1978: Computers And Electronics
Archives consist of articles that originally appeared in Collier's Year Book (for events of 1997 and earlier) or as monthly updates in Encarta Yearbook (for events of 1998 and later). Because they were published shortly after events occurred, they reflect the information available at that time. Cross references refer to Archive articles of the same year.
1978: Computers And Electronics
The computer, a commonplace tool of big industry and institutions in the early 1970's, has begun to filter down into small businesses and into the home over the past few years. Formerly, the cost had kept computers out of the hands of individuals. But by 1978, cost and size had been reduced enough so that sales of the so-called minicomputers and microcomputers expanded dramatically. Uses ranged all the way from payrolls to Christmas card lists. There were also advances in computer memory technology and in systems of television and radio transmission.
Minicomputers and microcomputers truly invaded the world of small businesses this year. It is estimated that in 1978, U.S. minicomputer shipments increased 22 percent over the previous year's unit volume. Microcomputer sales were burgeoning too. In one of its best growth periods to date, the small computer industry will likely reach the $3.5 billion sales mark this year.
Large-computer makers were not idle in this bright field. IBM, for example, was said to account for 4 percent of 1978 minicomputer unit sales with a system, the Series/1, introduced only the previous year. Moreover, the giant computer manufacturer entered a new low-cost system for business users in 1978, the 5110 Computing System. Prices range from $9,875 for a base model to $32,925 for a fully configured system.
There now appear to be three types of computer competitors in the small-business field: minicomputer makers only; large-computer makers offering lower-cost, less powerful minicomputer systems, and microcomputer makers. Microcomputers are encroaching on what was formerly minicomputer territory. They have been distinguished from minicomputers by their smaller size, lower cost, limited software programs, and spotty repair and service facilities. But these differences are being narrowed, so that there is now a hazy area where the two types are in direct competition.
Furthermore, since low cost is a primary consideration for many small-business owners, less versatile microcomputers have attracted the attention of business people who would otherwise be unable to streamline their operations with a computer. One such popular computer is Radio Shack's under-$4,000 TRS-80 computer business system. (The base model, consisting of a microcomputer with video display monitor and data cassette recorder, costs under $600.) In the same manner, more powerful minicomputers have moved into market areas once served solely by large-computer manufacturers. Digital Equipment Corporation, for example, introduced a 36-bit, low-end large computer to compete with IBM's System/3 and 370 computers. Also, a myriad of minicomputer manufacturers have more powerful machines, dubbed super minis, and array processors added on to standard minicomputers greatly increase computer speed at great cost savings in certain applications. Thus, 1978 has witnessed the beginning of overlapping computer categories.
So-called lemonade computer businesses are springing up around the country too, because of the relatively low cost of small computers. These are small businesses, sometimes operated part-time, that utilize computers to produce a service or product. The entrepreneurs employ small computers to maintain and print out mailing lists for other people, produce automated typewritten personalized letters, and perform various functions for inventory and payroll purposes, among other applications. One can even purchase a computer system with a specific end-business in mind, such as producing biorhythm printouts or computer face portraits on T-shirts—all capable of being done in a minute or so. One company, Computer Games Inc. in Hingham, Mass., is said to have sold over 100 computer portrait systems to people who wish to enter this business.
Computer technology advances.
A number of promising trends in computer technology were observable this year. New central processing units (CPU's) were introduced to enhance computers' throughput. For instance, a host of integrated-circuit manufacturers introduced 16-bit and 32-bit CPU's for small computers, whereas 8-bit CPU's were virtually the only widespread types available previously.
In the memory area, charge-coupled devices (CCD's) and magnetic-bubble memories represented a glimpse of what could be expected to emerge in future years. The CCD, developed by Bell Laboratories in the early 1970's, exhibits greater bit density than commonly used random access memories (RAM). Commercial units that are already supplementing RAM's in some applications include a 64k-bit type. Bubble memories, which are actually small cylindrical magnetic domains in thin film synthetic garnets or ferrites, are commercially available now with as much as 92k-bit memory. One such chip, produced by Texas Instruments, measures only 0.365 inches square and is assembled in a 1 inch by 1 inch by 1/2 inch dual inline package for mounting on a printed-circuit board.
A new generation of computer-controlled robots are now being used in industry. They employ a variety of sensitive sensors and, through computer interaction, now make decisions in response to their environmental circumstances. A telephone-size computerized device introduced in 1978, and known as Coby 1, enables consumers and businesses to save energy and provides convenient switch control and security. It allows remote control of electrical systems and appliances through programmed or direct device commands, none of which requires computer experience. The $600 unit was selected as one of the most innovative consumer electronic products of 1978.
Computer-aided instruction, which showed such great promise in previous years, did not advance this year as many had hoped. It is foreseen that there will eventually be a network of about 1 million instruction terminals, but the educational community has been reluctant thus far to adopt the system, owing to its high costs. Moreover, course-ware has been slow to develop. Interestingly, home computers are finding their way into many local education systems, although much of their use is for teaching computer basics rather than for actual problem solving.
In the consumer audio field, stereophonic sound has obviously been a successful innovation. It has enabled phonograph discs, tape recorders, and FM radio to gain wide public acceptance. Now AM radio, which has not enjoyed the growth of its FM competitor (although it is still a much larger medium), can be expected to join the stereo ranks. There are five competing systems in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission. It is expected that one system will be chosen soon from among them (although the FCC need not necessarily make such a decision).
A new system of television signal transmission was initiated in 1978 for national television broadcasters. As a result, the three network television stations and the Public Broadcasting System now transmit full-fidelity audio extending from 50 hertz to about 15,000 hertz. The audio sections of most television receivers, however, are incapable of reproducing such wide-range sound. Accordingly, separate television tuners have been introduced for operation in conjunction with a high-fidelity system. Pioneer U.S.A. was the first component audio company to introduce such a tuner.
A bevy of projection color television systems were introduced to satisfy people who wished to view television programs on very large screens. Such a system—using lenses to magnify a smaller picture by projecting it onto a screen—was on the market many years ago, but failed because of its dim picture. Henry Kloss, however, developed the first modern-day projection television a few years ago, marketing it under the Advent brand. The system uses three lenses mounted in a console located a few feet in front of a large screen. Now there are many projection television receivers built into one large console, which contains a viewing screen that is folded down when not in use. A single lens is often used.
Sharp Electronics introduced a Dualvision television receiver model, featuring a remote-controlled 21-inch-diagonal color screen with provisions to watch a second channel in black-and-white at the same time. The 6-inch-diagonal second channel can be superimposed on the main color screen and positioned on either the upper or lower right-hand corner of the screen. Audio for the superimposed channel can be heard through headphones. The system uses Bucket Brigade Devices in its computerized memory bank.
The color quality of television receivers is generally improved, because more manufacturers employ vertical interval reference (VIR) circuitry that detects the broadcaster's VIR signal. As a result, there is automatic compensation for improperly changing color intensity and tint at the receiver end. In another advance, not yet incorporated into present color television receivers, electronic devices have been demonstrated that delay the signal for a fraction of a second to eliminate ghosts or multiple reflections and also separate color and luminance signals for greater color fidelity.
A new magnetic tape formulation consisting of metal particles was introduced this year by the 3M Company. It is purported to significantly improve signal-to-noise ratio and is especially applicable to cassette tapes. Simultaneously, Tandberg announced it would produce a cassette deck capable of recording and playing back the new tape. The new tape can be played back on any cassette deck with bias and equalization provisions for chrome tape, but a new design is required for recording purposes. In another audio area, automobile stereo expanded at an enormous rate this year. In particular, high-power boosters, equalizers, improved FM tuners, and new speakers make it possible to obtain better fidelity in a mobile environment.
A new Institute of High Fidelity (IHF) Amplifier Measurement Standard was effected this year. It takes into account advances in audio technology and psycho-acoustics. In particular, a new specification known as dynamic headroom was introduced. This measurement expresses the ratio of an amplifier's power output for short periods of time to its continuous power capability, in decibels. Two other new specifications, transient overload recovery time and slew factor, recognize the importance of an amplifier's ability to respond accurately to musical transients. These and other new measurements will lessen the ambiguities that former specifications caused when one compared specifications of different audio components.
A trial of a new mobile telephone system was conducted by the Bell System in Chicago. Called Advanced Mobile Phone Service (AMPS), it permits conservation of radio frequencies through their reuse. To underscore the need for such a system, Illinois Bell's mobile phone system is crowded by only some 1,000 customers. With AMPS, the system could be expanded to accommodate several hundred thousand users. The mobile service is a high-capacity cellular system concept, first filed with the FCC in December 1971. In the presently used system, a high-power radio transmitter can only cover about 20 miles reliably. Yet its use causes interference with other transmitters within about 100 miles, so that single conversations can only be supported within a large area. With a cellular system, the service area is divided into small regions called cells. Each is served by a low-power transmitter, eliminating the problems of the existing system and greatly enlarging the number of potential users.
U.S. manufacturers appear to be giving serious consideration to establishing a home video terminal in the nation. Experimental systems are already operating in other countries, notably in Japan, where a very large system, considered to be the leader in this field, is in use. With a home video terminal, the consumer can pay bills, make purchases, select a newspaper to read on screen, consult library reference books, and so on. Given the great number of television receivers in this country and the widespread installation of telephone lines, the potential is clearly there for a home video system.
On the broadcasters' end, a 'second TV channel' potential was introduced in mid-1978. The system, called INFOTEXT, enables television broadcasters to transmit individual pages of graphic and alphanumeric information over the same channel, all in color. A decoder at the receiving location is used to display the information, which might typically be news headlines, a weather report, or stock market information. The technique employed is the insertion of information during the vertical blanking interval of a television signal.