This might be old news to some of you, but I had no idea that before there was VHS or Betamax, that there was Cartrivision.
I’m pretty sure that the reason I’d never heard of it is because it didn’t catch on at all. Sales were so poor that it was only produced for a little over a year between 1972 and 1973. Weighing in at the hefty price of $1,350 which Wikipedia estimates is around $6600 in today money, it’s not hard to imagine why so few people bit. It may not have been quite so expensive had you been able to hook it to the TV you already owned, but that’s not how this worked. If you wanted a Cartrivision you were buying a brand new TV set, because the whole thing (TV, video player/recorder and video camera) was sold as a single unit. Remember that this was the 70’s, long before you could walk into Walmart and leave with a big screen for a couple hundred bucks, so I’m sure that whatever the TV portion added to the cost wouldn’t have exactly been trivial.
Another interesting note is that even then, the film industry was in the business of trying to DRM innovation to death. You could rent movies through a catalog, but you could only watch them once because the tapes were built not to allow rewinding by your Cartrivision. They were rewound by a special machine after you sent them back to the retailer. A pretty stupid limitation to put on something that you’re attempting to market as a “time machine,” but well, the more things change and all that. Fortunately any tapes you bought outright or that you recorded yourself would rewind like normal, so at least it had that going for it. Sad when expected, common sense behaviour is a point in its favour, but the thing needs all the help it can get.
Oh, and there was another flaw, too. One that wasn’t discovered until after the machines were no longer being produced. The tapes weren’t very durable. They were so not durable (undurable?) that a bunch of them being stored in a warehouse that got a little humid actually disintegrated. So much for those treasured home movies in your basement, early technology adopter guy.
Even doing my best to see this through the eyes of 40 years ago, this thing sounds a bit like a piece of crap. A sort of technologically mind blowing, awesome sounding and somewhat historically important piece of crap, but a piece of crap none the less. It seems like its main downfall was that it just wasn’t ready for prime time. With a bit more thought they probably could’ve had something, but I suppose it’s easy for me to sit here and say that with the benefit of hindsight.
If you’d like to take a trip back in time and see what this piece of crap can do for you, here’s its hype video.