CED Video Discs: The 8-Track Cassette of Movies

by Chris McGinty of AccordingToWhim.com
I can’t pin down the exact year,
but it was very early 1980s, and I was probably around 8 or 9 years old. My dad
was in his late 30s and my mom was in her late 20s, and neither was averse to
these newfangled machines that were popping up frequently to entertain the
world at home. They took part in the CB Radio (citizen’s band) phenomenon in
the late 1970s and we owned an Atari 2600. My dad had a reel to reel tape
recorder, phonograph player, and cassette tapes. As far as I know, he never
owned an 8-track cassette player, which is why it’s surprising that he bought
into the 8-track cassette of movies – the Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED).
My 8-track analogy isn’t prefect,
because the CED – which we referred to as “video discs,” even though
the term videodisc refers to a broader line of products – were actually
compared to vinyl records with movies on them. But let me get into the real
terminology of the time. Vinyl records were just called “records,”
because there was no need to clarify the vinyl part; cassette tapes were just
called “tapes,” because it was simpler; video game cartridges were
called “Atari games,” because that’s the brand of console we had; and
as far as my family was concerned we just called the videodiscs “movies,”
because we didn’t have VHS or Betamax cassettes. We did have some form of
commercial film movie camera and a projector, which I may be mistakenly
remembering as Super 8.
In spite of the fact that I was
so young, I understood that a lot of these things were relatively new. I
somehow knew that the Atari 2600 had come out in the time after I was born and
that there weren’t shopping malls as we knew them when my patents were kids.
There were two malls that we went to in that time. There was a smaller mall in
Merced, California and a multi-level mall in Modesto, California. The mall in
Stranger Things 3 stimulated in me memories of the mall in Modesto. I believe
it was the mall in Modesto where we were seduced into buying a video disc
Here’s what I do know. The sales
guy rightfully tried to get my parents to buy a laser disc player. I remember a
lot of his arguments for laser disc and against video disc. I mean this guy
went so far as to drop a laser disc in the ground and have my brother and me
jump on it just to show its durability and to demonstrate that the movie played
well even after we tried to destroy it. Let me just say that I was surprised
when my parents went with the lower quality video discs. I think they did
explain to me that the laser discs cost a lot more and that we wouldn’t be able
to own as many movies. I also have some retroactive thoughts as to why they
chose the video discs, aside from the price point.
CDs Weren’t Really a Thing Yet –
If it had been later in the 80s, the sales guy probably could have made a
stronger case about the relative quality of records and CDs, but music in
compact disc form wasn’t a commercial thing yet. Trying to get people to
understand that there really was a significant quality difference between the
video disc and the laser disc lacked knowledge of CDs.
The Hard Casing – The movies on
the CED video discs were in these hard cases (Wikipedia refers to them as
caddies) that you pushed into the machine. The machine then either self-loaded
or self-unloaded. Since the video discs would never be on the floor outside of
their casing, it didn’t matter if my brother and I could dance and have a good
time on the laser discs without harming them.

On the left is the casing, on the right is the disc that is normally inside. If you’re going to finish the movie, Khan, you’re going to have flip to Side B. You’re going to HAVE to FLIP to SIDE B!

Availability – There was a video
store in Merced that did movie rentals and this store had a significantly
bigger selection of CED video disc movies to rent. I believe that my parents
may have been aware of that when they made their decision. Things like movies
and video games were expensive. I talked about this in another post. Being able
to rent was important. There was no Wal-Mart $5 bin for movies back then.
Licensing for home video release was expensive and so home videos could easily
cost $100 a movie at one point. I think by the time we had the video disc
player, the cost per movie had come down some, but that was mostly for older
No One Knew about the Degradation
Problem – I wonder if even the manufacturers of the video discs had any idea
how poorly they would hold up over the years. The video discs were compared to
vinyl records, but I still have most of the vinyl collection from my youth, and
they play just fine to this day. If I’d been playing them consistently over the
years that might not be the case, but the point is that they can be stored and
not lose their ability to play at a much later date. The same cannot be said
about the video discs. They had a shelf life that seemed to average just a few
years before they started having problems, whether you watched them a lot or
not. I’m sure that smaller size of video tapes was the main reason that VHS
became more popular than video discs, but the simple fact is there was no
choice after a while. Much like the by then already defunct 8-track cassettes,
the video discs had an issue with life span.
I thought that I might talk about
our movie collection as part of this post, but I realize now that I had a lot
to say just about the purchase in general. I guess I have some future blog
Chris McGinty is a blogger who
hopes his writing quality is more like the laser disc than zzzc ED czzzzk disc
zzzkx ckzz*zx% they really didn’t hold zzzzxc@#c…

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