of the Chicago Tribune.

This camera is based on digital camera enhancements that began 20 years ago. In 1975, Kodak invented the first digital camera using a CCD sensor.for images. Other camera manufacturers soon began experimenting with their CCD cameras. For example, Sony used a CCD in a 1981 Mavica camera, which produced an analog signal that was saved to a miniature diskette .

After a while, Japanese companies began to dominate the camcorder and cassette video player markets. The first cameras that recorded analog video on a cassette tape appeared in 1983. And although compact discs for digital music appeared a year earlier, the video remained analog for another ten years, until the cost of obtaining digital images decreased.

Available digital cameras began to appear in the early 1990s. Digital video cameras also entered the market, but were too expensive for people who did not play with them as part of their professional activities. As for broadcasting, Japan became the first, and for several years remained the only serious market experimenting with digital TV. In the United States (with European technology partners), testing of high-resolution digital television signal transmission over the air began only in 1996.

Around that time several Japanese manufacturers cooperated to create a standard for digital video DV.announced in 1995. DV included specifications for digital video formatting, compression technology for storage (audio remained uncompressed), and tape and film specifications.

Manufacturers almost immediately began to produce DV-products. Sony DCR-VX1000 was not the first product from their new DV-line, but soon became the best, perfectly combining excellent video quality and price for “professional fans” - a professional would consider such a cost insignificant, and some fans - an affordable luxury. It was an increase in price and performance compared to the Handycam line of analog camcorders aimed at the general consumer, which cost about $ 1,000. (In 1999, Sony will introduce its first digital Handycam, Digital8). And the VX1000 was much more affordable than a Betacam analog camera, designed for professionals and sold for at least $ 10,000.

The VX1000 was the first digital video camera to contain three PVZ matrices. At that time, other video cameras were equipped with one PVZ, although the configuration of the three soon became widespread. The VX1000 had a prism that split light into red, green, and blue. Each PVZ collected its color, and then they were combined into one full-color image. This scheme gave the camera an unusual clarity and color saturation.

Each PVZ recorded 410,000 pixels and produced an image of 500 horizontal lines, comparable to the then standard TV, which had 480 or 576 horizontal lines (NTSC in North America and PAL in other markets). Digital video from the VX1000 was stored on film cassettes, and the camera weighed just under 1.5 kg.

The VX1000 was the first camera to use the IEEE 1394 interface. Apple, the technology leader, called it FireWire; Sony has called its version of i-Link. This interface made the VX1000 the first video camera that allowed downloading a digital copy of video directly to a computer. This opportunity has attracted the attention of a growing number of professional videographers, including news. At that time, video editing studios could cost tens of thousands of dollars. And with the help of VX1000, the video could be shot on a relatively inexpensive camera and edited on a PC.

Sony gave the camera a robust case and made the handle so that it was comfortable to hold with one hand. The Super SteadyShot image stabilization system compensated for shaking and vibration with motion sensors that controlled a mechanism that physically shifted prisms or sensors. She also had the opportunity to have fun and change the standard lenses for a fish eye.

The latter especially contributed to the fact that the VX1000 became popular among skateboarders. A frequent tendency to popularize this or that gadget is its adoption by one of the subcultures - early hip-hop DJs loved the Technics turntable, the surfers - GoPro, the amateur videographers - the drone DJI Phantom, and so on.

To this day, some skateboarders prefer the VX1000 (or its descendants) for technical and nostalgic reasons. And they still have to use fisheye lenses, for reasons that are still impossible to understand.

Pager Motorola Advisor

It was the first product that allowed you to contact a doctor when you needed it.

Caption: Take your time, the flight was canceled, the next flight number 687 will be at 5:25 pm

Good advice: Motorola Advisor, released in 1990, was one of the first pagers capable of displaying alphanumeric text

In the early 90s, when pagers were at the peak of popularity, the best of them was the Motorola Advisor.

The first paging systems appeared in the 1950s, but pagers became common only in the 1980s, when wireless technologies improved enough to simplify their use. And at the time, Motorola was almost synonymous with wireless communications.

The very first pagers were much smaller, lighter and more portable than the cell phones of those times that were not called bricks for nothing. A typical pager user wore this device on his hip, and worked in the field of medicine, ambulance, or other professions where fast response is needed.

The first pagers had almost no screens, which meant that two calls were required to answer the call. After the pager buzzed or squeaked, the user had to find a telephone, naturally, a landline. They had to call the paging company, find out the phone number left by the caller, and then call him.

To avoid this problem, manufacturers have tried different approaches. Some made models that allowed callers to leave voice messages stored on a pager with the ability to play. Others built small screens into the pagers where the telephone or digital code was displayed. People made a list of codes, and distributed to them to callers and other users of pagers. For example, 41 could mean “call back”, and 53 - “thank you”, and so on.

By the early 1990s, about 3 million people [in the US] used pagers. Many of the new users did not need a pager, they just wanted to buy it - for example, company directors. By 1993, it was mentioned in the instructions for the Advisor II model that it “is ideal for demanding business environments.”

The first Advisor, released in 1990, was one of the first pagers that supported alphanumeric messages — up to four lines of text, up to 20 characters per line. It could be configured to receive not only individual calls, but also up to three group calls. And he could work as an alarm clock. It was compact, 18.5x55x81 mm, and worked on a single AA battery.

Alphanumeric messages revealed the full potential of the pager. In a message of 80 characters, it was often possible to fit enough information so that you do not need to call back. Looking back, it can be said that they were the forerunners of text messages, and had the same advantages: utility, convenience and brevity. In the mid-1990s, the number of people using these devices skyrocketed, and estimates ranged from 25 to 61 millionusers.

Motorola has released two Advisor models that can receive messages on various combinations of frequencies from the UHF, VHF and 900 MHz bands (the frequency could be chosen). They offered amazing speeds of 1600, 3200 or 6400 baud for that time. A one-way transfer protocol called Flex; It was invented by Motorola and used mainly for pagers (a later version, ReFlex, was two-way). A useful tip was given in the instructions for Advisor: “Put your pager number on business cards and in the message of the answering machine”. Wow. Remember things like answering machines?

After a few years, smartphones and text messages began to crowd out pagers. However, paging still exists. To this day, some doctors use them, because their messages are better protected, and the data channels are more reliable.

Atari 2600

This machine finally gave us the opportunity to play Space Invaders at home.

Shestizaryadnik: the very first gaming system Atari 2600 sold under the name "computer video system", Video Computer System (VCS). Appearing in 1977, they were known as “sixes”, because of the six switches in the top of the console.

The impact of the Atari 2600 gaming console is difficult to quantify, although a good starting point could be the number of $ 116 billion. Reuters in 2018 estimated the revenue of the gaming industry for 2017 this way. This brings the gaming industry ahead of the television industry, which has earned $ 105 billion. At the same time, television is gradually disappearing, and games are growing.

The company Atari , founded in 1972, became one of the first and elite gaming companies. Its founders, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney , along with fellow engineer El Alcorninvented Pong, the first successful arcade game. Having spent several years in this business, they understood its critical limitations better than others: for each game it was required to invent and create their own separate electronics. If Atari continued to go this way, the development of iron would become a devastatingly expensive. In addition, this approach was completely impractical for the home market — the next Atari goal.

It required a wide profile iron. In the meantime, the semiconductor industry shortly before this began to produce a microprocessor - a counting device of a wide profile, just suitable for this task. However, microprocessors were still too expensive.

It so happened that in 1975, processor prices began to fall rapidly. MOS Technology has just introduced an 8-bit processor, 6502where much cheaper compared to competitors from better-known companies. Next year, Zilog will introduce a similar and inexpensive Z80 processor . Atari contacted MOS Technology and asked them to make a smaller version of their chip. MOS responded to the request, creating 6507 , which in essence was 6502 in a smaller case (28 contacts instead of 40). Restricting I / O led to small speed limits, but for the implementation of Atari's ideas in the short run, this was not essential.

The conclusion also had to be standardized. Arcade games used a built-in display, while the home console had the advantage that the display could be found in any home — it was a TV screen. Atari has developed a scheme for outputting video and sound to a TV, and called the resulting integrated circuit "television interface adapter" [Television Interface Adapter].

Other key components included a memory cartridge and a game controller. The cartridges were ROM modules (read-only memory), which stored game instructions that the processor and related parts of the circuit executed. The modules could be easily changed - each new module contained its own game. It was not the first game console with plug-in software modules, but it was the first to sell well.

Entertainment for the whole family: the Atari 2600 was based on a commercial microprocessor and played games stored on cartridges - these two features soon became generally accepted. The system was designed to connect to a regular TV.

It is worth noting that the success of the modular approach inspired the emergence of an entire industry. Several former Atari engineers have founded Activision , which is considered the first third-party game developer. Atari considered third-party development as a threat to itself, but eventually agreed to receive royalties from developers.

The first game controllers were joysticks and rotary controls. Then trackballs, wheels and keyboards followed .

The first couple of years after the appearance in 1977, the Atari 2600 sold well. But the real take-off occurred in 1980, when the company began to advertise the licensed version of Space Invaders. She then cemented her success, launching two of her own games next year, Asteroids and Missile Command.

However, the company itself hurt itself by releasing games of poor quality, for example, a game associated with the movie “Alien,” which the company was hard at work on. The company has already started to hand over, when in 1983 the gaming market collapsed. This was due to a combination of several reasons, including market saturation and competition made up of personal computers, devices of an even wider range of applications. Atari sold and resold. But the line 2600 survived. The last 2,600 were released in 1992.

Today, the innovations presented in the 2600 may seem trivial, but this only underlines their importance. The principles on which it was created, and which helped make popular — general-purpose hardware and separate software — have been held for more than 40 years.

Samsung BD-P1000

The first commercial Blu-ray player received mixed criticism, but won the potentially destructive format war.

Samsung BD-P1000 could not be called an excellent player. But he did it reliably, appearing in June 2006 — early enough to compete with Toshiba and end the long protracted

Samsung BD-P1000 format war , released in 2006, was something of a consumer electronics flag raised on the battlefield - this there was an assembly point for allies and potential allies.

Like any great battle, this one began after long maneuvers, which were preceded by a slow boil of political tension. To understand this, let's start with the first consumer optical media - a CD that was created to store audio, not video. CD players were red lasers with a wavelength of about 780 nm (technically infrared) that recognized the grooves (or their absence) on the CD surface. This data turned into digital zeros and ones. A laser beam with a shorter wavelength would naturally be able to recognize smaller notches, and the smaller the notches, the more they can fit in a given area. We use the blue laser, and voila - we save more data.

Consider this by watching the resolution increase in digital video that has been going on for years. Increasing the resolution periodically creates a demand for new technologies that can store more data in a more compact format. By the turn of the century, the predominant carrier of digital video was DVD, and it had already reached the capacity limit of 4.7 GB on a single-layer disc. The DVDs were not suitable for storing high-definition (HD) video, which the owners of new HDTVs, which were steadily growing, would soon have to demand.

By 2002, semiconductor lasers emitting blue light (with a wavelength of 405 nm, technically it was purple light), just appeared, and the industry began to prepare for their use with a more capacious optical disc format (which was still to be developed) capable of storing HD video . That year, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Thomson, LG Electronics, Hitachi and Sharp, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined together to form a Blu-ray association to develop a blue laser-readable disc standard and corresponding players. .

And Toshiba has been working on another proposal, High Definition Digital Versatile Disc (HD-DVD), which will eventually receive support from Microsoft and Intel.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD were much alike, but incompatible. Back in 2005, attempts were made to avoid expensive format wars that would inevitably slow down the development of the market for HD movies and playback systems. But both sides refused to surrender.

War of the discs: in 2007, there was a war of optical disc formats between those who supported Blu-ray, for example, Sony (left), and those who supported HD-DVD, including Toshiba (right). The war ended a year later when Toshiba surrendered.

In March 2006, Toshiba first hit the market with an HD-DVD player released in Japan and selling for $ 900. The following month, Toshiba entered the US market with a pair of systems, at $ 799 and $ 499. By the end of the year, Microsoft introduced the HD-DVD player, working with its Xbox gaming console.

Sony has already made prototypes of Blu-ray players, but in June 2006 Samsung was the first to bring them to the market (the company had to postpone the output, scheduled for May for a whole month). At first, the BD-P1000 was selling for $ 1000, but soon Samsung lowered the price to compete successfully with Toshiba.

Samsung's player has received cool reviews. It reliably played Blu-ray discs, but did not have additional amenities, such as multiple input connectors for external audio sources or 7.1 audio support (Blu-ray standard supported up to eight channels of audio).

A plus was the player's ability to improve the quality of the DVD on the fly - this feature was added in the final stages of development, which is why, as they say, there was a delay in entering the market. This technology was used with early standard definition DVDs to make them look better on high-definition televisions, which then began to appear. Early DVDs appeared when interlaced CRT TVs still existed. In such a system, two horizontal scans are required to display the full image on the screen; one adds odd lines, the other adds even lines. But the new-fangled HDTVs were designed for progressive scanning, in which the entire picture was scanned over and over, producing moving images. The suffixes i and p in HDTV resolutions, for example, 1080i or 1080p, just say that

In short, image enhancements made a relatively low resolution interlaced video stored on a DVD into a high resolution video for progressive scan used on HDTV. It could improve interlaced standard definition video - of course, not to HD quality, but still the result was much better than without this technique. For the BD-P1000, Samsung bought this technology from Faroudja Laboratories.

But let's forget all this. The goal of the BD-P1000 was not technological advancement. The goal was to get a ready-made Blu-ray system that could keep up with Toshiba and HD-DVD supporters so that they could not take over the market. And from this point of view, the BD-P1000 was a triumph that helped end another format war in the field of electronics, which seemed endless.

Adherents of HD-DVD and Blu-ray fought for almost two years, but the cumulative marketing power of Blu-ray partners was ultimately decisive. By 2007, Blu-ray discs confidently outpaced HD-DVD in sales. Film studios, preoccupied with piracy, one after another decided that they prefer the copy protection available on Blu-ray. Then they began to deny HD-DVD producers the rights to publish their films. Disc rental companies (already striving for decline, but at that time still being important participants in the cinema ecosystem), one after another, announced the abandonment of HD-DVD. In 2008, Toshiba surrendered and began the reign of Blu-ray.

Grundig Satellit 650 radio

The market for expensive shortwave radios disappeared in the early 2000s. But before that, Grundig managed to create her own halo of glory.

Dear radio receiver: The Grundig Satellit 650 appeared in 1986, weighed almost 9 kg, and was read by one of the best shortwave radio receivers ever created.

Far radio enthusiasts ( DXing, diexing ) are often romantics, although they are likely to deny it. Dixers a chance to take a signal from some remote and mysterious point like the Australian wastelands, the Namib Desert or the lonely Shetland Island seems fanned by a special charm. Therefore, if they like some kind of equipment, they will not just treat him with affection, they will worship him . And one of the receivers, who deserved their unfading affection more than others, will be Grundig Satellit 650.

The history of Grundig as a producer begins withMax Grundig , who started making and selling radios, partly in the form of a designer for assembly, in Germany soon after the Second World War. By the mid-1980s, the company had developed quite well in Europe, producing tape recorders, televisions, high-end stereos, voice recorders, video recorders, and, of course, radio receivers. Grundig had success selling radio sets in the United States in the 1950s and '60s, but since then it has left a relatively large market. However, the Satellit 650 model was planned to return to world distribution, including the United States, according to the book "Listening on the Short Waves, 1945 to Today" by Jerome Berg (2008). Different sources indicate different retail prices for the US, they range from $ 900 to $ 1000.

Electronics entrepreneur: Max Grundig in 1970. He started with a radio engineering store in the 1930s, and grew the company to an international electronic conglomerate, selling it to Philips in 1984.

The main purpose of the Grundig Satellit 650 existence was short wave reception (from 1.6 to 30 MHz), but it was able to work in AM (from 510 to 1620 KHz, which was previously called “medium waves”), and in the spectrum below, which was previously called “long waves” (from 148 to 420 KHz), as well as with FM. The radio made it possible to program up to 60 frequencies, 32 of which were reserved for short waves. The build quality of the receiver was like a tank and gave a great sound.

Quality began with the system settings. The model was equipped with a preselector, bandpass lowpass filter. The preselector is needed to filter out frequencies adjacent to the one chosen by the operator, which minimizes interference from other signals traveling through neighboring frequencies. Such an opportunity at that time was encountered in portable short-wave receivers rarely, if not at all, was unique to this model.

The Satellit 650 also had a powerful 15 watt amplifier. The size of the single speaker was quite large for a portable receiver, but it was not entirely simple. The company decided to use a compression loudspeaker capable of delivering a sound comparable to that of ordinary loudspeakers twice as large.

It was one of the heaviest portable radios, it weighed 8.5 kg, but its fans loved this weight. From their point of view, it was a rare triumph of consumer electronics, in which the high quality of the housing, control and display (the receiver had both an analog tuner and a digital display) coincided with the quality of the electronics.

What is frequency: the Satellit 650 had a dual display for frequencies, analog and digital, and at the time it was a unique feature among shortwave receivers

Even today, in rare cases, the appearance of a receiver in good quality on eBay, its price can reach $ 500. To some extent, the adherence to this model can be explained by nostalgia, but still this radio comes from an era in which the design of shortwave receivers reached its peak, as Berg writes. “By the mid-1990s, the period of innovation in portable shortwave receivers was over,” he wrote in the book. - Sometimes new models appeared on the market, but it was old wine in new bottles. Gradually, most of the big players, including Sony, moved away from their lines of portable shortwave receivers. ”

Grundig held out longer. He produced the Satellit 650 from 1986 to 1990, or 1991, or even 1993 (sources differ). Then he released a more modern-looking and nominally more advanced model of Satellit 700 (radio amateurs in forums argue over their technical advantages over each other). In 2000, the company introduced the Satellit 800, which, according to Berg, was more like 650 than 700.

Time passed, and with the spread of global networks, the magic of short waves became less and less attractive to the generation grown on wireless technologies and the Internet, Therefore, the market for shortwave radio receivers quickly dried out. After bankruptcy in 2003, in 2007 Grundig bought a Turkish concern, today known as Arçelik A.Ş. The name Grundig still appears on shortwave receivers that are sold by Etón Corp in the US and Canada. In Europe, Grundig thrives as a company that manufactures various consumer electronics. But among the wide range of large and small kitchen appliances, washing machines and dryers, televisions, stereos, vacuum cleaners and personal care products, the absence of shortwave radio receivers is evident.

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