I know what you're thinking: "Of course, I remember laser disks. I still have some in my basement!"

But that's not what I am referring to. I'm talking about video disks.

A friend and I were discussing my recent article, "Can You Identify These '70s Objects?" and the topic of home video came up. I then mentioned how much fun we had watching video disks in the early '80s. He replied, "Like video laser disks? The ones that look like giant CDs." I said, "No, the ones that looked like 78 RPM records."

He stared at me, bewildered.

It wasn't a figment of my imagination. Video record disks did indeed exist. I clearly remember going to the "video store" to not only rent the video disks but also rent  the player for them. Yes, you rented this very heavy machine, placed it in your car's backseat, and drove home with a couple of video disks on your lap.

What a time to be alive!

One of my core memories was the fact that you never actually saw the disk (at least in the version we used) because you would take the album-sized heavy plastic sleeve and slide the whole darn thing into the machine, then pull out the sleeve and the disk would stay in the machine and start to play. You can see a demonstration above.


Launched on March 22, 1981, RCA's videodisc system had a lot riding on it.

According to a 2012 article in Wired Magazine, RCA's much-anticipated SelectaVision videodisc system, which was once again—incredibly—basically a record player that played video, finally hit U.S. stores. After investing 15 years and $200 million (!) in its development, the system ultimately flopped, faded into obscurity (remember Betamax?) and almost brought the whole company down with it.

RCA Video Disk Ad Campaign
RCA Video Disk Ad Print Campaign c. 1982

The ad campaign to promote the new technology came with a hefty $20 million price tag—quite a sum for the early '80s. It included several TV commercials (which you can watch in this article) and a multi-page print campaign (examples above). These ads highlighted why this technology was a must-have for 1980s households, from enhancing your social life to keeping your darn kids "off the street."

"It's 10 PM, do you know where your children are?" Watching SelectaVision, RCA hoped!


But alas, these things were heavy—really heavy—clocking in at 20 pounds. And according to the Wired article, the cheapest box cost $500, which explains why my family chose to rent instead of own. The limited selection of titles had an average price of about 18 bucks which was again, not cheap.

While video LaserDisks gained popularity and even developed a certain caché, RCA VideoDisks met their end in April 1984.

Did RCA's VideoDisk players end up as garage clutter? Take a look at what typically filled an '80s garage in our list below.

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