Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The March of Entertainment Technology

Yesterday I read a very interesting blog post from Occasional Reader rashbre, in which he asked the interesting question, "When Did Hi-Fi Become A/V?"

When, indeed? Cue the background music for the walk down memory lane ...

I remember back when the height of musical reproduction technology was the record player ...

It was a relatively simple device, and could be used to play 78-, 45-, or 33-rpm records (which operated by pressing grooves into a vinyl surface, which were then "read" by a needle that picked up variations in the groove surface and transmitted them to a membrane which vibrated to produce tinny sound).

The simple record player gave way to the high-fidelity (or hi-fi) system, also known as the stereo, in which the grooves in the record became more complex and were able to reproduce multiple channels of sound, fed to two or more speakers. This gave a richer sound than the simple monaural tones of the record player. I remember when my father bought our first stereo - a KLH model that looked like a sleek record player, but produced a much sharper, clearer sound ... the chipping sounds in the song "Chip, Chip" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys were very, very different than the same sounds played by my old record player.

We then learned about reel-to-reel tape, 8-track tape, and tape cassettes, which allowed us to record the music we played on the hi-fi or heard on the radio. Naturally, these three systems were incompatible with each other.

Records in time yielded to compact discs (or CDs), in which music once encoded in grooves on vinyl and read by a vibrating needle was now digitally encoded on a small, hard plastic disc read by a laser. CD's couldn't, unfortunately, record music the way audio tapes could, but were soon overtaken by recordable CDs that fixed that problem, but required a player that would also allow recording.

So, now we had the stereo, the tape player (of whichever type), and the CD player ... which were tied together to make a sound system, and which required a new type of furniture to hold them conveniently close together. This led to the birth of the stereo cabinet ...

But television was also moving along! The simple old black and white CRT television, which was very large and weighed about 7,000 pounds, was gradually replaced by the color CRT television, which in its turn yielded to smaller, thinner, and somewhat lighter models, culminating in the modern ultra-thin, wall-mounted high-definition television.

And that high-definition television and high-powered sound system required better reproduction ... leading us to surround-sound.

Likewise, we were able to purchase movies to watch at home on video tapes (either VHS or Beta), which were augmented by laser discs and eventually replaced by the digital video disc (DVD - now digital versatile disc), which is now being edged out by the Blu-Ray disc and by the digital download ... which requires no medium at all.

Which led to the replacement of the old sound system with the audio-visual (or AV) or home theater system.

The home theater system is a wonderful thing, combining radio, recorded music, video, gaming, recording and playback, computer access, and cable/satellite TV feeds in one convenient* system, the heart of which is the Tuner - a device roughly equivalent to the average NASA command system, but somewhat more complex. The average tuner can only be installed and operated by someone with a dual degree in electrical engineering and criminal psychology**.

And that, Dear Readers, is your abridged journey through the meandering road we took from hi-fi to AV and beyond. Thanks to rashbre for the inspiration.

Have a good day. Enjoy that home theater system once you figure it out. More thoughts on Thursday.


* Assuming you can figure out how to operate it.

** The criminal psychology degree will help you understand your desire to murder the sadistic bastard that designed the tuner and wrote the unintelligible 650-page instruction book.


Amanda said...

We are tearing our hair right now trying to stream movies from my desktop to the TV. The manual is telling me lies!

eViL pOp TaRt said...

All too often my attempts at playing music or watching something is frustrated by the complexity of the equipment's instructions or the instructions not being truly reliable. Shouldn't simplicity be a prime factor? I don't have an inexaustible supply of patience or an E.E. degree.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Bill there was a lot of info here to digest and learn. But what stuck out for me was Gary Lewis and The Playboys.
Thanks for the flashback. Love it!
Now I will be humming green grass by them all damn day.

Bilbo said...

Amanda - they're written that way on purpose!

Angel - you'd think so, wouldn't you? I have a lot less trouble with German grammar than with the average A/V equipment manual!

Peg - Gary Lewis & the Playboys were my favorite group back in the day. As you might suspect, one of my favorites was "Everybody Loves a Clown."

Mike said...

I've got a record player (that needs a belt) that plays 78, 45, 33 1/3, and 16 2/3.