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What ever happened to DAT recorders?

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

What ever happened to DAT recorders?

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1988, The Syracuse Newspapers

Digital audio cassette tape recorders are not illegal. They have not been banned. You won't be arrested if you buy one. Then why can't you find one at your local hi-fi dealer?

The standard answer can be expressed in one word: Fear. According to the normal way of looking at things, the companies that make DAT recorders are afraid of being sued. But there could be another side to it.

First, the matter of the threatened suit. A U.S. organization that represents the recording industry has promised to sue the first manufacturer that sends DAT recorders to the U.S. They're worried that DAT machines will be used to make copies of compact discs, which would cost them sales of CDs.

You start out by understanding that Sony is the big player in this game. It invented DAT. Sony also invented the compact disc, along with Philips of the Netherlands. Because of royalties, both Sony and Philips make money every time a CD or CD player is sold.

CD technology is already paid for, and that means that income from CD sales is racked up as profit. But DAT is still a very expensive medium. It will be quite some time before prices come down and sales go up.

That means it's a lot easier to make money from CDs than DAT. So if Sony keeps DAT out of the world's largest consumer electronics market—that's the good old U.S.A.—both Sony and Philips make a lot more money.

If this doesn't quite make sense, maybe we need to put the final piece in the puzzle. That piece is called CD-R. It stands for compact disc recorder.

Philips and Sony are each about to announce a compact disc recording system. They may be collaborating on a joint system or they may be working on separate formats, but it's clear that they are both close to an announcement.

A recordable CD—if it works properly—would almost certainly put tape out of business. CDs are cheaper, more durable and easier for a recording device to work with.

There you have it. In this scenario, Sony makes a splash in Japan with DAT while making money worldwide with CDs. Where does that cash go? To pay for development of a recordable CD, which will replace DAT.

It sure makes sense to me.

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