RCA Capacitive Electronic Disk

capacitive video disk

Although not a hack in the sense that it was made by a large corporation, check out this capacitive electronic disk that [danielbpm] wrote in about. Here’s a Wikipedia article about it, as well as a video (which didn’t embed correctly) about how it was made. The disks look like a typical audio record, and it was conceived of in 1964. A prototype was manufactured in 1972.

Unlike the more well-known Laserdisk format, the [Capacitive Electronic disk], or [CED] used an actual stylus to read the disks. Because of this, the [Wikipedia] article astutely points out that both systems were mutually incompatible. Somewhere there might have been a scratched Laserdisk next to the VCR with a sandwich stuffed in it. The computer with a broken coffee holder wouldn’t come for another few years.

Although it may have been a good format in it’s own right, like Betamax or HD-DVD, this system wasn’t destined to become the Blu-Ray player of it’s time.

25 thoughts on “RCA Capacitive Electronic Disk

  1. I used to sell/service those in the early 80’s.
    At a pre-launch seminar, I was told that RCA made the stylus user replaceable, to give the customer some feeling of control over the device. Unfortunately, giving users/kids access to the stylus was the biggest downfall, as it was too easily damaged. The disks needed to be in the sleeves as they too were susceptible to scratches/dust. And it was the access door for the stylus which provided the biggest “gateway” for contaminants to enter the machine and disk surface.
    It did have a decent picture though, much better than VHS, and probably BetaMax.

    1. Aside from the replacing the stylus, or rescuing a disk trapped in the player, the next most needed service was replacing the drive belt for the stylus positioner.

  2. Irony: The Blu-Ray player is more and more looking like Betamax and HD-DVD.

    DVDs are still reigning, and if anything digital downloads will take over from DVD.

    1. I read an article suggesting that the only reason Microsoft went with HD-DVD for the Xbox 360 was to disrupt the market a little, while waiting for broadband speeds to catch up with their digital download ambitions.

      But I totally agree – download/streaming is the way forward now – I know so many people who will not be buying a BluRay player as they don’ need to to get HD video on their TVs

  3. “Because of this, the [Wikipedia] article astutely points out that both systems were mutually incompatible. Somewhere there might have been a scratched Laserdisk next to the VCR with a sandwich stuffed in it. The computer with a broken coffee holder wouldn’t come for another few years.”

    say what? O_o

    1. The PB&J stuck in the VCR was a common occurrence when kids were involved. One of my friends did this back in the 1980’s when one of his parents said “the VCR is sick.” His reasoning was that PB&J sandwiches made him feel better when he was sick.

    2. I did wish I had that coffee holder right now… *towels off keys* Uhh… I didn’t stick it in there for that, I put it in to help boost the memory. If elephants eat peanuts and can never forget, then logically, a PB&J sandwich can certainly help the VCR “read” better. :D

    3. Just about all kids seem to go through a stage of wanting to “post” things. Perhaps it’s as they’re learning that objects still exist even when they can’t be seen. Anyway, VCR’s were a common victim of this stage of childhood development.

      1. Yep, I damaged a vcr when i was young too. ruined a chess set while at it. I stuck atleast one of the pieces in. My parents learned their lesson and bought a child lock for it after that.

    4. I think Jeremy was implying that surely someone might have stuffed (or at least attempted) a LaserDisc in a CED player, resulting in the stylus scratching it.

      As for the peanut butter sandwich, I’ve seen that in my early years while working at a video rental store with rental VHS players. Other foreign items were found too. One came back stuffed with losing lottery tickets.


  4. I had one of those players growing up. Since we’re talking about hacks, here is a valid playback hack for the RCA video disc player:

    Hold the left and right seek buttons (not the fast forward ones). This will cause it to freeze on the current frame. I won’t lie, I used to use this trick for certain scenes of Stripes. Don’t judge.


  5. I remember these quite fondly. Picture quality was awesome for the time. When we got it, the first three disks we bought were the ’70s Bugs Bunny movie, Watership Downs, and Wargames. Wore that machine out w/ those three. I’m sure that has some blame for how I turned out.

    I still own a MASSIVE collection of disks; when RCA discontinued the device we bought up a spare player, some spare parts (styluses and rubber belts) and a lot of disks. For years I used find old disks at the Half-Price Books, antique stores & pawn shops.

    It was sad that it didn’t stick around. It seemed to be a thing for my parents to bet on the losing horse in the long term… I also had a Magnavox Odyssey 2 instead of the Atari 2600. When we bought an Atari, we got the 5200. We almost bought a CD-i, but fortunately came to our senses. =^.^=;

  6. Crazy CED factoid. There was only one machine ever made to grind the stylus tips for CED players. No matter the brand name on the player, 100% of the stylus tips were ground on that one machine.

    There were plans to build more of those machines as sales of the players and discs picked up, except they didn’t as the MCA Disc-O-Vision (later renamed to the less 70’s sounding LaserDisc) beat the pants off of CED in sales volume.

    The CED stylus didn’t actually go down into the groove, it rode along the top edges. The video and audio signals were encoded via constantly varying capacitance of the gap between the groove walls and an electrode on the trailing edge of the stylus. Tracking was done by an electronic system driven by a servo motor.

    The discs were carbon coated styrene coated with a lubricating oil. Eventually the oil would thin out, leading to wear of the carbon coating, which caused degradation of the signal.

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