Gauss Electrophysics, a small company making a name for itself with the manufacture of high-speed audio tape
duplication equipment, was seeking outside investors. Gauss co-founders David Paul Gregg and Keith
Johnson, in addition to their established audio tape business, continued development work on an optical video disc,
conceived by Gregg in the late 50s. Late in 1967, Gauss' activities were brought to the attention of MCA President
Lew Wasserman by assistant Don Wynn. The concept of a video disc was appealing. With over 11,000 motion pictures
sitting in the warehouse with nothing to do but deteriorate into oblivion and with the knowledge of the coming
consumer video revolution, a videodisc system could give MCA a giant head start in the pending video arena wars.
In February 1968, MCA purchased controlling interest in Gauss as well as the patents Gauss had applied for in the
First Press Showing
The first press showing of MCA's Disco-Vision system occurred on December 12, 1972 on a sound stage at Universal
MCA handed out a press kit that contained pictures of mock-up boxes, pictures of the player, a sample disc,
labeled Airport . It is unknown if the sample discs contain any actual
program as the only player ever capable of playing these discs was a prototype unit shown in the image on the right.
However, a the prototype player did play a video program which ran seven minutes and contained clips of MCA's film
collection. Representatives from electronics companies around the world were invited and were members of the press.
Kent Broadbent gave a presentation on the technical aspects of the system and distributed a paper that went into
great depth about the system.
By what some might consider a strange coincidence, Philips was developing a very similar optical Videodisc system in
the Netherlands. It really wasn't that far fetched as Gauss Electrophysics had pitched the videodisc system to
Philips in 1967, but they elected to pass. Representatives from Philips were at the press conference in December
1972, and impressed by what was demonstrated, contacted Disco-Vision immediately. The two systems were strikingly
similar in many respects. Disco-Vision did have a distinct advantage as they had been able to demonstrate their system
from replicated discs, where Philips was still using the glass master as the playback source. Competing and
incompatible optical disc formats would potentially kill either system. This and the knowledge that electronics giant
RCA was readying its own stylus based playback system, CED - trade named RCA
SelectaVision, Disco-Vision and Philips began talks of merging their systems. In September 1974, the two parties
entered into a "period of cooperation". Technology information would flow freely between the two laboratories.
After much bickering on the corporate level, it was finally agreed that MCA Disco-Vision would focus on the disc
mastering and replication and Philips, through its Magnavox line of consumer electronics would manufacture and
distribute the playback system.
MCA Laboratories had the pressing and mastering facility in the Torrance location and when the system finally standardized and all the kinks were thought to be worked out of the system, test discs were produced in late 1976 and early 1977. These discs were produced to fulfill a number of needs:
The Day of the Jackal
The Andromeda Strain
High Planes Drifter
Jesus Christ Superstar
The Railway Children
The Marcus-Nelson Murders
Julia Child: Boeuf Bourguignon
Julia Child: Quiche Lorraine
Defect rates during this period were reportedly quite high - Some estimates place the defect rate as high as 95%. Other than the typical DiscoVision speckling, the thinness of the discs caused excessive warpage which resulted in tracking problems. As with many aspects of DiscoVision, necessity is the mother of invention and the cure for the disc warping problem came in the form of bonding two discs together. This would not only give the disc added rigidity, but would help to further protect the recording surface, which was so exposed to damage with the single sided discs. Of course, the concept of bonded discs added an entirely new layer of complexity to the system and it would take another 18 months to develop a process to bond the discs together which didn't damage the recorded material.
A few die-hard collectors have samples of discs from this period. Rarity or value is pointless to speculate on since these were never discs which were readily available. Most have been obtained from engineers who worked directly in the research facility in Torrence.
The "period of cooperation" between MCA and Philips left an opening for MCA - and Philips - to look outside of the joint efforts. This allowed MCA to continue to look to hardware manufacturers for Disco-Vision's stretch into industrial applications. When Philips decided not to pursue this side of the market, MCA approached the Japanese then electronics "lightweight" Pioneer. The formation of Universal Pioneer in October 1977 forged the way for Pioneer to begin the design - to the original Disco-Vision specifications - of the industrial monster the PR-7820 industrial video disc player. Originally devised to produce industrial hardware for the system, Universal Pioneer was able to convince MCA of the need for a mastering and pressing facility in Japan. Based on the information provided by the now operating Carson facility, Universal Pioneer began work on their disc replication facility in Kofu.
The burning in Atlanta
MCA DiscoVision (now without the previous hyphen) and Magnavox held a joint press conference in the ballroom of
the Regency Hotel in New York on December 13, 1978. Atlanta Georgia was to be the initial city for the consumer
introduction of the DiscoVision/Magnavision system. Two days later, on December 15, 1978, MCA DiscoVision discs
and the Magnavox Magnavision VH-8000 player went on sale publicly at 3 Atlanta stores. Magnavox had tried to keep
the date of the launch a secret and had a terrible time in getting enough players from the assembly line in Europe.
A target of 50 $749.00 players were expected to be available in Atlanta, but only about 25 actually made it to the
opening of the doors. Within a few hour of opening, all 3 Atlanta stores were officially sold out. Discs sold at
a brisk pace, even to people who couldn't get a player.
Almost as quickly as the doors opened in Atlanta and Seattle heralding the arrival of DiscoVision/Magnavision, the
complaints began rolling in. Various reports from disc quality and player incompatibilities to complete player
failure started flooding both companies. Many believed that the system had been introduced too early in an attempt
from being released too late. Additional cities were added to the system throughout 1979 as titles continued
to trickle off the lines at DiscoVision. Philips, in an effort to try and figure why disc playback was so
problematic, began studying the problem. DiscoVision too began looking into the problem. Each blamed the other.
Eventually, DiscoVision engineers suggested several modifications to the players which would allow the
Magnavision player to play the production discs. Philips determined these modifications were to "band-aid" their
player to allow discs which were not up to spec. All the while, DiscoVision fed information to Pioneer in Japan
who's PR-7820 was playing discs with relatively few problems.
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