Peter Berg remembers the early days of the

videotape recorder





Below is the text from a couple of emails that I received from Peter Berg.

Peter was part of the Cartrivision development team and he was also an

employee of Cartrivision for the duration of CTI’s existence. The correspondence deals with the early days of the home VCR and the

companies that were competing against each other to be the first to

get one to market. Most interesting is Peter’s account of showing off

the Cartrivision VTR to Sony executives in Japan.




“RCA had two home video programs running concurrently.  The first one was a VCR

with Large scanning disk, 4 heads, record all fields, and it was expensive to make. 

The mechanism was to be built by Bell and Howell in Chicago (where I spent about half my time)

and the electronics and assembly was to be done in RCA's Rockville plant, outside Indianapolis. 

We actually had the pre-production line and most of the automated test equipment

in place in Rockville when RCA decided to can the program.


The second project going at RCA was a video disc with high and low points in

the tracks, read by a MECHANICAL stylus which drove a small capacitance

change in a (1200 MHz) ?? oscillator - the frequency was then down converted

and FM demodulated thusly recreating the recorded data.  This one was doomed

from the onset but actually made it to market - but not for long.


(Webmaster’s note:  Peter is refering to the RCA CED videodisc.  For more info

on this format check out the CED Magic Web Page )


Frank Stanton (President of Cartrivision Television Inc.) was correct when he told

a reporter that RCA had a VCR "ghost",  just an announcement, (the word "vaporware' had

not been coined yet); no hardware, no software, but their announced low price made

some companies like GE, Zenith  and Motorola wait it out and not jump on the Cartrivison



Then, of course, Zenith started their own development, in cooperation with

Philips of the Netherlands, to do a 'DVD-like' medium.    It, too, ran out

of money.   Two of the original members of the Cartrivision team eventually

became involved in the Zenith project.


And I am sorry to say that I have no mementos from my RCA days, I was so upset

at the video world when they, too, abandoned the project, that I decided to abandon

video on my own terms and go back to my old profession in aerospace telemetry and

command systems.   There, at least, one knew who and where one's customers were.


However, I now remember that I was approached by BASF who wanted to do a

longitudinal tape recorder using 1/4 inch tape spooling it at high speed

along a fixed head.   I actually went to an interview at their headquarters

outside Heidelberg (?) in Germany, but that fizzled.   Good thing!


In some frantic maneuvering, Frank Stanton sent me with a colleague

 to Japan with a working Cartrivision VTR to try and work with Sony, NVC (jvc),

Matsushita (Panasonic) and others in an attempt to try to get them to jump on CTI's

bandwagen.   This was one of the more difficult projects in my life since

almost all communication had to go through an interpreter.   And I knew

nothing about the Japanese and their working and living habits.  And the

outcome was a big fat zero.


During this trip I even got to meet Mr. Akio Morita, president and founder of Sony.

Sony was not interested, with no reason given.  Matsushita was not interested,

no reason given although I later learned they were also doing their own thing.


JVC was very interested and I actually worked with them for several days

discussing all the design and manufacturing details of our machine as Frank

Stanton had given me the instructions to 'open the kimono'.  They even took

the whole machine apart over the weekend and put it back together.  When we

returned for further discussions on Monday, the machine stood there working

as always, and the large conference table was plastered with a zillion

pictures of every  damn part in the CTI recorder/player!   Those guys knew

what they were doing.


Well, that, too, fizzled and a while later JVC came out with a new format,

later named..…...VHS.



In my mind, the main reasons for the demise of Cartrivision were:



1.            Machine was too expensive, worked only with modified tv's (timebase problem),

which, in turn, led to the industry selling it in expensive combo floor

tv/vcr combinations, not good to enter the market at the 'max price' level.


2.            The concept may have been a bit too early (but obviously the movie rental

"first" was a wonderful idea).


3.            The Fuji tape debacle; this would have been a killer at any time, but it

happened at a time that CTI was most vulnerable, introduction and cash flow



4.            RCA's announcement of a “ much cheaper” machine;  it was created by

H. Ray Warren. This VTR won him the Sarnoff price for innovation for it and got himself some patents.   However, it turned out to be 'nothing new' but just a bit different,

and expensive to make.”




Peter Berg