The Failure Of The All-In-One Multimedia System Revolution

Long before the smart television and the Internet of Things were possible and the biggest reason to call an electrical installer in to fit more wall sockets, there were many attempts to create an all-in-one entertainment system for the home.

There was the short-lived but ultimately fruitless wave of set-top boxes and internet television devices in the early 2000s, as well as other attempts to combine both streaming and interactive media such as Google Stadia, which shut down as of January 2023.

Before modern attempts to try and take over the living room, there was the multimedia revolution, a promise that audio, video and interactive content will converge to create experiences that could not be found anywhere else.

However, every single attempt to create an all-in-one multimedia device was considered to be a tremendous failure, often with considerable repercussions for the companies involved.

RDI Halcyon

Rick Dyer is a pioneer of multimedia, being the man who designed and created the hit arcade machine Dragon’s Lair, which pioneered the use of animation linked to video game hardware to create an interactive cartoon.

Mr Dyer, whilst happy with the game wanted to do far more and created a machine that was unbelievably ahead of its time in the form of the RDI Halcyon.

Not only would it allow for much more expansive games than Dragon’s Lair such as Thayer’s Quest, but it also supported voice recognition, speech synthesis, and could play both laserdiscs and conventional CDs.

Less than 12 units were ever made, in no small part due to the initial retail cost of $2500 (£2076 in 1985 and £5885 in 2023) bankrupting Rick Dyer and causing his achievements to be largely forgotten.

Commodore CDTV

Short for “Commodore Dynamic Total Vision”, the CDTV was meant to be everything you could possibly want in a multimedia appliance in 1991.

Based on the popular Amiga 500 computer, it had a CD player that could also play video thanks to a dedicated CDXL format, a dedicated infrared remote control and the potential to be converted into a fully-functional A500 computer with a few additional peripherals.

There were a lot of problems, but the biggest was the $999 asking price (£829 at the time and £1745 adjusted for inflation), which did not factor in the expensive add-ons to make it useful.

At the same time, the computer it was based on could be bought for as little as £250 and all it was missing was the CD-ROM drive, making it alarmingly poor value for money.

Philips CD-i

Arguably the most famous (or infamous depending on your definition) all-in-one multimedia system was Philips’ CD-i.

It was originally designed as a multimedia platform that could be used not only as part of a hi-fi or television system but also could be integrated into screens or fitted into computers thanks to drive and card versions of the technology.

Whilst development took a very long time, the hope was to find a market for family entertainment, education and music titles, with titles such as The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe and several activity packs based on bible stories.

Unfortunately, it entered the market far too late and at an initial cost of $1000 (£830 in 1991 and £1747 today), was far too expensive to be a match for the first wave of entry-level PCs with CD-ROM drives.

This forced it to compete as a game console, and whilst it has gained some level of infamy for featuring somewhat dubious Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda games in its lineup of computer games, it would only find its niche later as a point-of-sale system.