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The CED or Capacitance Electronic Disc was a form of media that started development in the early 1960’s but did not see commercial release until 1981. In the most basic terms CED is movies on vinyl discs. The players were manufactured and sold between late 1980 and 1884 and around 1,700 titles were ultimately made available on the CED.

The players were produced in relatively large numbers in North America (about 500,000) but many individuals Ive personally talked to that were of the age to have disposable income in the early 80’s have no memory of these machines and are always shocked at the idea of movies on a vinyl record. These players were also sold in smaller numbers in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

Video quality was roughly on par with VHS standards of the time but which media looked slightly better seems to depend on who you ask with some sources saying it looked slightly better. I find that VHS seems to have held up a little better picture wise. CED was intended to be a cheap form of home movie viewing and was slated for a 1977 release but was pushed back to 1981. By that time Laserdisc, VHS and Beta were well on the scene and in the case of VHS and Beta prices were dropping to affordable levels.

My model is a relatively low-mid end RCA SGT-100W. CED players can be pretty hard to find these days at thrifts or yard sales and even on sites like Craigslist and OfferUp. eBay is always an alternative but like most “rare, collectables” prices plus shipping can be outrageous. Even on local sites like Craigslist people tend to want unreasonable amounts. I paid $50 for my player which I think is pretty fair. Interestingly though actual CED movies are quite common and cheap. I see them on a fairly common basis at thrifts and prices for all but the rarest titles are very reasonable online.

My player seen above is obviously a product of the time with bad wood grain casing but more modern players in all silver and blacks were available. These players were also marketed as “Selectovision” which is labeled in blue on the face of my player. The CEDs themselves come in protective caddies and are inserted via a long slit at the front of the machine and play mode is engaged by a large switch. Not all players used this switch mechanism and some of the more high end or late players used an auto load mechanism. This, though looking more modern, tends to be less reliable as auto load trays being more complex tend to break down more with time then the simpler manual loaders.

The switch or lever seen above on the far right is for loading and playing movies on this particular player as well as functioning as a on/off switch. It’s a little strange and awkward at first to use this thing since its nothing like the processes on a VCR or DVD player though It is worth pointing out again that not all CED players use this manual giant switch load/play method.

all the way to the left there are two lights labeled side 1 and 2. This just is there to indicate what side of the CED is playing. Much like a Laserdisc A CED only can hold about 60 minutes on each side and thus needs flipped at the half way point for standard length movies.

Rapid Access buttons are merely fast forward and rewind and video search button could be held down to rapidly skip ahead or to previous scenes. Finally the pause button does just what it says and pauses the movie though this causes thew screen to blank as the stylus is raised from the disc being played.

Here is the back of my RCA SGT-100W. As far as video and audio connections go my model only supports RF out as well as a switch for channel 3 and 4. For some reason with this machine I’ve had better luck getting an image on channel 4 then on 3. RF quality unfortunately is not very good and is the worst video output method available. Some higher end CED players do offer composite out which offers a noticeably better image as well as makes it much easier to hook a CED player up to more modern TV sets. I have read it may be possible to modify RF only players for composite but it may be easier or cheaper to just acquire a higher end CED player with composite out.

It may be a little hard to see but at the top of the player on the right hand side but more to the center is a little button. This button is used to pop a small hatch on the top of the machine to give access to the stylus.

Once this black cover is removed you have access to the stylus which is a plastic casing with a needle. This works just like a a record player and is needed to read the CED movie discs.

On my player the stylus is held on in a metal cradle with moves on rails over the disc when a CED is playing. To access the stylus there is a small latch that you pull back and then lift up the metal cover. after this is done the stylus can easily be lifted out.

These styluses can and do wear out over time and do need replacing. unfortunately they can be hard to source these days and different models may use a different type of stylus so the form factor stylus I need for this CED player may not work in a different model. Changing them though is incredibly easy and is basically just involved pulling the old one and placing a new one down in its place.

Now lets take a look at the CED movies themselves.

Here are two CED films. CEDs with mono soundtracks came in white plastic cases where CEDs with stereo sound came in blue. You never actually touch the vinyl itself or at least your not supposed to. The vinyl movie itself is in these plastic caddy carriers. When you insert the CED movie into the player it grabs the end of the case and as you pull the case out the vinyl slides out of the case it is in and onto the turntable. This is actually a really good solution RCA came up with to protect the vinyl movies as they can be very susceptible to dust and finger prints. Dust and grim can still find their way onto discs and cause skipping. repeated viewings can correct this issue.

Speaking of repeated viewings, CED movies do have a finite life and after about 500 viewings the quality can degrade considerably. For home use this isn’t to bad as it is unlikely a single individual or even a family would of watched a movie 500 times or more but for something like rental this could become an issue. This was never an issue though as CED’s were never popular enough to find a place in the rental market of the time.

The image above compares size between a CED, Laserdisc and a DVD in the case/sleeve. The CED is slightly larger then a Laserdisc and like LDs if the movie was longer then 120 minutes it ether had to be edited down or spread across multiple CED discs. Unlike LDs there were only a few widescreen versions of films released and then only in North America so the vast majority of titles seem to be mono sound and full screen format.

My friend owns an SGT 200 model that features stereo sound as well as composite output for superior image quality. I asked to test a few CED movies on it and although the Image was superior to my CED player it was still pretty lacking and suffered from continuous skipping issues likly due to an old stylus.

As far as quality goes you can expect a player with a new stylus and a CED with fairly low use to give about the image quality of a VHS though these days with second hand players and discs expect watchable but slightly lower then VHS quality as the norm for something you pick up from a yard sale or thrift store. The image from a CED seems to be more stable then an image produced from a VCR player with no tracking line issues but then you do have to tend with skipping due to possible dust issues or worn out stylus needles.

CED was meant to be a cheap means for consumers to watch movies in the home and if it came out in the 1970’s it very well may of been a success. This scenario wasn’t the case however and the CED wasn’t introduced until 1981. By this time prices for VHS and Beta players were already becoming affordable and Laserdisc was occupying the markets high end. CED wasn’t standing much of a chance even with the budget market. Even though quality and at first, price was comparable to VHS add the inconvenience of disc size and the idea of having to flip a disc mid movie and VHS was the clear winner. Not to even mention the ability of VHS to record programming. Like Laserdisc, CED could not record programs off TV but at least Laserdisc had the advantage of a vastly better image quality over both CED and VHS/Beta.

So in the end CED faded off into relative obscurity not even being remembered by the majority of consumers and movie lovers of the time. As for picking one up in modern times it’s really up in the air. CED’s really offer nothing that you cant find elsewhere. The quality is poor and none of the movies that I know of can’t be found on either VHS, DVD, LD or Blu-ray nor are any movies or special cuts of a movie available on CED that can’t be found elsewhere as well. at least with Laserdisc or even VHS there are some movies that have never found official release on DVD or Blu-ray or have features or versions not found else ware but this doesn’t seem to be the case with CED. Even VHS likely offers the same movie but in a widescreen version with comparable quality and more convenience in size and no disc flipping.

Another thing to keep in mind is price. CED movies themselves tend to be very cheap, even brand new and sealed but players seem to be relatively hard to find if not using eBay. They also tend to be expensive and are commonly tagged with words such as “Rare” and “Collectable”. In my opinion they aren’t worth more then $30 or $50 for a working player as just a novelty but most places seem to want at least $100. There is an active CED collector community and it is a neat little machine so I don’t mean to poo-poo to much on it but I do want potential newcomers to the CED to be aware. If you do find a a CED player at a thrift for a high price don’t be afraid to haggle. I had one friend find a player for $120 but after a few weeks was able to get the price down to $60.

 

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