Wards GEN10301 SelectaVision Video Player (1981)

           

This Wards model GEN10301 SelectaVision player marks an interesting chapter in video history. It uses an obsolete 1980s video format known as CED (capacitive electronic disc). Developed by RCA, the SelectaVision CED format uses grooved vinyl discs that resemble phonograph records but contain video as well as audio.

This article describes how I restored my SelectaVision video player to working condition. You can learn more about CED video history and technology at the CED Magic website.

Description

SelectaVision players were marketed for five years, from 1981-1986, and all of them were built by four manufacturers: RCA, Toshiba, Sanyo, and Hitachi. Companies such as Wards and Sears marketed those players under their own names, usually with some slight cosmetic differences.

My machine is a Wards model GEN10301, built by Toshiba. The CED player has a thin slot in the front to accept the LP-sized cartridge, called a "caddy." These photos show my restored player.

  

To play a CED movie, you slide the caddy all the way into the player and pull it back out. The video disc drops gently onto a turntable inside, where it plays in a clean environment.

After playing, you slide the caddy back into the machine. The disc returns into the caddy and then you pull the whole thing back out.

Never remove a SelectaVision disc from its caddy outside a player. The delicate disc is coated with silicone lubricant and any fingerprints, scratches, or dust will damage it.

Like LP record sleeves, CED caddies include cover art and information about the recording. These photos show the front and back of My Dinner With Andre, a 1981 title from my son Peter's collection of old video material.

  

The ruler gives you an idea of the size. LP sleeves are about 12.5 inches square but a CED caddy is rectangular: 14 by 12.75 inches. The extra length is needed for the locking strip on top and finger grip on the bottom.

The super-sized caddy is formed of rigid plastic, making the CED heavier than an LP.

The next photo shows an audio LP and video CED side by side, CED on the right.

Each disc is 12 inches in diameter, but some differences are obvious. First, a CED's grooves are much smaller—only 1/38 the width of an LP groove—and therefore the CED contains vastly more data. The tiny grooves give the CED a rainbow appearance under certain light angles.

The video disc also has straight radial bands dividing the content into eight sectors. The bands create vertical blanking intervals in the video (i.e., the intervals during which the TV's scanning electron beam returns from the bottom to the top of the picture). They also hold special data that lets the player track the disc and update its counter.

The CED has no paper label because discs are never seen naked like this in normal operation. The disc in the photo is a junker that happened to be included when my Dad picked up this player.

Roughly 1700 SelectaVision titles were released before RCA abandoned the format. Although CED players and movies were produced for only a few years, many thousands are still in circulation and you can often find them reasonably priced on eBay, craigslist, or even a garage sale.

Finding a SelectaVision Video Player

My Dad bought this Wards SelectaVision player and 11 movies at a garage sale long ago, and it was stored in his basement for years. I bought it from him in 2012 and shipped it from Minnesota to Washington.

Below you see the player and discs on arrival. The movies are mostly popular 1980s titles: Fiddler on the Roof, The Pink Panther, Heaven Can Wait, Patton, The Love Bug, Love Story, M*A*S*H, The French Connection, The Black Stallion, Singin' In the Rain, and That's Entertainment.

SelectaVision discs have limited capacity and thus longer movies such as Patton require two discs.

After I unpacked the player, I tried it out. When I inserted the disc caddy and pressed Play, nothing appeared on the screen and I heard a humming sound like an electric motor spinning freely and connected to nothing.

Had I known more about this particular model, I would not have tried it before removing the cover and inspecting the belts. As I later learned, the old rubbery belts had disintegrated into gobs of black, sticky goo. Some pieces got stuck on the caddy, which spread them around even more, creating a big mess.

Some of the tarry goo stuck onto the disc, which carried it inside the caddy. Yuck!

     

The third photo shows pieces of goo on the disc. The thin white strip is the cleaning felt, which was pulled off the top and stuck farther down.

This disc is probably ruined. The goo can be removed with ammonia or lacquer thinner, but that will also remove the silicone lubricant. I know of no way to relubricate these discs and playing an unlubricated disc would damage the player's stylus as well as the disc itself.

Luckily, for this initial experiment I purposely chose a movie that I wasn't interested in, so this was no big loss. That title was extremely popular in its day, so if I really wanted to watch it in SelectaVision, I could buy another disc for a few dollars.

Restoration

To find out why the player wasn't working, I removed the top cover. This photo shows the SelectaVision chassis:

A large circuit board contains many of the electronics. To the rear of the chassis, you can see a compartment with a Caution sticker and red stripe. This contains the playback cartridge. Just as in a record player, the cartridge has a stylus (needle) which moves across the disk during playback. We'll see the stylus and cartridge close up later on.

Partly visible under the circuit board is the turntable, which I had already cleaned when this photo was taken.

Replacing the Turntable Belt

As soon as I started cleaning, it became obvious where the sticky goo came from. A large flat belt is used to drive the turntable. It had fallen into pieces, which ended up here and there throughout the machine. I'm not sure how that happened, but perhaps the player was turned sideways or upside down during packing and shipping, which happened during a very hot August.

The CED Magic website has an excellent tutorial with detailed instructions for replacing the Wards/Toshiba turntable belt, so I won't repeat that information here. Following the instructions, I ordered a new belt and pulley combination and installed them.

Installing the turntable belt is rather tricky. I found it easiest to get the belt around the turntable first and then stretch it over the small driving pulley. I have a couple of long tweezers that made the job easier.

Following my usual practice of making every possible rookie mistake, the first time I installed this belt I inadvertently looped it outside this post on the chassis, which caused the belt to bind.

This goofup would have been obvious had I looked at the belt from this angle, but I was in a hurry to install the belt and try the player. Since the post connects to nothing, I'm not sure why it exists in the first place. Perhaps there was another version of the Toshiba chassis that used it for some purpose.

Correcting that problem took only a minute and then the turntable spun smoothly.

An alternative to replacing the turntable pulley is to machine a groove in it, to accept a new 1/8-inch belt. If you're not equipped to do this yourself, you can mail your pulley to Charlie Bertram, who will do it for a small fee. His member name in the CED Magic forum is cbertra2. The old pulley looks like this:

Since I had no use for the old pulley, I donated it to Charlie, who can machine a groove in it for someone else.

Replacing the Servo and Loading Belts

With a new turntable belt in place, the player exhibited the same behavior. When I inserted a disc, nothing happened, but I heard the sound of a motor running freely.

In hindsight, it should have been obvious that, if the big belt had melted, the player's other belts were probably shot, too. In my eagerness to get the player working, I hadn't thought of anything but the turntable. Folks in the CED Magic Forum quickly put me on the right path, suggesting that I also replace the servo belt and loading belt.

I ordered the belts from CED Magic (only $2 each) and found that they are very easy to install. Unlike the turntable belt, these were still in one piece, although loose on their pulleys.

The servo belt is located in a corner of the chassis, accessible when the top cover is removed:

  

The loading belt is located under the chassis, accessible when the top and bottom covers are removed:

  

In both cases, you install the new belt by stretching it over the pulleys. It's not necessary to remove anything else.

With three new belts in place, I tried the player again, and it worked!

After using it for a while, I noticed that the belt tended to ride all the way up until it lightly brushed the turntable's underside. A member of the CED Magic forum suggested flipping the new pulley over, which cured the problem after a little adjustment.

Cleaning the Stylus

Just as with a phono player, the CED stylus can pick up dirt over time, degrading the player's performance. The next photo shows the CED playback cartridge, with an arrow pointing to the stylus:

The CED cartridge is larger than a typical phono cartridge. In this machine, it's easy to remove. You simply lift it out after popping open the compartment shown earlier.

The stylus is on the end of a thin, spring-loaded titanium arm. When playback begins, the machine automatically pushes the stylus down to contact the disc. When you stop playback, the stylus retracts back into the cartridge.

The stylus is too small to examine with the naked eye. I tried a strong magnifier light, but that wasn't sufficient, either.

I happen to own a digital microscope, a Digital Blue QX5 student model, which provides enough magnification to inspect the stylus for dirt. The next photo shows the scope, along with the small brush and isopropyl alcohol that I'll use for cleaning. I'll hold the cartridge steady with a "helping hands" clamp.

The QX5 microscope connects to a computer via the USB port and you view the object on your computer screen. The image can be captured and saved on the computer at any time.

Another advantage is that you can remove the QX5 from its stand, making it easy to examine objects like the CED cartridge, which are too big to fit on a conventional microscope tray. In this photo, I have laid the QX5 barrel on a sack of rice and suspended the cartridge in the clamp; the magnified image appears on the screen of my laptop:

In that photo, I was using 10X (ten times normal) magnification, which doesn't quite show enough detail. Here's a 10X view of the stylus:

You can tell that the stylus is chisel shaped, but that's about all.

When I increased magnification to 60X, I could see a fuzzy tuft of dirt clinging to the stylus tip. The stylus always moves around the disc in the same direction, so dirt naturally collects on its trailing edge (the upper tip in these photos).

  

To clean the stylus, I held it under a strong magnifying light and very gently swiped it a few times using a brand new artist brush dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I moved the brush opposite to the direction that the disc moves during playback.

Cleaning has removed the beard of dirt from the chisel-shaped stylus:

As with any stylus, I'd recommend caution in handling and cleaning.

If you're not equipped to clean your stylus, you can send your cartridge to the CEDatum group for a free inspection and service as needed. They can handle cartridges from any brand of SelectaVision player.

Final Thoughts

With new belts and a clean stylus, my SelectaVision player works like new.

Overall, I'm impressed with this Toshiba machine. Belts aside, the build quality is sturdy and well thought out. With luck, I hope to enjoy this player for a long time to come.

The quality of CED video is about the same as a VHS recording, which is to say, pretty good for the early 1980s. Neither format can match today's DVD quality, but SelectaVision was introduced thirty-one years ago.

You would expect technology to advance somewhat in three decades. Thirty-one years before SelectaVision arrived (i.e., 1950), people were watching little black and white screens and the 17-inch tube in my DuMont RA-113 was considered "big screen TV."

As you may have noticed from browsing my website, 1980s technology isn't a huge interest of mine. I spend most of my time restoring much older TVs and radios. Reviving this SelectaVision player was an interesting project, however. I had heard about CED video before, and I wanted to see it working.

If anyone has a schematic or service manual for this model (Wards/Toshiba GEN10301), please send me email. It is not listed in the Sams index and I haven't found anything else online. My player works fine, but the schematic would make interesting reading.

I was helped in this project by advice from members of the CED Magic forum. This article covers the basic points discussed there, but here's a link to that discussion if you're curious. If you own a CED SelectaVision player, you can learn a lot by visiting CED Magic and browsing past forum discussions.

©1995-2017 Philip I. Nelson, all rights reserved