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06-15-2017

When what's old is new again, with a twist

Bill Schweber

EDN

The other day, while juggling a pile of recorded and blank videotapes for my VCR (please, no snickering that I still use a VCR!) I realized that what I would really like is a video recorder that combines the virtues of removable storage modules with modern digital technology. For reasons I can’t really explain, I prefer having shows on physically removable media rather than stored along with tens or hundreds of other recordings on a hidden hard disk drive, as in your standard DVR.

Perhaps with this implementation, I would look at the "in your face" tangible stack of recorded modules I have yet to watch, and realize I was only fooling myself that I’d ever get to them. If someone came out with a low-cost DVR that used removable memory instead of an anonymous, faceless HDD, I would certainly consider it.

When what's old is new again, with a twist
Figure 1. The classic View-Master stereo viewer was introduced in 1939 and is still
manufactured under license, giving it a commercial life far, far greater than
almost any electronic device. (Image courtesy of The Bridge Direct).

It’s not just me who is having ideas about merging the old and new in products that either emulate old products but with new technology, or bring new features to older products via a new-but-old design. I recently saw that Mattel has upgraded the classic children's View-Master toy (Figure 1) with a new, electronic View-Master Virtual Reality version (Figure 2).

When what's old is new again, with a twist
Figure 2. The View-Master Virtual Reality from Mattel, Inc. updates the legendary View-Master,
bringing it into the smartphone age. (Image courtesy of Mattel).

For those not familiar with this true classic which was introduced in 1939, it’s a stereo viewer that uses removable cardboard disks with left/right pairs of film transparencies; you click on the trigger to advance the disk to the next pair. No batteries, no software, no system issues – it does one thing, and does it well, but has very limited capabilities, of course. The new electronic version has the same general form factor, but you use your smartphone as the functional core. The opportunities and flexibility are, of course, orders of magnitude ahead of the original. At just $29.95, the new View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack is almost irresistible.

This is not the only product that attempts to bridge the past and present, and frankly, some don’t make sense to me. Kodak – yes, the "revived" film and photography pioneer that went bankrupt – is bringing back a movie camera with all sorts of digital features, but still uses 8-mm film. You take the exposed 3-minute cartridge, mail it to them for developing, and get it back (again by mail) in a few days.

When what's old is new again, with a twist
Figure 3. The Super 8mm-inspired Lumenati CS1 uses an iPhone 6 instead of film;
you slide your iPhone into it from the back – similar to inserting a Super 8
film cartridge into the original, now-obsolete film camera.
(Image courtesy of Lumenati Productions).

I just don’t see the point here, except for the “hip/cool/retro” factor, which may appeal to some folks with too much time and money on their hands. You have that 3-minute limitation, the cost of film, and the development/return delay of about a week: what’s attractive about these features? In contrast, I can understand cameras, such as the Lumenati CS1 (Figure 3), which use a smartphone core with the form factor and serious appearance of a film-movie camera, but is a digital video camera. What am I missing with this Super 8 product's attraction?

When what's old is new again, with a twist
Figure 4. The Simpson 260 is still available from Simpson Electric, and was
known for its ruggedness and accuracy (for its time, of course).
(Image courtesy of Simpson260).

If you could do an upgrade to an older product using today’s technology, but treating the basic form and function as a baseline, what would that be? Audio cassettes? Eight-track players? Perhaps the classic and trusted Simpson 260 moving-needle voltmeter lovingly photographed here by an admirer (Figure 4), but with an LCD display emulating the needle and the gradations?

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