How Video Games Invaded The Home TV Set – Chapter 21

Interactive Video Systems

Years earlier I had developed ways of interacting with videotaped presentations (or over the air and cable programs, for that matter). They allowed the viewer to take part in quiz shows and get immediate feedback after making a choice of one of multiple answers. Optical codes displayed on the picture tube and picked off by the player with a photosensitive light pen were the secret of these systems.

Magnavox had never shown any interest in this coded spot type of multiple choice games which we demonstrated as early as 1966. Throughout 1973 and 74 Bill Harrison and I had been busy further developing this interactive technology. I saw it as a way to produce effective, interactive training for both military and industrial/consumer applications.

In order to make a representative “encoded” video tape demonstration, we went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute – the same WPI which my son James would attend and graduate from years later with a physics major. There we got together with two graduate students whom we persuaded to make this demo into the centerpiece of their final dissertation. I am not sure whether we actually coined the term interactive video but that’s what we were pioneering. We loaned them the hardware which Bill and I had built to “annotate” and “encode” existing video tape footage with coded spots. The equipment allowed them to add interactive quiz features to existing or new tutorial video tapes, changing them from passive viewing to user interaction. The students decided to do their own video tape production. I still have a copy of it … it’s in B&W half inch, open reel format … in common use before 3/4″ U-Matic and 1/2″ Betamax and VHS formats came into existence.

s_story_baer11Video BuddyAnnotating existing video footage to make it interactive was to occupy my interest and energy off and on for the next 25 years. In the late 1990s the optical data extraction method was resurrected by Interactive Learning Group (ILG) in Minneapolis. They had developed it for an interactive preschooler video tape based system called Video Buddy, i. e. they had reinvented the method … only they couldn’t get it to work reliably. Clark Johnson, a physics type consultant and an old friend of mine became aware of their problems and told them to come and see me for technical help. They met with me and Bob Pelovitz in my Manchester lab and I became their technical consultant along with Bob, my former sidekick at Sanders and now an independent engineering consultant like myself. We fixed ILG’s technical problem, took a piece of the action and got deeply involved in this modern revival of that old technique of mine. Video Buddy first began to fill the shelves in Minnesota early in 2000. Sales started of well.

We Play Cable Games … 20 Years Ahead Of Our Time

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