12 objects unnecessarily covered in gold #

I like gold pens and I once had a gold cover for my Game Boy Color which I loved. But a gold AK-47? A gold Porsche? Why? I guess rich people would reply “why not?” and to that I say, pay your taxes.

iPods, Nikons, vibrators, Hummers someone has released a really crass gold plated gadget for the arms dealer market. Gizmodo suggested the gold plated shuffle “signaled the downfall of civilization”, vote according to which item you think is the most revolting.

Is Disney making a retractable lightsaber?

Chaim Gartenberg wrote about Disney making a not-a-real-one-but-still-retractable-and-awesome lightsaber for Wired yesterday.

To whom it may concern at The Walt Disney Company and / or Lucasfilm:

Show me the damn lightsaber. I know you have a real one now. And it’s time to fess up.

There’s plenty of evidence that a better toy saber has been on Disney’s mind for a while. The company’s current crop of replica props and customized Galaxy’s Edge sabers are already hugely popular, to start.

To be clear, whatever Disney has, it isn’t a real lightsaber like in the movies. People have tried to make those for years and ultimately, it isn’t possible due to the amount of energy and the danger involved. Gotta leave that with the Star Wars franchise, I’m afraid.

But if you wanna look at a cool lightsaber made from plasma (that requires “a massive power pack and is almost certainly not safe to sell as a children’s toy at a theme park”), check out the one below.

4000° PLASMA PROTO-LIGHTSABER BUILD (RETRACTABLE BLADE!)

Update: Here it is: Disney’s ‘real’ lightsaber.

What do you actually get when you buy an NFT token?

bitcoin

I’m a vocal critic of NFTs (non-fungible tokens). I think they stink and they’re a serious moral and environmental hazard. Earlier today, I saw a Twitter thread about what you get from an NFT token and, well, it caused the tweeter’s eyebrows to break the laws of physics and biology:

@jonty tweeted: Out of curiosity I dug into how NFT's actually reference the media you're "buying" and my eyebrows are now orbiting the moon

I recommend you read through the thread but the key part is: whoever sells you the NFT keeps all aspects of the NFT and you get a file that references the digital file you pay for that can be lost if the server hosting it disappears. In essence, they’re worthless.

Short version: The NFT token you bought either points to a URL on the internet, or an IPFS hash. In most circumstances it references an IPFS gateway on the internet run by the startup you bought the NFT from. Oh, and that URL is not the media. That URL is a JSON metadata file

Second tweet from the thread

I’ve seen a suggestion that NFTs can help marginalised artists make money from their art in an easier way. But how many marginalised artists are making $70m from a JPG like this monstrosity?

The rise and demise of Betamax

betamax-video-cassettes

I was born after the Betamax came and went. In fact, I heard more about it in terms of its demise than any kind of praise for the technology. VHS was my life right up until 2006 (although I still use it to this day). If I’d been born a few years earlier, I might have seen the shift.

But for many, Betamax was a cult classic and Sony only stopped production and sales of Betamax products in March 2016. So let’s look at the rise, fall, and legacy of this iconic piece of video culture.

What is Betamax?

Sony’s Betamax (also known as Beta) was a video cassette format introduced in Japan on 10th May 1975. It was released as way for consumers to record everything from weddings to their favourite soap operas. The cassettes used a similar format to the U-matic, a Sony prototype cassette from the late 60s. but with a thinner design (0.5 inches vs. the U-matic’s 0.75inch width).

Betamax for professional recording

Betamax had a major influence on news broadcasting and music production for different reasons. Sony released the Betacam in 1982, the professional version of the Betamax, and it quickly became the most-used video format in electronic news-gathering (or ENG for short).

While the Betamax and Betacam formats were very similar, the difference between them was significant for professional recording. Betamax recorded in a lower-quality resolution and audio, using only two recording heads, while Betacam used four recording heads, producing a higher video resolution and audio quality.

In music recording, Sony created a digital recording system known as PCM that connected to Betamax recorders. The Sony PCM-F1 adaptor came with a Betamax VCR SL-2000 as a “portable digital audio recording system” and it became a mainstay for audio engineers when they made their masters.

Betamax for home movies

While Betamax enjoyed a good life in the professional market, it didn’t fare as well at the consumer level. Sony released its first Beta device in the US in November 1975 – the LV-1901 that came with a 19-inch colour monitor. There was also the Sony SL-6200, which came as part of the Sony LV-1901 with its teakwood cabinet, a 24-hour timer and camera input. The set also allowed you to record one channel and watch another which was an incredible feat back then.

But stiff competition in the West from JVC’s VHS format lead to its downfall outside of Japan. Their market share in the US rose to 60% by 1980 and left Sony in the dust. It was also cheaper to make VHS tapes in Europe, which pushed the format even further. That led to a gradual decline in Betamax tapes in the 80s, down to a market share of just 7.5% in 1986.

Higher quality in Japan

Even though Betamax wasn’t as successful in the West, Sony managed to localise its power in the videotape format war and build on it. The company released the SuperBetamax (1985) and Extended Definition Betamax (1988) formats, both offering better resolutions.

SuperBeta, as it was known, offered a horizontal resolution almost identical to live television at the time. However, the chroma resolution remained subpar in comparison.

In 1988, Sony released its ED Beta, or “Extended Definition” Betamax line, with 500 lines of horizontal resolution, matching DVD quality (which wouldn’t come out for another 7 years). Improvements were made to format to reduce the transport to reduce picture abnormalities and produce a better quality picture.

Tape length wars

Besides the general “videotape format war”, there was a subsidiary tape length war instigated by the RCA (Radio Corporation of America). The corporation tried to collaborate with Sony in making a format but wanted a 4-hour tape. Sony didn’t feel the Betamax was up to recording 4-hours of tape and maintaining a high-quality picture.

RCA went to JVC with the same proposal but received the same response although parent company Matsushita eventually gave in. This forced Sony’s hand and it managed to eek out 5 hours of Betamax footage with its Beta-III speed on an ultra-thin L-830 cassette. JVC more than doubled it with 10.5 hours on a T-210 cassette.

Other Beta variants and spin-offs

Here are some non-Sony branded Beta players and related Beta products (thanks to Betamax Collectors and Mr Betamax for the info).

Betamovie

Sony’s range of consumer camcorders for the Betamax format, it was notorious for not including a playback function and it was later abandoned in favour of the Video8.

Beta Hi-Fi

In June 1983, Sony added hi-fi audio to videotape as a way to edge JVC’s VHS format out of the market. However, JVC created its own VHS hi-fi system, about a year after the SL-5200 player was released.

Pioneer VX90

Pioneer’s VX90 was basically a SL-HF900 without the Sony logo on it. It produced high-quality SuperBeta pictures and that Beta Hi-Fi stereo sound.

Marantz Stereo VR 200

Sanyo’s Beta player was the first consumer recorder to offer a quality stereo VCR (thanks to enhanced Dolby signal processing).

Toshiba BetaMax V-M40

Toshiba’s model was priced was $379 upon release in 1984. The V-M40 included a 7-day timer, 12 channel selector, a clock, and a moisture detector which shut the system down if moisture was found.

Zenith VR 8510

Produced by Sony for Zenith, the 8510 featured a SpeedSearch picture scan function and SuperScan, allowing users to switch into “fast speed mode” to view where they were in the fast-foward/rewinding process.

Sanyo Betacord VCR 4590

As you might have guessed, it was called Betacord due to its corded remote control.

Failure to adapt – the true demise of Betamax

Despite the sharp decline in sales of Betamax recorders in the late 1980s and subsequent halt in production of new recorders by Sony in 2002, Beta, SuperBeta and EDBeta are still being used by a small number of people. Even though Sony stopped making new cassettes in 2016, new old stocks of Betamax cassettes are still available for purchase at online shops and used recorders (as well as cassettes) are often found at flea markets, thrift stores or on Internet auction sites.

Betacam cassettes are still available in professional circles but generally, Beta is nothing more than a novelty collector’s item. The simple reason why Betamax lost to VHS was Sony’s inability to cater to the general public. They wanted a medium that could record for longer, even if it meant compromising quality. Its legacy now lies in nostalgia and comedic devices.

A curious oddity is that Sony continued to make Beta recorders right up to 2002. But there have been some influential uses of Betamax, as we covered in an article about Marion Stokes.

First Betamax - Salesman Training Video 1977

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are The VHS Guys

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher

I’m a nostalgia freak. There was a lot in the 90s I only saw but never fully experienced and that decade was the happiest of my life. VHS tapes played a major part of that and I love hearing about collectors, especially ones this quirky.

Friends Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are known as the VHS Guys and they’ve been collecting VHS tapes for over 25 years. But not just any VHS tape. Their collection falls under the “special interests” category or “not meant to be shown in public,” as Prueher put it in an interview with Atlas Obscura. Anything from exercise videos to how-to video guides is up for consideration. The pair take their collective on tour with their Found Footage Festival events in front of live audiences.

One of the creepiest videos in the VHS Guys collection has to be Rent-A-Friend, where the man in the video will be your “friend” in exchange for nothing (well, however much you initially paid for the VHS but that’s all). It’s an example of an “interactive” video; all the rage in the 80s and 90s. They ask you a question and leave pause for you to “answer”. I remember playing a 90s board game called Atmosfear using this “technology” (sorry for all the quotations but they’re necessary). At 4, it felt like magic because it really WAS talking back to me.

Stream the 5-minute interview below.

AntennaPod - A Podcast Manager For Android

Episodic in nature and distributed via web feeds, one could argue that podcasts have become the ‘talk radio’ of the internet age. Great podcasts are addictive and can often be a nightmare organising subscriptions for these delectable audio morsels if your software isn’t up to scratch. That’s where AntennaPod comes in.

Created by Daniel Oeh and hosted on GitHub, AntennaPod is a full-featured open source podcast manager that will bring out a smile from even the most ardent podcast listeners. AntennaPod’s developers have taken a meticulous approach in crafting the app as it contains arguably more features than many ‘paid’ podcast apps.

Some of its features include:

  • Support for both audio and video playback
  • Access to over 250,000 podcasts on iTunes and the gPodder directory
  • The ability to add subscriptions via RSS and Atom Feeds
  • OPML import/export
  • Variable playback speeds
  • Advanced download management features

The app is undoubtedly a triumph for “Free and Open Source Software” (FOSS). It’s a tangible step above the podcast management software provided by a certain fruit-flavoured corporate entity.

AntennaPod is published under the ‘MIT License’ and is available on both Google Play and F-Droid. You can download it for your Android device from the links below.

Google Play (Sign up for the beta!)

F-Droid