Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vintage ad: 1993

Do you remember digital compact cassettes?

I don't. But if this old advertisement from the early 1990s is any indication, apparently someone thought this would be a good format to compete with the compact disc.

Obviously, the DCC never did take hold. It was just one of those experimental formats that got crowded out by another format or that never really appealed to the masses. Seeing this ad reminded me of a time (probably about the same time) when I went to an electronics store to buy a replacement home CD player for one that had died. I knew what I wanted -- a carousel with at least five trays so I could get a decent randomization that would play for a few hours -- and I said as much to the store employee that asked if he could help me find something. So, I was a little surprised when he said (I'm paraphrasing as best as I can remember), "Oh, no. What you want to get is a MiniDisc player."

I said, "What?"

He said, "The MiniDisc. It's the new format, and it's the direction that the industry is going. You'd be wise to go ahead and get it because compact discs are on their way out."

Now I had already undergone a format conversion some years prior. When my old turntable died, vinyl had pretty much been disappearing from local record stores, and I decided to make the wholesale switch to digital music by buying a CD player. Shortly after, I sold off my LPs and singles and used the money to buy a bunch of compact discs. So, when my first CD player gave up the ghost, I was more than willing to get another one. In fact, I was upgrading from a single-drawer model to a carousel with a random-play feature.

And here was this guy telling me that's not what I wanted. He was telling me I wanted something else, something that played a format I was unfamiliar with, something that would require me to get rid of -- and rebuild -- my music collection all over again.

So I told him, "No, I think I'm going to stay with a CD player." I was being polite.

I was rewarded with a snort. "You can do that, but no one's going to be producing CDs anymore."

I was a little miffed. I said, "So, what, they're going to be making nothing but these mini-disks from now on?"


"I don't think so. I think this is just a flash in the pan."

Now he was miffed. "What? This is something that's being embraced by musicians and afficionados because of its superior quality. It provides a much better audio experience, and it does blah-blah-blah, and yackity-smackity, and technobabble ... and all that ... ..."

"But," I interrupted, "that's not what's out there. Stores sell nothing but compact discs right now. Perhaps if the mini-disk catches on, I might consider switching. But I have a whole bunch of CDs, and the record stores sell CDs, and if the mini-disk goes the way of the 8-track, I will still have my CDs. So, I need a CD player. With a carousel that holds at least five disks. And no mini-disk player."

Very few times have I seen someone hired to help paying customers actually show open, glaring contempt toward a person who is willing to spend money in that particular store. But that's what I got that day. He looked at me for a couple of seconds, and I could read all of his thoughts. "Fine," he finally said. "The CD players are over there." And he walked off without another word.

Now, I don't know why I didn't say something that day. I should have asked for the store manager and expressed my disapproval of the condescending attitude I got. I should have just left the store and spent my money elsewhere. But I didn't. I found the CD player I wanted, I paid for it (and the checkout lady was very nice to me), and I got many years of enjoyment out of it.

And, guess what? I still have all of my CDs. Sure, they're all ripped to my computer, and I listen to most of my music on an MP3 player now, but I still have them. And I don't have a single MiniDisc in my collection.


AlanDP said...

That guy was an idiot.

Was the DCC the same as DAT (digital audio tape)? Because I remember a small flurry over DAT, but I knew it was just a passing thing because it was still going to have moving parts and a big roll of tape and wouldn't be able to compete with the CD.

Albatross said...

The collection of all known knowledge puts forth a key difference between DAT and DCC:

If a digital source is copied then the DAT will produce an exact clone, unlike other digital media such as Digital Compact Cassette or non-Hi-MD MiniDisc, both of which use lossy data compression.

I had heard of DAT before, but I don't remember DCC. Sounds like the DAT had a better run, but it never gained much traction with the masses. However, according to that Wikipedia article, the format is still in use today in some professional settings.