VCR, VHS Video Tape , Video Store, DVD, DVDs by Mail, Video On Demand, Live-Streaming and Blockbuster

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 11th, 2012

History 101

The VCR changed the way Families enjoyed Movie Night

The video cassette recorder (VCR) changed the way we watched movies.  Well, some of us.  For the first VCRs were really expensive.  The first ones costing as much as a car.  But by the Eighties the price fell to a few thousand dollars and within the price range of those who really wanted one.  And buy them we did.  Recording everything we wanted on television.  Many of us old enough to have lived during the Eighties no doubt have a box of video tapes we push around occasionally.  Having long forgotten what is on those tapes.  Yet we still push that box around.  Sure that there must be something good on at least one of those tapes.

Recording things off the television was one thing.  But watching movies was another.  For it was expensive to take the family to the movie theater.  Especially if you had three kids or more.  Twenty bucks for tickets.  Another twenty for popcorn, candy and drinks.  A night at the movies could cost a family $40 or more.  If you went to the movies once a week that could add up to nearly a car payment.  Which made taking the family out to the movies a very expensive endeavor.  If there was only another way for the family to enjoy movie night.

And then it happened.  They started releasing movies on video tape.  The same movies that had played in the theaters.  They weren’t cheap.  The first movies cost as much as $80 or more.  But once you paid that $80 you could watch that movie as often as you wanted.  With as many people as you wanted.  And eat as much popcorn, candy and drinks you wanted.  Even adult beverages without the worry of having to drive home.  Yes, the VCR changed the way some of us watched movies.  Those who could afford to pay $80 or more for a movie on video tape.  But there was another option for those less financially endowed.  The video store.

To Help Augment their Income Video Stores started to sell Popcorn, Candy and Drinks

Some of the first video stores required an annual membership fee.  Which wasn’t cheap.  As well as a rental fee for the movies you rented.  Did these stores rake in the money because they were so greedy?  Not really.  Remember that in those early days these stores were paying $80 for their videos.  If they had 3 copies (on average) of each that’s $240 a title.  If they had 300 hundred titles in their store that came to $72,000 in video tapes.  Anyone who has ever rented video tapes knows that they weren’t always the best of quality.  When you place a video tape into a VCR and press play a magnetic head presses against the tape.  This constant pressure and friction wears the tape out over time.

So after spending some $72,000 to stock their store they probably had to replace at least one of each title for 20% of their stock each year.  Adding another $4,800 in costs.  As well as buying some new titles with every new release.  Five copies of two new releases a month would add another $9,600 a year.  So after spending some $72,000 to stock the store they probably spent another $15,000 a year on additional video tape purchases.  Add in rent, utilities, interest on their debt, insurance, a paycheck for the owner and an employee or two that little video store could cost up to $250,000 a year to operate.  All of which they had to recover from rental fees and membership fees.  And the occasional rewind fee for those who forgot to be kind and rewind.

In time those video tape prices came down.  Allowing video stores to drop their membership fees.  They may not have liked losing that large source of income.  But it was either that or see their customers go to the stores without the membership fees.  To help augment their income video stores started to sell popcorn, candy and drinks.  Just like the theaters.  For what is a movie without popcorn, candy and drinks?  Instead of movies these stores now rented a family night together.  A one-stop shop to rent some competitively priced videos.  And to load up with some not so competitively priced snacks.  The snacks may have been a little on the pricy side.  But they were convenient.  Allowing family night to begin sooner without having to make another stop to buy some groceries.

DVDs by Mail, Live-Streaming Movies and Video On Demand put the Familiar Video Store out of Business

The VHS video tape dominated the entertainment market until the DVD came along.  A small flat disc.  Much simpler.  With no moving parts.  And you never had to rewind a DVD.  Putting the video tape rewind machine manufacturers out of business.  They could manufacture DVDs so inexpensively that they changed the model for home entertainment.  Going from renting to purchasing.  Video stores stocked DVDs to rent.  But as the DVD price fell further it was difficult to rent them.  For if someone could buy a new release for about $15 you really couldn’t charge much to rent it.  Making it difficult for the video stores to stay in business.  They could sell DVDs instead of renting them.  But it was the big box retailers that had the best prices on DVDs.

Because the DVD was so small and light there was something else you could do with it.  You could mail it.  So instead of going to a video store only to see the movie that you wanted to rent was out of stock you simply went online.  And rented the movie you wanted and some distribution warehouse mailed one of their many copies to you.  Some companies let you keep the movie as long as you wanted without any late fees.  Forever eliminating those late night drives to the video store before midnight in your pajamas to drop the video in a drop box before that late fee kicked in.  The DVD is so convenient to handle that they can even put them into vending machines at your grocery store.

With the ability to see almost any movie you wanted to see without having to go to a video store made it difficult for the video stores to remain in business.  For they were trying to compete with other businesses that didn’t have to pay rent, utilities, interest on their debt, insurance, a paycheck for the owner and an employee or two.  While their costs went up the prevailing market price to watch a movie in the home fell.  Then came movies on demand from cable providers.  And live-streaming on the Internet.  Which didn’t even need a distribution warehouse or a massive inventory of DVDs.  Or warehouse employees.  Movies just sat on a server connected to the Internet.  Which is why it is difficult to walk into a Blockbuster video store these days.  (Blockbuster basically invented the big box video store.)  But you’ll be able to rent a DVD by mail, live-stream a movie online or watch a video on demand from Blockbuster.  The new business model allowing them to remain in business at the prevailing market price to watch a movie in the home.  Unlike the old model based on brick and mortar stores that led to their bankruptcy.

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Music, Radio Transmitters, Radio Receivers, CD Players, Compression, MP3 Players, Internet, YouTube, Live Streaming and Music on Demand

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 29th, 2012

Technology 101

The Roaring Twenties brought Electrical Power and Broadcast Radio into our Homes

We take music for granted today.  We can listen to pretty much anything we want to.  At any time.  In any place.  In the home.  In the car.  At the gym.  It’s nice.  You can listen to some of the most beautiful music at your convenience and leisure.  It wasn’t always like this, though.  During the time Edvard Grieg composed his masterpieces few could listen to them.  Unless you attended a live performance.  Which weren’t that readily available.  Unless you lived in a big city.  Where a symphony orchestra could include some of his music in a performance.  But you had to listen to what they played.  And what they played was the only music you were familiar with.  Unless you had a friend with a piano.  Who could read sheet music.  And was a concert-level pianist.  Again, something not that common.

But today you can click on a computer link and listen to almost any obscure piece of music there is.  From Grieg’s beautiful Bådnlåt (At the Cradle), lyric piece for piano, Op. 68/5.  To something really esoteric like Sparks’ As I Sit Down To Play The Organ At The Notre Dame Cathedral.  You can listen to them.  You can buy them.  Download them to a portable MP3 player.  And take them anywhere.  Just imagine trying to do this in 1899.  Going to the lake.  And wanting to listen to Grieg’s new lyric piece for piano.  Opus 68.  Number 5.  At the Cradle.  Unless you took a piano and a concert-level pianist with you that just wasn’t going to happen.  But this all changed.  Beginning around the dawn of the 20th century.

Nikola Tesla had recently won his war with Thomas Edison.  His AC power replaced Edison’s DC power as the standard.  And in the 1920s we were electrifying the country.  We began to generate and transmit AC power across the land.  To businesses.  And to homes.  Where we could plug in the new electrical appliances coming to market.  We were working on another new technology during this time.  Something that could plug in at home to the new electrical power.  The radio.  This technology had something to do with electromagnetic fields and waves.  Transmitted between antennas.  One on a transmitter.  And one on a receiver.  As long as the transmitter and the receiver were tuned to the same frequency.  The first use of this new technology was in the form of a wireless telegraph.  Which few people had in their homes.  These were more useful to communicate with others who were not connected by telegraph lines.  Like ships at sea.  Where we sent Morse code (those dots and dashes that spelled words).  Which worked well.  As long as all the ships didn’t tried to communicate at the same time on the same frequency.  But transmitting speech or music was a different manner.  Because everyone talks more or less in the same band of frequencies.  And notes played on one violin tend to play at the same frequency on another violin.  So if some radio transmitters broadcasted different concerts at the same time you wouldn’t hear a nice concert on your radio.  You’d hear a cacophony of noise.  To get an idea what that would sound like open up three or four browser windows on your computer.  And play a different song on YouTube in each.  What you hear will not be music.  But noise.

In the Eighties we traded our Phonograph Needles for Laser Beams in our CD Players

Of course, this didn’t stop the development of commercial broadcast radio.  For we tune radio transmitters and radio receivers to the same resonant frequency.  The transmitter transmitting at one frequency all of the time. While the radio receiver could tune in to different frequencies to listen to different radio broadcasts.  When you turned the radio tuning dial you changed what resonant frequency your receiver ‘listened’ to.  Which was basically a filter to block all frequencies but the tuned frequency from entering your radio.  We call that frequency the carrier signal.  Typically just a plain old sinusoidal wave form at a one frequency that we imprint the information of the speech or music on.  The transmitter takes the music waveform and modulates it on the carrier signal.  Then broadcasts the signal on the broadcast antenna.  The receiver then captures this signal on its antenna.  And demodulates it.  Pulling the musical imprint from the carrier signal.  And restoring it to its original condition.  Which the radio than amplifies and sends to a speaker.  I left some steps out of the process.  But you get the gist.  The key to successful broadcast radio was the ability to transform the source signal (speech or music) into another signal.  One that we could transmit and receive.  And transform back into the source signal.

The Roaring Twenties was a Neil Armstrong moment on earth.  It was one giant leap for mankind.  For it was in this decade that the modern world began.  Thanks to Nikola Tesla and his AC power.  Which allowed us the ability to plug in radios in our homes.  And power the great radio transmitters to get the signal to our houses.  Tesla, incidentally, created radio technology, too.  Well, Tesla, and Guglielmo Marconi.  (Patent disputes flared between these two greats about who was first.)  Great technological advancement.  Created during a time of limited government and low taxes.  That unleashed an explosive amount of creativity and invention.  The Eighties was another such decade.

The Eighties launched the digital age.  The world of bits and bytes.  1s and 0s.  Digital watches.  Clocks.  Calculators.  PCs.  And, of course, our music.  For the Eighties gave us the compact disc.  The CD.  Music that didn’t wear out like our vinyl records.  And didn’t pop or hiss with age.  Because a CD player didn’t have a phonograph needle.  That rode the groves on our vinyl records.  It had something far more futuristic.  A laser beam.  That reads information encoded into the CD.  Information encoded onto a reflective layer through a series of pits.  During playback the laser either reflects or doesn’t reflect.  This information is than processed into a series of 1s and 0s.  Then converted into the analog waveform of the source material.  And becomes music again.

The Eighties gave us the Digital Age which led to the Internet and Music on Demand

This process is similar to the process of broadcast radio.  Not in any technological way.  But by changing a source signal into something else.  And then converting it back again.  In the case of the CD we sample an analog signal (i.e., an audio recording).  By taking ‘snapshots’ of it at regular intervals.  Then convert these snapshots into a digital format.  And then transfer this digital information to the reflective layer on a CD.  Those 1s and 0s.  When we play it back the laser reads these 1s and 0s.  Then converts these digital snapshots back into the original audio signal.  Sort of like modulating and demodulating a signal.  Only instead of modulating we’re converting from analog to digital.  Then vice versa.

The quality of the digital format depends on how much information each snapshot contains.  And the interval we sample them at.  Larger chunks of information taken in short intervals contain a lot more information.  And improve the quality of the sound.  But it will also take up a lot of space on those CDs.  Limiting the number of songs we can encode on them.  Which lead to compression.  And MP3s.  Which worked on the premise that there’s a lot of music in music.  But we don’t necessarily hear all of that music.  Some sounds mask out other sounds.  Certain frequencies we barely hear.  So while the CDs tried to reproduce the music as faithfully as possible, we learned that we could discard some of the information in the music without reducing the quality of the music much.  This saved a lot of space on CDs and portable MP3 players.  Allowed faster downloads on the Internet.  And live streaming.

The Roaring Twenties changed our world.  Modernized it.  And gave us many things.  Including broadcast radio.  And music in our homes we never had before.  And the Eighties also changed our world.  Further modernizing it.  Giving us the digital age.  That led to the Internet.  And music on demand like we never had before.  Where we can listen to anything.  No matter how obscure.  It’s now all available at our fingertips.  To listen online.  Or to buy and download to a portable device.  From Grieg to Sparks.  And everything in between.

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