Produced by:
| Follow Us  


January 9th, 2017


natas-header_image_288x127On Saturday night, 2017 January 7, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences bestowed Technology and Engineering Emmy Awards on Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (the IET), and Siemens for “The Concept of Opto-Electronic Transduction,” a fundamental principle of television cameras: the ability to convert variations in light intensity into an electrical signal. The work actually occurred over a five-year period 1872-6.

Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks is the successor to the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company, where photoconductivity was discovered in 1872, tested, and then announced to the world in 1873. The IET is the successor to the Society of Telegraph Engineers, where the announcement was made, discussed, attacked, and defended. As for Siemens, Werner von Siemens did some of the most extensive testing of photoconductivity, but it was his brother William’s construction and 1876 demonstration of a photometer that started the ball rolling on television research.

Artificial EyeWilliam intentionally built the device in the shape of an eye and called it an “artificial eye.” The concept was so shocking that reports were carried in seemingly every publication in the world. The following year, seven or eight people in four countries in three languages began writing about or researching television; before 1877, there was nothing.

The reason the number is indeterminate is that one of the eight used a pseudonym, “Electrician,” and might have been one of the other seven. The piece by “Electrician” about a video system called the Electroscope appeared in The Sun in New York that year and is the earliest known published work about television. It is also said to have been the earliest hoax about television.

earliest known published report on television

Maybe it wasn’t.  “Electrician” was careful to avoid claiming anything and reported only that “An eminent scientist of this city… is said to be on the point of publishing a series of important discoveries and exhibiting an instrument invented by him….” Who can say he wasn’t? “Electrician” wrote that “the utility of the electroscope is undeniable,” and that’s certainly true of television and video. Most of the rest of the piece was devoted to applications, including making “it possible to represent at one time” in many theaters around “the world, the opera… sung… in any given theatre,” a current activity that prevented my attendance at the Emmy ceremony.


Another supposed hoax appeared in print three years later. The February 20, 1880 issue of American Manufacturer and Iron World, published in Pittsburgh, reported that a local patent law firm had applied for its own patents on an automatic telephone exchange and a form of television. The name of the law firm was misspelled (an error common even in business directories of the time), and the report clearly went too far in claiming that one of the inventors stated “that by his experiments he has been able to reproduce clearly and faithfully in a dark room at his residence the images of persons at ‘the other end’ of the line….” But would a law firm have allowed a totally false report in a local publication without making a fuss? They did get the patent on the automatic telephone exchange.


A report in The Electrician, a London publication, on April 3 of the same year, also mentions the patent application but doesn’t claim successful transmission by that point. It says simply that “The inventors believe that two persons talking by telephone will also, by their device, be able to see each other and that a printed or written document can be seen in this way and read off.” Given that a claim of an achieved “crude” video image was published the previous year (and not considered a hoax) suggests that there could, indeed, have been a patent application. That the patent wasn’t issued could have been due to the earlier report.


Of the three 19th-century reports of television commonly described as hoaxes, one clearly was. It was a report of the invention of a video device called a “diaphote” that appeared initially in some eastern-Pennsylvania newspapers in early 1880 but was picked up elsewhere around the world.  The names give it away: H. E. Licks (helix), M. E. Kannich (mechanic), A. D. A. Biatic (adiabatic), L. M. Niscate (lemniscate). “Licks,” a pen name of engineer and author Mansfield Merriman, called it a hoax, himself, in his 1917 book Recreations in Mathematics.


In 1878, there was a depiction of “Edison’s Telephonoscope,” a supposed television system. It was fake, too, although coincidentally Edison did file a patent caveat for a telephonoscope earlier that year; it was to be a binaural ear trumpet, with nothing to do with video or even electricity. No one called the supposed television telephonoscope a hoax because it was obviously a spoof. It appeared in a humor publication (an “Almanack” published by Punch) in a series of images that also showed people floating thanks to “Edison’s Anti-Gravitation Under-Clothing.”

1878 Edison_Telephonoscope

So? One of the most detailed real early television proposals appeared under the heading “Seeing by Electricity” in the publication Nature on April 22, 1880 from scientists John Perry and William Ayrton. What stimulated their research?

They described early work on photoconductivity before revealing their true source of inspiration. “The plan,” they wrote, “was suggested to us some three years ago more directly by a picture in Punch.

Hooray for hoaxes!



Television & Opera: A 140-Year Collaboration by Mark Schubin

December 5th, 2016

Recorded on November 4, 2016 as a National Opera Week event at All Mobile Video Chelsea Studios, 221 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001. Did you think television was introduced at the New York World’s Fair in 1939? The BBC telecast the opera Carmen in 1934, and the first television program with an original […]

Tags: , , , , , ,

Pittsburgh, SMPTE, & Before by Mark Schubin

November 4th, 2016

This is SMPTE’s centennial year. Did you know the society might not exist if not for Pittsburgh? The same might also be said for the whole motion-image industry! Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, Westinghouse, PPG, and even Heinz played roles. Join multiple Emmy-award-winning SMPTE Life Fellow Mark Schubin as he provides a Pittsburgh-oriented illustrated […]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Call for Proposals for Presentations at the 2017 HPA Tech Retreat

September 5th, 2016

  Welcome back from Labor Day! It’s time to get back into the grind and to consider the Hollywood Professional Association’s upcoming technology event. The 2017 HPA Tech Retreat will take place February 20-24 at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Indian Wells, CA (Palm Springs area). Those of you not familiar with the event will […]

Tags: , , ,

HDR: The Bottom Line by Mark Schubin

September 1st, 2016

This is a modified version of the original presentation given at the 2016 HPA Tech Retreat on February 18, 2016. High Dynamic Range (HDR) imagery offers the most bang for the bit in viewing tests.  Equipment is available, and issues are being worked out.  What happens in theaters and homes, however, is a different matter. […]

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Technology Year in Review by Mark Schubin

August 17th, 2016

This is a modified version of the original presentation given at the 2016 HPA Tech Retreat on February 17, 2016. What were some of the hot technologies of 2015?  Could they have been books, film, and television?  And might the greatest advance in television be something first written up in 1877? Correction: The Polaroid Snap […]

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Great Scots!

August 3rd, 2016

  With the Olympic Games opening in Brazil this week, it might be worth noting that the first to feature television cameras took place in Germany 80 years ago. But those weren’t the first sports events with television coverage. Baseball was televised in Japan in 1931; before that, tennis was captured by a video camera […]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wow or Woe?

July 24th, 2016

Today, July 24, 2016. as this image from page 13 of the July 25, 1916 issue of The Evening Star in Washington, D.C. indicates, is the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, the group that became SMPTE in 1950 when a T for television was added. The article noted that, […]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Truth Will Out

July 8th, 2016

  A Capitol Fourth is one of the longest-lasting shows on PBS and is said to be the highest rated. It’s an extraordinary undertaking, with stars from virtually every genre of music performing live both in front of a huge crowd on the west lawn and steps of the U.S. Capitol building and, simultaneously, on TV […]

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NAB 2016 Wrap-up

June 8th, 2016

Recorded on May 25, 2016 at the SMPTE DC “Bits by the Bay,” Managing Technologies in Transition at the Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa. TRT: 33:00 (52 MB) Download link: NAB 2016 Wrap-up Embedded:

Tags: , , , , , ,

HDR: The Great, the Okay, and the Yikes!

May 22nd, 2016

HDR: The Great, the Okay, and the Yikes! Of all of the picture improvements being discussed today, high dynamic range (HDR) offers the most bang for the bit. It has other characteristics that could also be described as “great.” Implementation will take some work, which is okay. And then there are the parts that are […]

Web Statistics