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Yesterday’s technology can be a collectible

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Videodiscs were popular in the 1980s and still have a loyal following today.

Dear Doug: I have a Selectavision video disc player and a dozen or so movies. Unfortunately, the player is broken and nobody fixes them anymore. Is this old technology all just a bunch of junk at this point?

Thank you,

Bob, Davenport

Hey Bob: Are you kidding me? That's an RCA model SGT250, with tangential-tracking, CX stereo noise reduction and infrared remote control! What do you mean old technology? I promised my wife one of these if her three VCRs ever wear out.

Selectavision is actually RCA's trademark for the Capacitance Electronic Disc, or CED, system, which it invented. Research and development began in 1964, but the product wasn't introduced to consumers until 1981, after enduring various technical setbacks and delays.

A 100 percent American invention, CED players may have been the last video home entertainment product made in the United States. VHS, LaserDisc and DVD players were, and are, all made in Asia.

Without getting too technical, a CED starts by encoding the composite audio/video analog signal into shortwave vertical undulations at the floor of a micro-grooved high-density conductive PVC carbon platter. When ridden at high speeds by a uniformly tangent keel-shaped titanium electrode-layered needle mounted on a sense-deflection stylus, a varying capacitance frequency-modulated resonant circuit is created. It's not unlike the Lincoln logs we all played with as kids.

In fact, the videodisc is similar to a phonograph record. It is two-sided, with a capacity of 60 minutes per side. So, the disc has to be ejected and turned over about halfway through a movie. Any program running beyond two hours requires a second disc. But, on the bright side, they never need rewinding.

The discs are protected in a hard plastic case called a caddy, which the player automatically extracts when it is loaded. Similar to an album cover, the caddy features colorful artwork, photographs and liner notes, some of which are now being framed as collector's items and period art.

Most of us remember that, prior to the videodisc, television entertainment was provided exclusively by broadcast programming. This new medium revolutionized viewer choices while the movie studios delighted in the financial prospects of releasing their films to the public in a TV format.

RCA envisioned enthusiastic player demand from customers desiring to build collections of their favorite movies and counted on the videodisc sales for the majority of its profits. Unfortunately, several factors contributed to the product's hasty demise, most notably the advent of the video rental business.

These new stores not only offered inexpensive movie rentals in disc and tape formats, but they sold the players as well. Sales of CED players were so indifferent that RCA abandoned production after three short years while discs continued to be made through 1986. And, of course, this playback-only system also fought the emergence of the versatile video cassette recorder, or VCR.

Admittedly, CED isn't the latest in electronics, but if not you, who else is going to introduce it to the grandkids? It reminds me of where I'd be if I had decided to pitch my collection of Three Dog Night 8-tracks. Yes, I think a videodisc player would not only satisfy my histrionic desires for the silver screen drama, but also buttress my aversion to the much-publicized gimmicks of better technology.

Despite your findings, the great thing about its American heritage is that even after 30 years, service and parts are still available. Your SGT250 is sometimes referred to as the "tank of video disc players," and depending on its current contrariness, it may just need to have its needle cleaned or repaired. But more than likely, if it's never been serviced, it'll need new rubber belts, a thorough cleaning and lubrication.

The best place in town to have this done is the post office. They'll have it fixed and delivered back to your front door in no time, as long as you have the correct address on the outside of the shipping box.

And for that I recommend the experts at CEDatum of Martinsville, Ind. The address can be found on their website at

They offer a free stylus inspection, functional test and report. Should your unit need to be repaired, their prices are reasonable, and, in fact, you'll likely owe the post office nearly as much as CEDatum.

Believe it or not, retro-techies still love videodiscs. Refurbished players such as yours can sell for more than over) $200 on a popular Internet auction site.

Their inexplicable attraction is likely attributable to the more than 1,700 video titles that were made over the five-year span of production. The complete library includes movies, concerts, documentaries and interactive games, and most can be purchased for about the cost of a one-night, current movie DVD rental.

One of the most popular titles, "Star Wars," has an interesting aside. Originally running more than 120 minutes in length, it was to be offered in a costlier two-disc set. However, the studio found that by slightly elevating the playback speed of the master tape, the viewing time could be cut to 118 minutes and the movie reformatted onto a single disc. And none would be the wiser.

Contact Doug Smith with your collectibles questions by emailing him at or visiting his website,



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