|The launch of the Ampex VTR took place on Saturday, April 14th, 1956 in Chicago. TV Technology.com on April 12th 2006 carried a fascinating account of the actual launch written by James E. O'Neal.|
Many thanks to Tom Butts from TV Technology Magazine for permission to use part of this article.
|Imagine a large meeting room 50 years ago filled with 200 people assembled for a more or less routine briefing. The only thing slightly out of the ordinary is a video camera trained on the speaker and some monitors sprinkled around the room. However, television is no longer a stranger and the presence of even large tube-type cameras of that era had become fairly routine.
The event was a Saturday pre-NAB (then the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters) meeting of CBS affiliate owners and managers. The setting was the Normandie Lounge in Chicago's Conrad Hilton, the speaker was William Lodge, CBS engineering vice president and the date was April 14, 1956.
During his remarks, Lodge mentioned a new technological breakthrough, but was not specific. At the conclusion of his address, he remained at the podium. As the crowd began to murmur and break up, the video monitors went from black to an image of Lodge. Only this time, Lodge was still making his presentation, not standing silently.
This was a seeming impossibility, as the only means for preserving video images was kinescope recording, a process in which a special motion picture camera photographed a television monitor. When the recording was finished, the film had to be removed and sent away for developing. Under normal circumstances, this could take hours.
The crowd, realizing that they were experiencing something very unusual, became hushed and locked onto the monitors, viewing an image of Lodge that was indistinguishable from the video seen just moments before. Again, this was quite uncanny, as even the best "kine" had a distinctive look that set it apart from the live video it had captured.
Then a curtain opened, revealing a strange machine and four individuals hovering around it. The crowd couldn't restrain itself and amid cheers, whistles, back slappings and applause, began pushing and pressing in around the world's first video recorder and part of the team that had made it possible. Some even stood in chairs to get a better look at the device that was making this miracle possible.
That was the scene 50 years ago this month.
Practical video recording had been born. The machine was the Ampex Mark IV VTR prototype, which was to become the VRX-1000, the great-granddad of all video recorders. It was the star of the convention and even though Ampex had set a selling price of $45,000 for production models (more than $320,000 in 2006 dollars), orders were written that week for more than 70 machines. (Market research conducted prior to the show indicated that there would be a demand for no more than a dozen globally.)
CBS got the first delivery and put it on the air in late November that year to air the West Coast feed of "Douglas Edwards and the News." This eliminated the requirement for Edwards to have to repeat his broadcast for the Pacific Time Zone. However, as the video recording technology was so new, CBS made kinescope recordings as backup and had them at the ready "just in case" during the first month of the new machine's use.