12. The Neck-Strap TV
As seen in: Popular Science, February 1965.
What it was: A Sony portable TV with a 4-inch screen that–unlike most of the gizmos I cover here–actually reached the market, for $200. (That’s around $1400 in 2010 dollars.) It used flashlight batteries and came with an earphone and sunshade; a car adapter cost extra.
Flies in the ointment: It weighed six pounds, and you wore it strapped around your neck. The gent in the photo looks hideously uncomfortable, and you gotta think that extended use would leave anyone a hunchback for life.
When did the basic idea become practical? I’d say that all CRT-based teensy TVs were doomed to be unwieldy. The breakthrough was the introduction of LCD-based ones in the early 1980s.
Modern counterpart: Today’s FloTV is what Sony would have built in 1965 if it could have.
13. The DIY Home TV Tape-Recorder Kit
As seen in: Popular Science, August 1965.
What it was: Wesgrove’s VTR-500, a build-it-yourself video tape recorder. It had no timer, but the article’s author cheerfully explained that you could tell your wife to record the ball game so it would be ready for you when you got home from playing golf. The cost? $400, or about $2700 in 2010 dollars–a fraction of the price of the first store-bought models, which were already on the market.
Flies in the ointment: Well, for starters it that took Popular Science’s author 150 hours to build the recorder and get it working. It recorded on 11 1/4-inch reel-to-reel tapes that could hold only ten minutes of video, sounded “like a runaway lawnmower” and had a tendency to chew up tapes and send reels flying across the room. Also, it couldn’t rewind tapes.
When did the basic idea become practical? The first home VCRs that were cheap, easy, and useful enough to catch on appeared in 1975 (Betamax) and 1976 (VHS).
Modern counterparts: TiVo and/or DVD recorders–neither of which ever spit anything across the room.
14. Computer Tutors
As seen in: LIFE, January 1967.
What it was: A pilot program in which first graders in troubled East Palo Alto, California learned English and math via computer terminals hooked up to an IBM 1500 mainframe. The educational system, designed by IBM at a cost of $30 million, included both a CRT and a projection screen, 3D graphics, voice synthesis, and a touch-screen interface that let kids tap a pen to to the screen to answer questions.
Flies in the ointment: Actually, it still sounds pretty cool. Except for the cost: The East Palo Alto school system spent $1.5 million in mid-1960s dollars to educate 100 kids via computer for one year, or fifteen grand per child. That’s close to a hundred grand a kid in 2010 dollars.
When did the basic idea become practical? Within a few years of LIFE’s article, relatively affordable minicomputers started to show up in schools. And education was a major application of personal computers from the time they arrived in the mid-1970s.
15. The Home Teletypewriter
As seen in: Popular Science, May 1967.
What it was: PopSci asked its writer, C.P. Gilmore, to use “a real computer at home”–which in this pre-PC era meant using a Teletype machine to connect to a GE 235 mainframe via dial-up. He used it to calculate heating costs for his home and play tic-tac-toe. And he helpfully explains in the story that while people once thought there would someday be inexpensive home computers, “now we know it won’t be like that at all.” Connecting to mainframes was just going to be too cost-effective.
Side note: Popular Science used the article to introduce a service in which readers could get access to mainframe programs by filling out forms with input data and mailing them to PopSci, which would then run them program and send the results back in a S.A.S.E. the reader had supplied. It may have been the least real-time approach to computing in the history of the universe.
Flies in the ointment: Gilmore had to write most of his own programs in BASIC and feed them into the Teletype via its built-in punch-tape reader. Output was on paper, so there were no fancy graphics. And renting the Teletype and paying for timesharing service didn’t come cheap: It was about $180 a month, or $1300 in current dollars.
When did the basic idea become practical? Within a dozen years of Gilmore’s piece, a meaningful number of computer hobbyists were using PCs to dial into the Source, CompuServe, and BBSes. They engaged in activities that were only a little more advanced than his experiments, but at a much lower cost.
Modern counterpart: Cloud computing!
More tech nostalgia from Technologizer: