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Where Did The Newscast Come From?

October 7th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe


Where Did The Newscast Come From?
SMPTE DC Bits-by-the-Bay, Chesapeake Beach Resort
May 20, 2015

Direct Link (16 MB / TRT 8:14):
Where Did The Newscast Come From?


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Where Are We Going, & How Did We Get Here (The Past) by Mark Schubin

June 1st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Recorded during “An Evening with Mark Schubin” at the SMPTE New England Section, Dedham Holiday Inn on May 14, 2015.

Learn the extraordinary history of the technology of motion pictures and television. Did you know that the first live video images and the first projected photographic motion pictures were both in the same year, and that year was 1879? That horizontal scanning lines, pixels, and transmitter/receiver synchronization was patented in 1843? That photographic motion pictures were patented in 1852 (and were stereoscopic)? If that’s not enough, Mark promises to show some older moving images — much older. Much, much, much older.

Direct Link ( 114 MB /  TRT 48:00):
Where Are We Going, & How Did We Get Here (The Past) by Mark Schubin


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HPA 2014 – Is Nothing New? [video]

March 19th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe, Today's Special


Mark Schubin’s Is Nothing New? presentation from the HPA Tech Retreat, presented on February 21, 2014 (audio recorded later).

Video (TRT 31:26)

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Getting the Big Picture

March 21st, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe


When did theatrical television begin? Would you believe 1877? On March 29 of that year, someone using the pen name “Electrician” described a device called an “electroscope,” some sort of image-transmission system — some sort of large-image transmission system. “Electrician’s” letter was published in The Sun the next day (the newspaper most famous for its “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial 12½ years later). Below is an excerpt.

Today, operas and plays coming from a single theatre are seen at one time in hundreds of cinema auditoriums worldwide. It’s worth noting that 1877, however, long predates the first movie theatre.

Five years later, in 1882, Albert Robida, in his book Le Vingtième siècle (The Twentieth Century), depicted giant video screens (supposedly 25 meters in diameter, though they appear smaller above) on either side of the towering offices of the news organization, L’Époque. Note that, while the right screen is showing a news event, the left one is running a commercial advertisement.

In 1891, Professor E. Stone Wiggins, a Canadian most famous for having predicted a big storm in 1883, described a novel he was writing. As this is being written, many movie theaters are showing John Carter, based on the series of novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs starting in 1911 and taking place on a fictional version of Mars. Twenty years earlier, Wiggins’s novel was called Jack Suehard; or, Life on Jupiter. It featured “what the people of Jupiter call a ‘stanlon,’ a mirror twenty feet square, which is in every house and a conspicuous object in every street of their cities,” Wiggins told The New York Times (headlines above).  A stanlon provided instantaneous image transmission. “It is the Jovian newspaper, theatre, pulpit, and tribune.”

Although we might never know whether “Electrician” had anything on which to base the 1877 report, Robida and Wiggins were dealing with fiction. Others, however, were working on actual theatrical TV at about the same time. Consider, for example, William Lucas of London.

On April 21, 1882, English Mechanic and World of Science carried his detailed description of his version of a “telectroscope,” a scanned video-projection system, on pages 151-2. It was probably the first proposal for a video projector.

A small portion appears at right, taken from André Lange’s superb history-of-television site.  The complete published article may be read on that site: You can read many other clippings there, too. Here’s the main URL:

Then there was Frantz Dussaud, a Swiss physicist previously best known for his work in sensory-impairment aids. He called his system a “téléoscope.” It used an electric arc light source for a large, bright picture.

At left is a portion of an illustration of it that appeared in the Scientific American Supplement on January 2, 1898. You can read the whole article here:

Take the artist’s illustration above with a grain of salt. As best we currently know, the first video image of a recognizable human face didn’t appear until 1925, and that was in a system designed for individual viewing. But, at about the same time, actual, working, theatrical-television systems were also introduced.

Artists’ illustrations in this post will now change to photographs. In the photos above, shot in a Bell Telephone Laboratories auditorium in 1927, at top left is Herbert Ives standing next to a direct-view video display. The larger photograph shows what was behind the screen, allowing it to work.

In 1930, there were at least five different theatrical-television systems demonstrated — in actual theaters. The first was on January 16 at the RKO-Proctor 58th Street Theater in New York. It was an RCA system that produced a ten-foot-wide image. In April, Ulises Sanabria conducted his first demo in Chicago. On May 22, it was General Electric in Schenectady, New York (above).  On July 28, John Logie Baird presented his version in London. And, on July 30, RCA showed a different system in Schenectady.

The GE, RCA, and Sanabria (Western Television) systems all used projection through mechanical scanning disks. The Baird system (right), like that of Bell Labs, was direct-view, but with thousands of tiny light bulbs instead of a long, folded tube with multiple electrodes.

Baird’s idea of using a matrix of light bulbs as a television display dates back at least to his first patent application, in 1923, which pre-dates the Bell Labs demo. But might he have been influenced by anything else? It’s certainly possible.

There was a completely different path to large-screen moving images, that of outdoor advertising. In 1891, the first flashing electric “spectacular,” a sign for Manhattan Beach, was erected in New York (medical students were hired to throw the knife switch to create the flashing).

The 50-foot-high Heatherbloom Petticoats sign erected in Times Square in 1905 introduced animation, by flashing different bulbs in sequence.  It was followed by the Rice Electric Display Company’s Chariot Race.  After smaller versions were installed in Dayton (in 1908) and Detroit, a big one (left) was installed atop the Normandie Hotel in Manhattan.  It used 20,000 bulbs of different colors and a 600-horsepower engine and showed a 30-second sequence at the equivalent of 42 frames per second.  It also had no direct connection to any advertiser.  Instead, companies could buy time on a three-row message board atop the chariot race.  It was so popular that a special police unit was assigned to control crowds who watched it over and over.

The “Leaders of the World” chariot-race sign could show only one moving-image sequence, but the Luminograph, patented in 1913, projected film onto photocells, which controlled relays, which controlled light bulbs. The later Epok substituted tubes for the relays.

An American version (shown in Times Square at right, window at top indicates size) even let live dancers to perform in front of the photo-cells. By 1937, the Wondersign added color.

Meanwhile, back indoors, video projection had embraced a broad range of technologies. In electromechanical television, there were not only scanning disks but also scanning drums (Scophony) and scanning screws (mirror spirals). In electronic television, there were ultra-high-brightness cathode-ray tubes. Direct-view (non-projection) systems improved to the point where this actual screen photo could be shot of a Telefunken matrix (shown at left) in 1935. Color projection was shown by 1938. An then there were some really unusual systems.

In 1931, radio pioneer Lee de Forest filed a patent for a means of etching video images onto motion-picture film. By 1933, a different version evolved into the Fernseh “intermediate film” system.

A continuous loop of film would be exposed, processed, projected, cleaned of the emulsion, re-coated with fresh emulsion, and re-exposed. The time delay between exposure and projection was considered short enough that it could be used for live events.

Then, before the end of the decade, Fritz Fischer conceived of an extraordinary system. It involved a vacuum pump, an oil bath, a scanned cathode ray, and a strange light-control system called Schlieren optics. It eventually became known as the Eidophor (early version shown at right).

As World War II began, it wasn’t clear whether television would ultimately be more successful in homes or in theaters. Then the war ended, and the results soon came in. U.S. movie theaters sold an average of 90 million admissions per week in every year from 1945 through 1948; by 1950, it was just 60 million, by 1958 40 million, by 1967 under 18 million, less than 20% of the number of two decades earlier (while the country’s population grew 38%).

Hollywood’s movie studios tried getting involved in both home and theatrical TV, but another large-screen video outlet appeared in 1965 in the Houston Astrodome, an electronic scoreboard (created by Fair-Play) with central video-matrix screen (shown above). In 1972, Stewart-Warner installed the first (black-&-white, light-bulb-based) instant-replay video scoreboard at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and the following year four high-brightness color Eidophor projectors provided video viewing on the “Telescreen” at the indoor Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland (shown at left).

Five years later, in 1978, Mitsubishi started a program to see if they could combine the color, video characteristics of the Telescreen with the outdoor brightness of a scoreboard. Perhaps strangely, the technology they chose was the color picture tube, with one important difference. Instead of getting all three colors and the complete image on one tube, they came up with a tube for each color of each picture element (shown at right). A “flood beam” hit the whole phosphor faceplate of each tube at once.

The first installation of what Mitsubishi called Diamond Vision was at Dodger Stadium in 1980 (shown at left). It was followed by Astrovision (Panasonic), Starvision (EEV), Super Color Vision (Toshiba), JumboTron (Sony), and a system from Omega’s sports timing group, all with variations on the tube idea. And then there was another breakthrough technology.

In 1968, Jim Tietjen at RCA Laboratories suggested an LED-based color TV, and Calvin Diller applied for a U.S. patent on one, but there was a problem: blue LEDs didn’t yet exist. By 1971, the first ones appeared in a lab, but they were exceptionally dim. Even when Cree Research released its commercial blue LEDs in 1989, they were still dim. Nichia Chemical introduced an outdoor-brightness blue LED developed by Shuji Nakamura in 1993. For “pioneering development of emissive technology for large outdoor video screens,” both Mitsubishi and Nakamura received Emmy awards this year. What goes into those large video screens is the subject of my next post:

The rest, as they say, is history, except for one thing that hasn’t quite happened yet. When they were installed, the 175-foot-diagonal LED video screens (one shown above in a photo by Big Cowboy Kev at Cowboys Stadium in Texas were the world’s largest. On April 28 of this year, almost exactly 135 years after “Electrician” suggested it, they will carry The Dallas Opera’s The Magic Flute, live, as it’s being performed in the Winspear Opera House.


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What It Was Was Television

February 29th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe


Did Thomas Edison predict television? According to some histories, the answer is yes, and the evidence is the image below, published on December 9, 1878 and captioned “Edison’s Telephonoscope (Transmits Light As Well As Sound).”

The award-winning historian Erik Barnouw referred to it as a “startling prediction,” though he correctly attributed it to writer and artist George du Maurier, not to Edison himself. Perhaps the image below will help you decide whether du Maurier was trying to predict anything. Published in the same periodical as the image above, Punch’s Almanack for 1879, it depicts the use of another supposed Edison invention, Anti-Gravitation Under-Clothing.

Punch was a humor publication, but neither that fact nor the anti-gravitation under-clothing has prevented some from insisting, based on the top image, that Edison predicted television. In fact, Edison did invent a telephonoscope, and it was well-publicized in the middle of 1878!

Unfortunately, it had nothing whatsoever to do with any form of television or image transmission. At left above is the word “telephonoscope” written by Edison, himself, for a patent caveat filed on May 10, 1878. At right is Edison’s drawing of the device, essentially a large, dual-tripod-mounted, binaural, ear trumpet for amplifying sounds.

Although the word telephonoscope was later used by another writer and cartoonist, Albert Robida, to describe television (see above), it seems pretty clear that Edison had nothing to do with it. In fact, it seems Edison didn’t like television under any name.

Last year, in a well-referenced book called The Quotable Edison, published by the University Press of Florida, editor Michele Wehrwein Albion wrote of the inventor, “Though he was in his eighties when television was pioneered, he felt threatened by the new technology, decades before it would be in everyday use.” The selected Edison quotations about television corroborate the statement.

Here are two of them: “[Television is] possible, but of very little general value. It’s a stunt” (The New York Times, February 12, 1927). “Locomotives are pretty well developed, but you wouldn’t want to buy one and have it in your house, would you? Television is like that” (The New York Times, December 24, 1930).

So Edison didn’t invent, like, or predict television? Well, actually, no.

Another quote from the book is this one: “[A] man can sit in his own parlor and see depicted upon a curtain the forms of players in opera upon a distant stage, and to hear the voices of the singers.” It is taken from the May 20, 1891 issue of the periodical The Electrical Engineer. It’s listed as one of the book’s motion-picture quotes, and there’s no question that publication would have considered the characterization correct at the time.

The periodical’s article is titled “The Edison Photophonokinetograph,” and it ends with Edison clearly describing a sound movie apparatus. But there’s a problem. The first part of the article is based on “a dispatch from Chicago May 12;” the last part, the part that’s unquestionably about a motion-picture apparatus, is from Brooklyn.

There are other peculiarities. Why use the word “distant” if referring to a movie system? And why (just before the Brooklyn section) reference stock and race tickers, which are live, not recorded?

Fortunately, The Electrical Engineer is not the only source for that story of the Edison prediction. It appeared not only in all of the Chicago newspapers of the time but also in newspapers and other publications around the world.

The earliest publication of that prediction (shown at left, from a clipping at Thomas Edison National Historic Park) — the same day Edison made his statement — is from The Chicago Evening Post, Tuesday, May 12, 1891. The article’s headline was “Edison’s in Chicago.”

The world’s most famous inventor had come to town to discuss electric power at the upcoming World’s Columbian Exposition, a World’s Fair intended to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s first voyage of discovery. It was a big deal (see the Fair’s Electricity Building below), so he was swarmed with press.

As it turned out, Westinghouse underbid Edison and ended up providing the electric power and lighting that led (at least in part) to the fair’s being called “The White City.” But no one knew about that on May 12, 1891, so Edison was asked about what he’d show at the fair. He said he had so much to show that he wanted more than an acre of exhibit space. And what specific “novelty” might he show?

The answer to that question was reported differently in different publications. According to one, The Chicago Tribune, on May 13, it was “the kinetograph,” “a combination of photography and phonography.” That’s a good description of a sound movie, and, in an age when both phonographs and movie systems were hand cranked, there was no need for electricity. But, as in the report in The Electrical Engineer, most publications called it “a happy combination of photography and electricity” (emphasis added).

At right is a portion of that first published report in The Chicago Evening Post. It indicates that the viewer will require “having electrical connection with the theatre” in order to see and hear what’s going on there. Movies do not require such a connection.

The Wellington, New Zealand Evening Post noted the new invention’s similarity to the telephone (but including a visual element) and quoted Edison as saying that, if opera singer Adelina Patti “be singing somewhere, this invention will put her full length picture upon canvas so perfectly as to enable one to distinguish every feature and expression of her face, see all her actions, and listen to the entrancing melody of her peerless voice.” It, too, described an electrical connection between viewer and source.

The unavoidable conclusion from the vast majority of the reports (The Chicago Tribune being the exception) — the combination of photography with electricity, the distant stage, the electrical connection between viewer and source, the likening of the invention to a visual form of the telephone and stock and race tickers — is that Edison predicted that he would show some form of television at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Did he mean it? That’s a different question.

Even according to The Chicago Tribune, Edison made the grant of sufficient space at the fair a condition of his showing the new invention. So maybe it was a bargaining ploy. Or, maybe, like du Maurier’s report of Edison’s Telephonoscope more than a dozen years earlier, it was all a joke.

According to The Chicago Evening Post, Edison said “this invention does not have any particular commercial value.” When asked what it was, he began, “We-ell” and “released a diminutive laugh.” Edison then described what was still wanting in the invention.

“‘But you will be able to supply that want!’ some one anxiously inquired.

“Mr. Edison smiled by way of reply and in a way that all doubts were swept away.”

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Television in 1882

September 30th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Snacks

For a long time, I’ve been familiar with the illustrations of the French artist and writer Albert Robida because of his “predictions” of television as early as 1882.  But, until recently, I had not read his accompanying descriptions.  An English translation of Robida’s 1882 book The Twentieth Century was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2004, and it’s great fun to read (if you skip the 57-page scholarly introduction and seven pages of notes on it).  There’s a lot more than just television in the book, including the 24-hour news cycle (and its effects), high-speed trains, feminism, and much more.  And, if you can’t get enough, there is that big introduction, many more notes, and lots and lots of illustrations.

You might not find it in your local bookstore, but it’s readily available from such sources as or

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