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CED Digest Vol. 3 No. 26  •  6/27/1998


Date: Mon, 22 Jun 1998 20:26:14 -0700
From: Neil Wagner 
To: *CED Digest <>
Subject: Videodisc History Part 28

>From the February 1984 issue of Popular Science -

A new RCA interactive videodisc player offers much more
than just movies.  It plays games, lets you select scenes
from its repertoire, and even functions as a teacher.  
(Yes, it also gives you a test.)  And an unusual future
probably awaits it.

by William J. Hawkins

   I took a deep breath and put down my money.  A moment
later, I heard the announcer say, "They're off," and the
race track in front of me filled with the pounding hooves
of thoroughbred horses.  Number Six had won the last time,
and my bankroll for the day said that he'd do it again.
But a few minutes later, I was thinking how well Number
Six would do as a bottle of glue.
   Time to go home?  No, time to turn off the TV and call
it a night.  Fortunately for my bank account, I was using
RCA's first interactive videodisc, "A Week at the Races,"
and its new SelectaVision 400 interactive-videodisc player.
The disc is merely a "high-tech" game you play.  But as I
found out, the idea of interactive-disc playing can involve
far more than just games and home entertainment.
   RCA's disc player is similar to past models:  Pop in a 
videodisc, and you see its contents--from movies to concerts
--on the screen in color.  If the unit is connected to your
hi-fi, you hear the sound in stereo.  But this new interac-
tive model allows you to choose particular sections for
viewing and to specify the order in which they will be shown.
Those scenes and the order in which you see them can be dif-
ferent each time you use the disc.
   You make your selections by pressing buttons on an infra-
red remote control.  The numbers you choose represent specific
"bands" encoded on the disc.  In its simplest form, each band
number may represent a particular song on a concert disc:
Choose band number three on a Luciano Pavarotti disc, for
instance, and in moments he's ready to sing "Recondita
armonia."  For other discs, the technology provides a whole
new way of displaying information.
   For example, another disc I tried was CBS's "A Walk through
the Universe."  I began at band 33, which automatically froze
a frame displaying the menu of major topics.  I was curious
about the origin of the universe, so I tapped "20" into the
remote control.  The main menu disappeared, and within a few
seconds I was told that there are two theories--big-bang and
steady-state--and that I could learn about either one by selec-
ting the appropriate band from another menu that now appeared
on the screen.
   I chose one, and soon I was watching a presentation of
animated concepts, drawings, and interviews with leading
scientists.  Was I learning anything?  The disc now began to
ask me questions about what I'd seen; it gave me a test.  You
answer questions by tapping in band numbers that move you to
other areas of the disc.  There, you're told whether you're
right or wrong, and why.
   Finally, the disc showed another display of suggested band
numbers to enter for an automatic sequence of presentations.
I could, for instance, have created a debate between the big-
bang and steady-state theorists, or have plotted my own per-
sonal course through specific planets of the universe.  That
ability to show individualized, one-on-one material could
make future videodiscs the most powerful "video teachers"
since the personal computer.

[This article will be continued in the next issue of CED Digest.]

Neil -


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