Unusual afterlives



The gadgets that refuse to die

Invented by JVC, the VHS format became predominant in the 1980s and while DVDs, Blu-rays and streaming are far more popular today, JVC ceased production of stand-alone VCRs only in 2008. By then, it had sold more than 50 million of them.

Panasonic stopped selling VCRs in Japan in 2011, though production continues at factories in China and Slovakia and Panasonic makes VHS/Blu-ray players.

VHS remains popular among serious film fans. "In the 1980s, there was a wave of horror, action and B-movies released on VHS which have never made the leap to DVD," says Sam Ashurst, Total Film's deputy online editor and a self-confessed VHS nerd. "Sometimes the films were made so quickly and cheaply to fill the shelves at VHS stores that the negatives were not kept. In other cases the films were so bad no one would ever bother to re-release them but they have a kitsch appeal to completists."

Hollywood has also recently experimented with releasing limited-edition brand-new VHS tapes as promotional tools including Miami Connection and the horror anthology V/H/S. Whether they have real mass appeal is uncertain, however. A Facebook page called "I still use VHS tapes" has fewer than 200 Likes. Its administrator, Mike MacIntosh, says: "I find it's the nostalgia that always brings me back. For some reason it just feels better to have a black plastic brick play a movie for me instead of a disc."

Time was when no self-respected music lover would be seen without their portable cassette player. Although the Walkman brand was Sony's, it became so ubiquitous with these audio devices following its 1979 release that all such tech was casually given this moniker.
Today, MP3s rule the roost, but it was not until 2010 that Sony announced it was ceasing production.

Cassette players continue to be made, though, and there are lots of tape evangelists around. "Interest in cassettes has grown in recent years," says Stephen Mejias, writer for stereophile.com. "Cassettes are still being made, mostly by very small independent labels, although a few of the larger indies, such as Domino, Sub Pop and 4AD, have recently joined the fold.

Tapes are often extremely limited — editions in as few as 50 or 100 copies are not uncommon — and they're generally lovingly packaged." Beyond music, cassettes have been used for all sorts of, often kitschy, things from collage, sculptures and purses to USB thumb drives.

In today's era of cloud computing, high-capacity blank CDs and DVDs and USB thumb drives, the floppy disk has inevitably gone out of fashion. They became commercially available in 1971, with most people remembering the cardboard 5.25in and blue 3.5in varieties. But while Apple dropped the disk drive from the iMac in 1998 and the likes of Hewlett-Packard stopped supplying floppy drives on business desktops in 2009, they are still in use today.

"System admins and engineers might need them when fixing older computers and retro fans would need them for games on older home computers," says Micro Mart editor Anthony Enticknap.

The idea of floppies also lives on with most people seeing them as save icons on productive software such as word processors.

Launched in 1992, around 22 million units have been sold since but it will be scrapped next month. Sony says MiniDisc cartridges will continue to be sold. Some radio reporters still use them for news gathering.

With the first commercial telefax service launching in 1865 before even phones were invented, internet communication has largely taken over. Except in Japan, where millions still prefer to send documents this way (1.7 million machines were sold last year).

The fourth PlayStation was announced yesterday, but the second console, which was launched in 2000, was not discontinued until January this year. In that time it became the world's most successful games console, having sold 150 million units. Games are still being made for it, including the recent Fifa 13.

In 1965, Kodak introduced Super 8 film. Originally it was able to record only images but the capacity for sound was added in 1973. Kodak continues to sell Super 8 film today and there are film festivals which celebrate the format.

When Nintendo's Game Boy was released in 1989, it was an instant success. It went on to sell nearly 120 million units until it was discontinued as late as 2003. As well as games, the machine was famous for its music output — the Tetris theme has been sampled and used in a variety of tunes by bands such as Doctor Spin.

Although you will have to go to eBay to pick up a Game Boy today, musicians still love it. Matthew C Applegate, aka Pixelh8, has created software called Music Tech for the Game Boy, which allows him to use the handheld as a real-time synthesiser. "These wonderful devices were a huge part of our lives and we wanted them to shine again," he says. "The Game Boy was small, brilliantly designed and it produces amazing sounds. It was simply us adapting our toys into a means of expression." The Game Boy has eight inputs — up, down, left, right, select, start, A and B. Applegate mapped these to musical keys and plays what are called chiptunes "to shake nightclubs to their foundations".

In the late 1990s, pagers were common among those who did not want an expensive mobile-phone contract. Pay-as-you-go mobiles sent pagers on their way but they are still being made and used, primarily in hospitals — for now, anyway.

Research has shown that someone frequently paged can spend 20 per cent of their time looking for and waiting on phones. Peterborough City Hospital has ditched pagers – which were introduced into hospitals in the 1950s — and has been using a two-way, hands-free device which can be slung around the neck or worn as a badge.

Mary Day, matron for surgery and musculoskeletal, said: "One of the many advantages of using hands-free communications is the fact it increases direct patient time. I can still be caring for a patient and require some assistance from a therapist or another nurse. It reduces time spent finding that assistance or having to leave the patient to use the phone or answer my pager."

Invented in the 1860s, typewriters became incredibly popular very quickly but computers caused them to go out of favour. Brother made the last UK typewriter in November 2012. They are still often used in Latin America and Africa, though, because they don't need power.

Polaroid announced it was scrapping its instant cameras and instant films in 2008, around 60 years after they came into being. In 2010, it came back with the Polaroid 300, however, and it still sells instant cameras, albeit digital ones, today.

Some home computers from the 1980s, such as the Jupiter Ace, barely lasted a couple of years but the Commodore 64, which was launched in 1982, was not discontinued until as late as 1994.

Even then, it refused to die. In 2004, the C64 chip was inserted into a retro-style joystick and bundled with some classic games (selling 70,000 on the first day of sale). Today, enthusiasts continue to make games for the C64 and older titles can be played via the Virtual Console on the Nintendo Wii.

It has proved to be rather inspiring for musicians too. A decade ago, six computer-science students at the University of Copenhagen decided to form a band called PRESS PLAY ON TAPE. They play versions of C64 game music using real instruments, adding drums, bass and distorted guitars to the synthesiser and techno sounds of those classic computer tunes.

"The sound of the Commodore 64 sound chip is quite special," says guitarist Jesper Holm Olsen. "It is thin but powerful and raw all at once. It is also slightly hissy and distorted in a way that our parents hated but we learnt to love. The sound is still so distinct that fans of Commodore 64 music are able to recognise its sound chip anywhere it's being used, even if it is just for a small effect in a piece of modern pop. (David Crook/The Independent)



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