In this post, we take a look at some of the ‘also-rans’ and ‘could have been’ pices of consumer tech from the past 50 years, and find out why these products didn’t quite fulfil their potential.
MiniDiscUnfortunately, a high launch price, combined with the reluctance of record companies to adopt the system meant that it never really took off as a commercial recording format With the audio quality of the CD, combined with the flexible recording ability of a cassette tape, the MiniDisc had the potential to revolutionise the music industry when it arrived in 1992.
Unfortunately, a high launch price, combined with the reluctance of record companies to adopt the system meant that it never really took off as a commercial recording format.
Despite the fiddly nature of listing tracks, the technology did have limited success as a home recording medium, peaking in the mid to late 90s until the arrival of cheap CD-Rs.
The arrival of the MP3 in 2001 rendered the MiniDisc obsolete, although inexplicably, Sony continued to support the format until early 2013!
Launched in 1978, the LaserDisc offered high quality home audio and video, and was designed to provide a real alternative to VCR formats like Betamax and VHS.
The technology was hamstrung from the beginning by high prices for players and titles, and a lack of the home recording functionality boasted by its main rivals meant that it never really took off with the mainstream Western market.
Despite its failures in the North American and European markets, the LaserDisc did find favour with serious videophiles, and across Asia, where it became a popular video rental medium in the late 80s and 90s. It also laid the foundations for future optical disc formats like the CD, DVD and Blu-ray.
Best known for losing the VCR format wars against the mighty VHS, the Sony Betamax has become the symbol of failed consumer technology.
Although Betamax had the edge over VHS in terms of picture quality and introduced consumers to the concept of timed recording, Sony failed to turn these advantages into commercial success.
Despite entering the market 2 years later than Betamax, VHS had a longer recording time, and JVC quickly gained market share by licensing its technology to other manufacturers.
Consumers voted with their wallets, and by the mid 1980s, the war was over and Sony knew it. In 1988, the company bit the bullet, abandoned the format, and bought a licence from JVC so it could start selling its own VHS systems.
Launched in 2006, HD DVD was Toshiba’s attempt to supersede the DVD. With a rise in HD TV sets, and the launch of a new generation of high definition games consoles, the market conditions looked perfect.
Unfortunately, HD DVD was up against stiff competition from Blu-ray, a format spearheaded by Sony, along with support from other major tech companies.
Sony learned a lot of lessons from the failure of Betamax and MiniDisc, and pulled out all the stops to ensure that Blu-ray was successful. By shipping the PS3 console with a Blu-ray player, Sony built a ready-made market for the technology, and with guaranteed content supplied its own movie studio, it had a strong base to build on.
Ultimately, HD DVD was let down by a lack of support from the major film studios. The final nail in the coffin for HD DVD was when Warner Bros dropped its support for the format, as without major releases and quality content, consumers simply didn’t see a future for the tech.
It’s been nearly 30 years since Virtual Reality first emerged from the world of Sci Fi fantasy into the real world, and honestly, it’s been nothing but a constant disappointment ever since!
By the early 90s, most technology experts agreed that Virtual Reality was set to transform the future of entertainment, and many predicted that it would be a must-have piece of home consumer tech by the end of the century.
Unfortunately, this never really materialised, and failed products like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy proved that consumers just weren’t ready to accept headsets into the home.
Having said that, the tech has moved on a lot since then, and in 2013 VR looks like it may finally be ready to enter the mainstream, thanks to a new entertainment peripheral, the Oculus Rift.
Stereo 8 (8 track)
Although a list of failed tech would seem incomplete without the inclusion of the 8-track, really, it’s unfair to call the technology a failure, as it was incredibly popular during the late 60s and throughout the 70s.
Stereo 8 was the first product to bring high quality recorded sound to the automotive market, but was superseded by the launch of the Compact Cassette / Musicassette (that’s a “tape” to you and me). Despite enjoying early advantages in sound quality over the smaller cassette, the 8-track couldn’t be rewound.
The 8-track was also designed to be cheap, and featured a flimsy plastic case that was prone to cracking, along with a tendency to jam as it got older. By the mid-1970s improvements to sound quality in cassettes heralded the beginning of the end as consumers abandoned the 8-track, and the arrival of the CD in 1982 was the last nail in the 8-track’s flimsy plastic coffin.
After seeing the Sega Saturn soundly thrashed by upstart Sony’s PlayStation in the mid 90s, SEGA was determined to fight back. In 1998, the company launched the Dreamcast, an innovative 128-bit powerhouse that was streets ahead of the competition.
Despite several features that were ahead of its time, like a built-in modem and VGA input, alongside great titles like Crazy Taxi, Shenmue and Jet Set Radio, the console failed to capture the imagination of consumers. Poor Japanese sales, combined with dwindling 3rd party support meant that the console was effectively dead by 2002, and ended up being SEGA’s last foray into the hardware market.
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