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Dead medium: Vidscan
From: matthew@brickwork.smart.net (Matthew Porter)
Source(s): Mondo 2000 Fall 1989 issue

VidScan

The only information I could find about this (Dead? Stillborn?) medium is from a two-page advertisement in the first issue of MONDO 2000 magazine. (This was the Fall 1989 issue. My copy of the issue says #7 on the cover, since it followed Issue #6 of its predecessor publication, REALITY HACKERS. The cover shows a goggle-eyed Todd Rundgren reading REALITY HACKERS #6.)

The first page of the two-page VidScan ad describes the new medium. VidScan was to have been a paperless magazine distributed over regular broadcast or cable TV signals. The magazine would be broadcast in the form of a 30-second commercial spot, which the reader would record on a VCR and then read by viewing the tape on freeze-frame; each frame of the 30-second spot would be a "page" of the magazine.

The ad states that "We now have the capability to freeze video frames without 'jitter.' Jitter-free imaging is the necessary prerequisite for this convergent technology. ... New computer animation software and sophisticated 24-bit color graphics software combined with new 16 and 24-bit color NTSC frame-buffer cards open up the capacity to transmit sophisticated still images over broadcast and cable television channels."

(The 30-second spots may have been interesting to watch at full speed, too. Something like Max Headroom "blipverts"?)

The second page of the two-page ad is a questionnaire about the prospective VidScan reader's access to TV and computer hardware, as well as questions about local broadcast and cable TV outlets (probably for the purpose of finding carriers for the 30-second VidScan spots). The ad states that the information gathered through these questionnaires would be used "in convincing advertisers (a notoriously monolithic lot) that they should buy a frame or two."

The ad does not say anything about the content of the VidScan paperless magazine, but given the ad's placement in MONDO 2000 and its hype of the technology involved, I expect it was to have been aimed at a tech-head audience.

The ad promises that anyone who sends in the questionnaire and a SASE would receive a subscription to the newsletter INSIDE VIDSCAN, including the table of contents for the VidScan magazine and a transmission schedule. The address was (is?):

Future Media -- Inside VidScan

PO Box 11632

Berkeley, CA 94701

I never did send in my questionnaire, and I never heard anything about VidScan after this advertisement. I don't know if an issue of the paperless magazine was ever broadcast. Certainly today VidScan is an idea whose time has gone -- paperless magazines are here, thanks to the internet and the World Wide Web, with far greater capabilities than flipping frame-by-frame through a videotape. But the idea was an interesting one in 1989. It would have been a great to see the infrastructure of a stagnant medium -- television -- give birth to some strange new mode of publishing.

Matthew Porter matthew@brickwork.smart.net