Phonevision, the video on-demand service of yesteryear

phonevision2So you’re out and about with the Misses, enjoying a nice night on the town. Maybe doing some light shopping in the downtown area. You know, a date night. Anyway, you both decide that you wanna watch a movie when you get home. So instead of stopping at a video rental store, you just dial a number and the movie is ready when you two get home. The future starts now, in 1951, with Zenith’s Phonevision.


An ambitious effort to arrange a financially happy marriage between TV and Hollywood, Phonevision gives TV set owners a chance to order movies by telephone, at $1 each. Once the order is placed, a simple gadget attached to the TV set and connected to the home telephone unscrambles the movie on the TV screen. Hollywood collects its profit and the set owner is charged on his telephone bill. Last fall Hollywood released for the Chicago test more than 90 films made during the past three or four years.


It seems that people have been calling for the demise of physical media even before VHS hit the market. But yet, DVDs and Blu-ray is still around and currently coexisting with digital rentals. Perhaps it’s because on-demand video like Phonevision and digital downloads are always one step behind physical media.

Phonevision couldn’t produce a color stream because of the type of scrambling used to protect the signals. And so far, digital downloads cannot display the same high-res picture and audio found in Blu-ray. Not yet at least. Eventually though, there will be a time when physical media is dead and everything exists in the cloud. I can’t wait.

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