Room 8 exhibit 1
Akai VT-300 VK
DATE: 1977

[2005: £?]

6.2 kg

In the 1970's, Akai had a successful range of Reel to Reel VTRs and portapaks, the VT series. In 1977 they developed this cassette portable, the VT-300.
The format is usually known as VK, after the VK-30 cassettes. These were about the same size as a betamax cassette, and used similar 1/2 inch tape -- with the spools rotating in opposite directions for some reason. A neat finger hole at the back of the tape makes them easy to remove from their sleeves and from the machine.
But despite the apparent similarity with beta, VK was very different: the maximum recording time was 30 minutes, and - amazingly for 1977 - the system was black and white, not colour!
The machine itself is rather taller than the equivalent VHS or Beta machine, but surprisingly light. All the usual controls are present, including an audio dub key (labelled "sound dub"), a mechanical counter, and a battery level meter. A switch on the front selects "Quick Start" -- the system remains powered up and the tape laced between recordings, to give cleaner transitions between recordings, particularly when the machine was being used with a camera.
Surprisingly there's an easy-to-remove cover at the back which gives easy access to the head drum -- the typical portapak user would have been fairly technical, and prepared to do their own maintenance -- including head cleaning. Not something the manufacturers encourage with today's VHS machines!
The lacing system is quite unusual -- the pinch roller is mounted on a rotating platform under the head drum, along with pins which pull the tape out and around the drum. As it rotates, guide pins which normally lie horizontal rotate into a vertical position, and the pinch roller engages with a short rail which takes guides it into position against the capstan.

The guts of the VT-300.
The green lacing system can be seen below the drum;
the silver pin at the bottom gradually rises as it rotates, like a drawbridge opening.
A miniature monitor was also available, which docked rather neatly on the side of the deck, to form a very handy total system.

Akai later developed an improved VT-350 and a colour VT-400.
The VK system was not a great success -- by the early eighties it was already being described as "long obsolete". The combination of a maximum 30-minute recording time, and monochrome recording did not look tempting compared to the VHS and Beta systems which were already out, and professional or industrial user would probably be using U-Matic. The VT series represents the end of the reel-to-reel era -- an evolutionary dead-end, but an interesting one.
This machine was very generously donated to the museum by Wolfgang Wegner. Many thanks!