A floppy disk is sort of a precursor to the modern USB, but it takes a special slot in a device to read it now that they’re outdated. They don’t have enough memory to compete with USBs! Normally their internal memory is measured in kilobytes, where it’s difficult to even find a USB under 4 GB. Even so, their influence is still seen today. The save logo for Microsoft Word (and many other programs) is still the classic outline of a floppy disc.
They came in many shapes and sizes as manufacturers tried to optimize for their individual devices. The 3.5 inch was the most commonly used, but smaller sizes like the 2 inch were manufactured for early portable camera usage. Strange crossovers with other media formats, like optical drives, were also seen, but didn’t usually see much success even if they were backwards compatible, adaptor friendly, etc. etc. Once floppies were pushed out of the computer standard, it was easier to buy an adaptor than an adaptable floppy disk.
CD stands for Compact Disc, and it still packs a punch for its size. CDs used to be the only way to get any real quality sound at a cheap price, and for a while they reigned supreme. Optical drives were able to hold more data in any given space than magnet-based storage, and were usually sturdier to boot. Ultimately, the convenience and improving download speed of digital music won out (so much that cars now sometimes come without a CD slot). They don’t degrade very fast, if at all, so they’ll stick around even if new media devices stop supporting them, much like their spiritual sibling, the cassette tape.
VHS tapes are well-remembered by many. Upon launch, part of their release standard was that the VHS’s quality must be at least as good as broadcast TV! However, there are many issues with VHS as a storage choice. VHSs degrade over time, and there’s basically no way to stop it. The film is magnetic, so the media is subjected to the same issues that any magnetic media suffers from: heat, cold, strong impacts, etc. can all kill a VHS prematurely. Radiation also negatively impacts VHS tapes, the same way it does movie reels, but the average user is less likely to run into radiation than they are their own hot car.
While the whir of the VHS reader is nostalgic, other media options have better fidelity, and better long-term storage ability. You’ll notice in the jump from VHS to Blu-Ray, a lot of the details on old Disney films were lost. To get the clarity back to Disney standards, the film they had needed to be ‘scrubbed’. Cinderella’s dress ruffles and nose sometimes go missing, and even finer details like the prince’s eyelashes phase in and out of existence, because the fuzz was part of the physical film it was stored on.
Eight-track is a fantastic example of tech evolution. It was successful, just not as successful as it’s more recent buddy: the compact cassette tape. Eight-tracks had limited room for any one specific song because of how they played the music back, so particularly long songs would be cut in half across the tracks. It couldn’t rewind. It was also a little less sturdy than cassette players. However, it didn’t have to be flipped to play all the way through an album. Initial release models could hold about 80 minutes of recorded sound, which for a non-flipping device is pretty good! Compact cassettes managed about 60 minutes per side, and were a natural progression of the tape-based sound family. Super Eights were great for the time, but like a lot of these items, they just died out when better tech came along.
The older sibling of the VHS, magnetic tapes were used to store information for computers. This was actually developed before magnetic drums were, and they first saw use in 1928 Germany, vs. the magnetic drum in 1932 Austria and the magnetic disk in 1955. Magnetic tape was inexpensive for the time, and since computers weren’t exactly playing Minesweeper yet, they didn’t have to do too much to keep their spot as a reliable memory medium. The tape’s ability to record and access data quickly was incredibly important for the development of modern computers.
Besides computer memory, magnetic tape also revolutionized many media industries. The radio industry gained the ability to play clips of talk shows and the like 24/7 because of magnetic tapes, for example. The improved recording ability meant that DJs could record content for later use! Media that was previously only stored in gramophone technology could be recorded with magnetic tape with minimal quality loss, which had previously been a huge struggle.
Some legacy machines are still using magnetic tape to this day, and I’m not just sarcastically including VHS.
The Super Eight film medium becoming available is a significant point in recording history. In the movie ‘Super Eight’, the camera the boys shoot their short film on is an 8mm capable camera. Super Eight film was an advancement over the standard 8 mm film available for home filming at the time: the exposure area was wider, and it’s sound-recording ability was better. This doesn’t hold up to things like the VHS recorder, which are both reusable and more convenient to use, but it was still a landmark moment for consumer recording and filmmaking. Images were crisper, clearer, and held better color!
Some movies still use the classic “film caught on light and burnt” visual as a scene transition. This used to happen in real life when film was reel-based, because the film was very thin, delicate plastic. If it got snagged in front of the very hot projector bulb, that scene was burnt out of the movie, and the reel was ruined. This is understandably very frustrating for theater owners who now have to refund tickets and sort out getting a replacement.
Reel movies are still used by some theaters today, despite how delicate they can be. An interesting side-fact about film is that it’s also easily distorted by radiation – which is how filmmakers found out there was nuclear testing going on North of Utah. Their film would come in hazy, because the radioactive particles stuck in the packing-hay from the area were creating haze in unused film.