McNallyvision – mystery ‘video’ system

In 1983, the movie studios were still refusing to release main features on home video. But the pirates were. So when a PR company promised a new video system called McNallyvision that would be cheap and pirate-proof, a TV news programme heralded it the format of the future.

The inventor, Gordon McNally, said he had spent six years developing a “completely new concept in video playback only systems”. The table-top player would be launched worldwide in spring 1984, using “virtually indestructible tape …. (with) a special clear optical coating … which is sensitive to a laser beam”.

The tape came in a cassette along with a “special microchip which contains a coded program of data information.” The promotional brochure and photos given to the press were glossy and impressive.

“There is no way of bypassing this coded system,” said the inventor, “because it also changes its random characteristics while the cassette is being played.” The table-top player would plug into a domestic TV set. “Laser optics pick up the coded information from the tape and convert it into a picture.”

There was much mystery in the air. Research was done at a secret laboratory. Private demonstrations were given at an oil and shipping office in London. Close inspection was not allowed but the cassette contained film that seemed to be carrying a twin track of ordinary, small picture images.

The player had a small back projection screen of the type then used to edit 8mm home movie film. Picture quality was poor. Within a few months Britain’s answer to world video piracy was just another memory.