New Technology from 1970
In 1970, there was a great deal of activity concerning new developments in video recording.
My UPITN colleague Norman Dickson and I decided to look into the matter. We were first introduced to Sony U-matic 1600, the first format that held the video tape within a cassette. The pictures looked good. They also told us that a camera of good quality recording was on the way.
Over a period of some months, we attended demonstration after demonstration of a variety of recording and re-play machines. Decca and Telefunken brought out a video disc and we went off to see the demonstration. However what we saw was very poor and it eventually died the death.
Norman was contacted by a well-known concert pianist named Leonard Cassini who claimed to have invented an 8mm telecine machine called the Vidicord. This would enable people to play their 8mm films on their Television screen. We went to his house for the demonstration. He had some difficulty in getting it to work and when he did, the result was a little better than fair. He eventually abandoned the idea.
Then there was a joint effort by Ciba, Geigy and CBS who had produced the CBS-EVR system. This was thoroughly thought out in design and the market. It consisted of an 8mm film which had an image induced to it by heat and which gave a faithful reproduction of the image. It was said, at the time, that one could re-process the film by passing it through the heated machine to level the emulsion before recording another image. The EVR (Electronic Video Recorder and reproduction) did not appear again.
After several months of investigating what was available and what was to become available, we decided that Sony and their U-matic system were the leaders by a long way and that this would make a significant impact on the whole running of the new service of UPITN.
I wrote a report on our findings which said that, in future, we would be recording news on video tape and distributing them via video tape. The film laboratory would no longer be required. I pointed out the comparative costs of film versus video tape, there was no contest, video tape was much cheaper.
Nobody in UPITN took any notice of this report, I did not even get a reply from any of the drop-copy experts.
Eventually, of course, someone else came up with the news, but that was several years later. Later still, I was called a “reactionary” by one of the management team for wishing to stick to film.
I wished to stick to film for my clients for several reasons. I was still getting better quality pictures. 16mm was an international standard, whereas video tape was, at least, three different systems, PAL (itself with variations), SECAM, developed by the French and NTSC, the American system. Finally, video tape, at that time, had unreliable storage life.
Some years later, when U-Matic tapes were available, I used to make two video copies of every film. I did this so that I could show them to potential clients as samples of our work. One such film I had made in Bahrain. Two years later, I was asked for one of the video tapes for a screening. I pulled out the tape, tested it on the machine and there was no picture, only “noise”. I then tried the other one and it was the same. Nowadays, Video Tape, disc and digital recordings are much more reliable.
The early 1980s was a period of advance in the film and television industry. Telex and teleprinter communications were to take second place to the new Facsimile machines. The technology was very old in that, in the past, the system was used to transmit press photos via telephone lines and cables. Regular satellite transmission, themselves only recently operative, were restricted to broadcasters and newsfilm agencies. The press had no access to the satellite system and no real need to use it.
At this time, a company, I think a Japanese company, produced equipment that would transfer from video tape a still photo of high quality.
When I found out about this, I spoke to a number of newspapers to ask if they would be interested in taking stills from our incoming satellite service of news stories from around the world. Of course, they were delighted at the prospect.
In London, in Great Marlborough Street, the first of the machines had been set up at a video service studio. By prior arrangement, I took along some of our video tapes and, from them, had a number of photos produced. There was no doubt about the quality and the newspapers all thought they were good.
Unfortunately, before contracts could be drawn up between UPITN and any of the newspapers, (UPITN did take their time) the press were offered their own services via the satellite. The machine which had cost £300,000 was no longer required by the press and what little other interest there was in the project was insufficient to make it a going concern. However, this was not a single event. Companies around the world were plunging into new development that was being superseded by others even while they were designing their new offer.
One of the great failures of the time was the demise of Sony’s Betamax home video tape which, after some time, was overcome by the more popular VHS. Strangely, in the face of opposition from both Betamax and VHS, Philips of Eindhoven and Grundig were still producing a tape system, (the Video 2000) that they thought would be used on the home market.
I have no doubt that the process of evolution is still going on and will continue to do so.
Additional links: Video Format War – the rivalry between the various manufacturers to develop a home video system.
The CBS-EVR system – further information on the recording system.
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