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The Polish Polymath Who Came Up With Television For Opera – In 1878

February 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment | Posted in Opera-Media Servings, Schubin Cafe


Julian OchorowiczHis name was Julijan Ochorowicz (though his first name was also spelled Julian or even Julien), and he was, among other things, a scientist, engineer, mathematician, inventor (credited with the first hands-free telephone), economist, linguist, Egyptologist, philosopher, poet, teacher, paranormal-phenomena investigator, and pioneer of experimental and clinical psychology.  His first thesis was on the history of human brain sizes; his second, earning him a doctorate from Leipzig University, was on conditions of consciousness. In 1877, he published a paper on respiration in the journal Kosmos. On February 10, 1878, in the same journal, he submitted a very different paper, which was soon published.  It was called (translated, with assistance from Google and native speakers, from the original 19th-century Polish), “On the possible construction of a device for transmitting optical images at any distance.” The rationale for the device? Delivering the visual element of opera.

Ochorowicz’s paper was not the first published about what we today call television and not even the first invoking television for opera. Even Ochorowicz reportedly worked on television in 1877; I’m awaiting the availability of some research material about that.

As for the earliest publication on what we today call television (and its use for opera), on March 30, 1877, the newspaper The Sun in New York City carried a letter from someone using the pen name “Electrician” about the wonders of a television-like device called the “electroscope.” Part of the letter had this: “Both telephone and electroscope applied on a large scale would render it possible to represent at one time on a hundred stages in various parts of the world the opera… sung… in any given theatre.” That’s a reasonable description of today’s global transmissions of live opera to cinemas and other auditoriums.

1877 New York Sun opera TV

“Electrician” cited opera, however, as just one possible application of the “electroscope” and never claimed to be its inventor; he or she attributed it to “an eminent scientist of this city” who was “on the point of publishing….” The letter nevertheless gave an explanation of the technology involved, comprising argle-bargle about the cameras being “boxes, or rooms, according to the size required” with “quasi electric wires of a peculiar make and consistency” and the displays “being constantly kept filled with a newly discovered gas, a sort of magnetic-electric ether, in which the currents of light or color become resplendent again….”

Adelina_Patti_1863In contrast, Ochorowicz, who was clearly aware of the latest technological developments, presented only opera as the reason to invent what he called a “telephotoscope” (“telefotoskop” in the original Polish). The same year that Thomas Edison indicated that the main purpose of the phonograph was dictation, Ochorowicz wrote that both the telephone and the phonograph offered the delightful possibility of hearing performances by opera diva Adelina Patti at home.

Here’s my attempted (assisted by Google and native Polish speakers) translation of what Ochorowicz wrote next. “What a pleasure to me that sitting in Lwów I could listen to Italian opera in Paris, but I would see neither performers nor sets nor impressions on the faces of the audience nor costumes — in a word, nothing!

“That cannot be.  After telephony and recording, we need to invent the telephotoscope.”

Artificial EyeOchorowicz went on to analyze the technology needed (click images to enlarge).  First, “Find a way to convert variations in light intensity into an electrical signal.” He reported on the latest work in this area, including the selenium-based “artificial eye” recently demonstrated by William Siemens.

PantelegraphSecond, find a way to get the signal into a single wire. “Electrician” proposed only twisting “many thousands of wires” into a cable; “On entering the receiver the cable is untwisted….” Ochorowicz instead turned to the image scanning already in use in “Caselli’s Pantelegraph,” a still-image fax-like transmission system that went into commercial service in France in 1865 and that opera-composer Gioachino Rossini had used to transmit sheet music over long distances starting on January 22, 1860.

Sutton NYPLLast, Ochorowicz tackled the problem of converting the electrical signal back to light. It’s a little difficult for me to tell from the 19th-century Polish (Google Translate has a hard time, too), but it appears that Ochorowicz might have been referring to a polarization-rotation light valve based on the recently discovered Kerr effect. “And here at once the eyes of the viewer will be released within the Paris Opera House,” and, with the addition of appropriate projection lenses, the image “can be enlarged for the whole audience in a theater.”

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Breaking the Pictures Barrier: Why Television Research Began in 1877 (and why no one knows it)

January 24th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe, Today's Special


Why Television Research Began in 1877 (and Why No One Knows It)

Recorded January 12, 2017 at the SMPTE Philadelphia Section meeting, QVC, West Chester, PA.

Prior to 1877, there was no hint of a television camera — not even in science fiction or fantasy. In 1877, eight people, in five countries on both sides of the Atlantic, began working on television systems, and there has not been a year since without television research (though the word “television,” itself, wasn’t coined until 1900). Why the “pictures barrier” between 1876 and 1877? How did it get broken? Why don’t television history books discuss it? After extensive research, Mark Schubin thinks he knows the answers.

Download Link:  Breaking the Pictures Barrier: Why Television Research Began in 1877 (and why no one knows it) (TRT: 44:33/ 86 MB)

Since delivering this talk, Mark Schubin has discovered another member of “the class of 1877” (slide 43), Julijan Ochorowicz of Poland, who also referenced the Siemens artificial eye (slide 87). An expanded and updated set of slides (from the presentation to the SMPTE New York section on January 24) is available here.

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

December 5th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe, Today's Special

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.

Sarah Fischer as Carmen for 1934 BBC TVDid 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 script was an operetta broadcast in Chicago in 1931.

Did you think the idea of television came from Philo Farnsworth in 1927? Fifty years earlier, in 1877, the New York newspaper The Sun carried a proposal for transmitting live opera (both video images and sound) to theaters around the world (like the current series The Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD).

amahlDid you think PBS has always been the home of opera on television? CBS commissioned 14 operas for television, NBC 13. In addition to commissioning its own television operas, ABC also developed new technology for televising opera from the stage, involving cameras using dry ice and infra-red lamps.

Join multiple-Emmy-award-winning engineer and historian Mark Schubin for a National Opera Week illustrated talk about the extraordinary combined history (and possible futures) of opera and television. Did you know that for half a century starting in 1885 people went to opera houses to watch live remote baseball games? Did you know that laboratories around the world have been discussing sub-atomic particles in the service of televised opera?

Watch and be amazed!

Download Link: Television & Opera: A 140-Year Collaboration (TRT: 36:16 / 68 MB)

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Pittsburgh, SMPTE, & Before by Mark Schubin

November 4th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe, Today's Special

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 talk about the origins of SMPTE, standards, movies, and television. Image scanning in 1843? Opto-electronic conversion in 1839? An item about a Pittsburgh-based television proposal in American Manufacturer and Iron World in 1880? Watch and be amazed!
Recorded November 2, 2016 at the Fairmont-Pittsburgh Hotel, Pittsburgh, PA.

Download link: Pittsburgh, SMPTE, & Before (TRT: 55:59 / 106 MB)

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Help Fund a Book About Henry Sutton, Television Pioneer

August 15th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Snacks


Sutton's Telephane Receiver Display

In 1890, Henry Sutton, of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, published the diagram above (minus the annotations) in The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review. It was, conceivably, the first viable proposal for a complete television system (this diagram shows only an elevation of the receiver).

Sutton bookWas Sutton able to televise the Melbourne Cup race in 1885? Did he first propose a television system in 1871 (which would be six years before anyone else)?

Lorayne Branch, Sutton’s great-granddaughter, says she will reveal the answers in a book that will include letters, papers, and patents, hitherto unknown, by this inventor who worked not only in television but also in radio, telephony, electric lighting, and other fields. She’s looking for crowd funding to get the book published. I just sent in my contribution and eagerly await the result! If you can contribute to shorten the delay in my learning the answers to those questions, please do.

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Great Scots!

August 3rd, 2016 | 3 Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe


FernsehkanonenWith 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 in the U.S. The U.S. was also home to the first scheduled television newscasts, but the idea of them was first published in France. The first book about television technology was published in Portugal. The first scanned electronic video display was invented in Russia. What television historian George Shiers called “a feasible system” first appeared in Australia. The earliest video image (crude though it was) was created in Ireland. A key principle of video cameras came from Hungary. Inventors in Argentina and South Africa received early television patents.

Television was clearly a global development. But, if the most-important contributions are considered, the country that stands out is none of those in the previous paragraph. It’s Scotland.

Big Bain patentThis year, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded a Technology & Engineering Emmy to Scottish inventor Alexander Bain. He did not accept in person; he died in 1877. BBC Television ran three stories on the award, one about the arrival of the statuette at the site of his grave, Kirkintilloch, Scotland. In 1842 Bain came up with the concept of scanning for image transmission and received a patent on it the following year. It included pixels, horizontal scanning lines, frames (his pixels were physically in a constructed frame), line synchronization, and frame synchronization. No one had previously proposed anything of the sort.

1928 Baird NoctovisionAnother key Scottish inventor, John Logie Baird, inducted into the Honor Roll of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) in 2014, also achieved something no one had previously accomplished; in 1925, he created the first recognizable video image of a human face. That, alone, would be enough to put him in a Hall of Fame of television engineering, but he did much more: television broadcasting, television recording, intercity television networking, theatrical television, stereoscopic television, color television, giant flat-panel television, two-way television, projection television, see-in-the-dark television, remote television pickup, home video sales, transatlantic television, no-moving-parts color television displays, high-definition television—the list goes on and on.

Sutton's Telephane Receiver DisplayThough he also worked on electronic television, Baird is best known for his early work in electro-mechanical television. Those “receivers” (displays) required a means of converting the video signal into variations in light intensity (electro-optical transduction). But the earliest television research predates even Edison’s or Swan’s incandescent lamps. Scots to the rescue! William Nicol came up with a prism for polarizing light, and John Kerr came up with a way of rotating the polarization based on the strength of an electrical signal. Nicol prisms and Kerr cells allowed even oil lamps to be considered as television-display light sources, as shown at left in Henry Sutton’s “Telephane.”

Thomson_mirror_galvanometerToday’s video and digital-cinema projectors do something similar, though the electro-optical transduction is often accomplished with tiny moving mirrors. The idea of using an electrical signal to move a mirror was the basis of another Scottish invention, the mirror galvanometer, created by William Thomson in 1858 for the first transatlantic telegraph cable. It was the failure of that cable that led to the research that resulted in television’s other key principle, the conversion of variations in light intensity to an electronic signal (opto-electronic transduction). It was promoted by such great Scots as James Clerk Maxwell, whose work on electricity, magnetism, and light led to broadcasting and other wireless transmission (among other innovations), and Thomson, a president of the Society of Telegraph Engineers, a sponsor of Bain, and, later, Lord Kelvin (yes, the K of the 3200K, 6500K, and 9300K color temperatures of television lights and displays).

Bells_Photophon_SchemaAlexander Graham Bell, another Scot, also promoted opto-electronic transduction. He’s better known, of course, for the invention of his telephone, which led to television sound. But his “photophone,” a means of transmitting electrical signals via a beam of light (the reason he promoted opto-electronic transduction), led to fiber-optic transmission systems.

1753 Scots Magazine 4The telephone was preceded by the telegraph. Schemes for transmitting information at a distance date back to smoke signals, signal fires, jungle drums, and horns (so named because early ones were made from hollowed animal horns). The word telegraph was first used in the late 18th century for a system of information transmission involving semaphore arms on towers. And the electrical telegraph? It’s even older! A complete description appeared in The Scots Magazine in the February 1753 issue under the headline “An expeditious method of conveying intelligence by means of electricity.” It also includes what might be the earliest description of insulated wire.

PSM_V21_D055_The_brewster_stereoscope_1849The article was written by someone using the initials C. M. and writing from Renfrew (near Glasgow). Sir David Brewster, a Scot called “the father of modern experimental optics,” whose designs have been used for stereoscopic 3D TV and movies, was among those who searched for C. M.’s identity.  According to John Joseph Fahie in A History of Electric Telegraphy to the Year 1837 (1884), “certain it is that, in October 1859, [Sir David Brewster] accepted the evidence in favour of C. M. being a Charles Morrison, with as much warmth, and, we fear, as much haste, as he had done that for Charles Marshall in the previous December.”

1828 MirrorPerhaps C. M.’s revelation of conveying intelligence by electricity influenced Sir Walter Scott’s story “My Aunt Margaret’s Mirror.” There had been previous see-at-a-distance crystal balls and magic mirrors, but Scott’s might have been the first called an “apparatus” with a maximum duration of use of seven minutes (to prevent circuit overheating?). At right is a reproduction of a watercolor by John William Wright, showing the “mirror” in operation, published with the story in 1828 (from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Click the image to enlarge it.

1912 Campbell SwintonScott’s story predates even Bain’s image scanning, but Scots have contributed to more-modern forms of television as well. The BBC pioneered 100 Gbps IP connectivity for the television facilities at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, which also offered 100-frame-per-second viewing, virtual reality, metadata augmentation, and the ability for home viewers to zoom in and pan around. Of course, that required scanned electronic television, not electro-mechanical. Who first came up with that idea? American Philo Farnsworth wasn’t yet two years old when a Scot, Alan Archibald Campbell-Swinton, who had previously come up with magnetic focusing of electron beams, published a description of end-to-end scanned electronic television in Nature.

Campbell-Swinton sold himself short. “It is only an idea with which I am concerned,” he wrote in 1912, “and such an apparatus will never be built following these principles.” What might be the best quote about the technology came, however, from a Scott who wasn’t a Scot: C. P. Scott, legendary editor and publisher of the Manchester Guardian, whose trust still owns what’s now called The Guardian. “Television? The word is half Greek and half Latin. No good will come of it.”

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It’s the End of an Era, But Which?

July 26th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Snacks


The day after the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the society that became SMPTE, The New York Times reported on July 25, 2016, on the front page of its business section, on the end of an era. The headline was “Once $50,000. Now, VCRs collect dust.” If only we knew which era was ending.

Funai-logoThe Washington Post headline on July 22 seemed to put it clearly: “The VCR is officially dead. Yes, it was still alive.” The Associated Press, the same day as the Times story, initially seemed to agree: An anonymous spokesperson for “Japanese electronics maker Funai Electric Co.” “confirmed Monday that production will end sometime this month” of VCRs. Then things get a little confusing.

According to the Times, Funai is “the last known company still manufacturing the technology,” and, according to the Post, Funai “has continued to manufacture the machines even as several generations of superior entertainment technology” appeared, but “a lack of demand and difficulty acquiring parts has convinced them to cease production at the end of July.”  According to the AP, however, users will still be able to buy “VHS-DVD recorder-players made by other, mostly Chinese, companies” (the Times and the AP agree that Funai had been making its VCRs in China). According to the AP, as far as VHS/DVD combos, even “Funai will be rolling out such products later this month, the spokesman said.” All three agree that the “lack of demand” meant the company had made only 750,000 VHS machines last year.

CVCIf Funai is ceasing production of VCRs, it’s the end of an era at least for them. Funai had been making VHS machines since 1983 and CVC (compact video cassette) machines starting in 1980. That’s a long time. Of course, if they’re continuing to make VHS/DVD combos, it’s somewhat less of an ending, even for Funai. If other manufacturers are continuing to make them, the era hasn’t ended for anyone outside the company.

So the era either ends or doesn’t this week. What about the start? For Funai it was 1983 or 1980. According to the Times, “The first VCRs for homes were released in the 1960s….” Hmm.

RtcheouloffVCR stands for videocassette recorder. The Post noted that “Video recording technology itself dates to the early 1920s,” and it’s true. A magnetic version was disclosed in a Russian patent application filed by Boris Rtcheouloff in 1922. But the first videotape recorder (VTR) wasn’t sold until 1956. Though it was very large and heavy, expensive (the $50,000 of the Times headline), and difficult to operate and maintain, it immediately inspired the Times television critic Jack Gould to predict home video. “Why not pick up the new full-length motion picture at the corner drugstore,” he asked in a report on the unveiling of Ampex’s videotape recorder in the April 22, 1956 issue, “and then run it through one’s home TV receiver?”

CV-2000 adAccording to James Lardner’s book Fast Forward: Hollywood, the Japanese, and the VCR Wars (Norton 1987), an Ampex home VTR did appear in the 1963 Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog for “a mere” $30,000. “Officially christened the Signature V, this staggering concoction was informally dubbed Grant’s Tomb after Gus Grant, the marketing manager who conceived it.” As an “Ampex engineer explained, ‘It was about the right size.'” It used two-inch-wide videotape that had to be threaded around the head drum. It was a VTR, not a VCR.

Sony might have been the first to market a smaller, lighter, less-expensive home VTR, starting in 1965, the CV-2000 (shown in the ad at left, click to enlarge). The letters stood for “consumer video.” It used half-inch tape and was easier to operate, but it was still a VTR, not a VCR; consumers had to thread tape around a head drum and got only black-&-white pictures.

By the end of the 1960s, videotape reels were enclosed in cartridges to be inserted into machines that could pull out a stiff tape leader and automatically thread it. They saw use professionally. Sony’s 3/4-inch-tape-width U-matic, which was first sold in 1971, might be considered the first VCR intended for home use. It used double-reel cassettes, it recorded and played color video, and the first model (VO-1600) had wood-panel sides, a tuner, and antenna/TV-set connections. But it could record only one hour per cassette, not enough for a movie. The second recorder (VO-1800) had video and audio inputs and outputs so it could be used professionally. Philips followed with a VCR called VCR in 1972. It, too, failed to capture the home market.

CartrivisionCartrivision hit Sears stores in 1972.  It seemed to have everything: a retail sales channel, the capacity to record a full movie, and prerecorded movies for sale or rent. But, according to Lardner, “After announcing plans to produce up to 50,000 Cartrivision units in 1972, the company had to admit in early 1973 that only twenty-five hundred had been sold.” Despite expanding to Macy’s, Montgomery Ward, and other stores, Cartrivision failed to take hold, and the board of directors of Avco, its major funder, “voted to pull the plug, writing off an investment that had grown to forty-eight million dollars.”

Other home video formats followed: V-Cord, VX, Betamax, VHS, etc. Sony’s Betamax, though the first version could record only one hour per cassette, led to the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision authorizing home video recording of television programming. VHS, with a two-hour capacity from the first unit sold in 1976, took over the market and is still used.

LTR-100HSBy the way, even if Funai’s decision did lead to the end of VHS, that company wouldn’t be the last VCR manufacturer—not even the last Japan-based VCR manufacturer—as long as the C in VCR can stand for either cassette or cartridge. The relatively new For-A LTR-100HS and LTR-120HS machines record bit-rate-reduced video on LTO-5 or LTO-6 archiving tape cartridges with the usual professional VCR controls and display. There’s no indication they’re planning to stop making and selling them.




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Truth Will Out

July 8th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe


A Capitol Fourth

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 stations across the country. On the engineering end, the show entails an enormous performance tent for the National Symphony Orchestra, giant screens, transmission links for cameras as far as kilometers away, audio setups for different performers on different stages (ranging from soft-voiced singers to marching bands to the cannons that punctuate Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture). The credits even include a meteorologist, who determines whether it’s safe for the show to go on.

On July 4 this year, the weather was safe but not good. Host Tom Bergeron kept hyping the upcoming fireworks, and an on-screen graphic noted the minutes and seconds to go before the first blast. Unfortunately, the cloud ceiling was low, and little more could be seen of the starbursts than a colored glow in the sky. So the show resorted to clearer pre-recorded fireworks, creating a minor scandal. A tweet from the show’s account said, in part, “It was the patriotic thing to do.”

John AdamsThat’s probably true. After the second Continental Congress passed the resolution of independence, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that that glorious “Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance…. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations… from this Time forward forever more.” So fireworks (“illuminations”) are part of the patriotic commemoration.

There’s just one problem: Adams sent his letter to Abigail on July 3, which was the day after the resolution of independence was passed, “The Second Day of July 1776.” That was “independence day.” What happened on July 4 was just the approval of the wording of the commonly read declaration. Those complaining about the old fireworks in A Capitol Fourth didn’t seem to care that the actual 240th anniversary of U.S. independence occurred two days earlier.

Television at the New York World's Fair in 1939The history of television technology is more obscure than the history of the United States, but it, too, has its erroneous myths and legends.  Years before all-electronic television was “introduced” at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, for example, it had already been broadcast in London.  Long before that, the first regularly scheduled television news broadcasts began in Schenectady, New York, using so-called “mechanical” scanning. Philo Farnsworth demonstrated the first scanned, all-electronic television system, but even that idea was published much earlier by someone else. And, if the term “scanned” is dropped, the first crude all-electronic television images were seen no later than 1879 (though the word television wasn’t coined until 1900).

Big Bain patentWhen did television start? It’s really impossible to say. It depends on definitions of television and start, among other things. The concept of scanning for image transmission was patented in 1843 by Alexander Bain, which the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recognized with an Emmy award this year. That’s one important principle of television. Even more important, perhaps, is the concept of converting variations in light intensity into an electronic video signal—opto-electronic transduction.

Few television histories mention the discovery of a photoelectric effect by 19-year-old Edmond Becquerel in 1839. That’s actually as it should be. Although Becquerel’s discovery was published at the time in major scientific journals, no one seemed to know what do do with it. When Becquerel, himself, demonstrated an electrical image transmission system to the French Academy of Sciences two decades later, he did not suggest any optical input for it; the images had to be drawn in insulating ink on a conductive surface.

AgamemnonMany television histories mention Joseph May, Willoughby Smith, and George R. Carey, and all are significant but not necessarily for who they supposedly were, what they are said to have done, or when they allegedly did it. May has been called an Irish telegraph clerk. That description probably stems from a report in Nature of a lecture given by Charles William Siemens to the Royal Institution of London in 1876—a very important talk. According to the report, knowledge of the photoconductivity of selenium was the result “of an observation made first by Mr. May, a telegraph clerk at Valentia,” Ireland. Siemens did attribute the observation to May and did put it in Valentia, but he never called him a clerk.

In fact, May, who had previously served as an assistant to the “electrician” (what we would today call electrical engineer) in charge of the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, was in 1866 put in charge of the electrical department of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon) at the factory in Greenwich, England, where the second transatlantic cable had been manufactured. During the laying of the first cable, May served on the cable ship Agamemnon; for the second, he was at the European terminus in Valentia, while his boss, Willoughby Smith, served on the cable ship Great Eastern.

Willoughby Smith imageAfter the failure of the first cable, Smith was charged with ensuring the health of the second. A cable—even one made of copper—thousands of kilometers long has a high resistance, so Smith wanted a comparably resistive material for making his measurements. After trying layers of tinfoil separated by gelatine and finding the combination unstable, Smith decided to try crystalline selenium.

We might never know why Siemens attributed the discovery of selenium’s photoconductivity to May. Those who attribute it to Smith can use his own writing as a reference. “In my experiments with this substance, I was at first sorely puzzled” about its changing resistance, he wrote. “On investigation, this proved to be owing to the resistance of selenium being affected by the slightest variation in the rays of light falling upon it.”

They were his experiments, because he designed them. But he had his staff conduct them. According to the most recently available information, the discovery was actually made in 1872 by Telcon worker John E. Mayhew at the company’s facility at Enderby Wharf, Greenwich, where the company, its predecessors, and its successors have continuously been manufacturing underwater cables since 1857 (and, for six years before that, next door). It is currently operating as Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks (below). Mayhew informed May who informed Smith of the discovery.

Telcon today

Smith deserves his place in television histories. Not only did he choose to test selenium and design experiments to prove its photoconductivity (as opposed to, say, sensitivity to heat or current), but he also chose to inform the world about it. On February 4, 1873, he sent a letter to Latimer Clark, a colleague in the Society of Telegraph Engineers (today the Institution of Engineering and Technology), and asked him to read it at a society meeting. It set off almost a chain reaction as scientists and engineers tried to prove or disprove Smith’s findings.

One of those was Werner von Siemens, William’s brother. On February 18, 1876, almost exactly three years after Smith’s findings were reported, William gave that fateful lecture to the Royal Institution about his brother’s work. And, at the end of it, he showed something that precipitated the advent of television research. But Siemens appears in almost no television history. The reason might be an article about television published in Discovery magazine in 1928.

1912 Campbell SwintonThe article was written by Alan Archibald Campbell Swinton, the person who described all-electronic scanned television in Nature in 1908 before Philo Farnsworth was two years old. It began with a short history, which included a mention of the television experiments of George R. Carey of Boston, possibly the first person to use the word camera to describe an electronic device. And it said Carey’s work was in 1875. If so, the 1876 Siemens lecture couldn’t possibly have influenced him.

The 1875 date was erroneous and was debunked by the great television historian George Shiers in his paper “Historical Notes on Television Before 1900,” which appeared in the SMPTE Journal in March 1977. Perhaps it had been dictated, and a nine was misheard as a five; the earliest published information on Carey’s work was in 1879. But recently his unpublished, but witnessed, notebooks were acquired by The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums. Through their courtesy, below are two images from Carey’s notebooks. The first is dated January 1877, which is the earliest known date for television research. The second mentions as the source of his inspiration an article on page 374 of the December 9, 1876 issue of Scientific American.

Carey date

Carey idea

What was the subject of that article? It was something shown at the end of the Siemens lecture. “Before concluding,” he said, “I wish to introduce to your notice a little apparatus, which I have prepared to illustrate the extraordinary sensitiveness of my brother’s selenium preparations and an analogy between its action and that of the retina of our eye.” With that introduction, Siemens showed a device with a selenium “retina,” lens, and even “eyelids.” “Here we have then an artificial eye, which is sensible to light and to differences of color, which shows the phenomenon of fatigue if intense light is allowed to act for a length of time, and from which it recovers again by repose in keeping the eyelids closed.”

Artificial EyeAt best, it was a one-pixel camera, but the idea of even that in 1876 was so extraordinary that it was picked up by journals, newspapers, and magazines around the world, from The Great Bend Weekly Tribune in Kansas to the Bruce Herald in New Zealand. It might be the single most-famous invention you’d never heard of. And Carey wasn’t the only person inspired to begin television research based on that lecture. Adriano de Paiva in Portugal and Constantin Senlecq in France also mentioned the Siemens eye, as did still-picture-transmission researcher Carlo Perosino in Italy. Whether it was called an artificial eye, occhio selenico, œil artificiel, ojo artificial, or olho artificial, it appeared in reports of much of the early television research. Prior to 1877, there does not appear to be a single mention of anything that could be considered a video camera, not even in fantasy or fiction; in 1877, at least eight people, in multiple countries, on both sides of the Atlantic, began work on or mentioned something like it.

The Siemens artificial eye might not have been television’s start, but it certainly got the ball rolling.

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The History, Present, and Possible Future of Increased Resolution for Motion Imaging by Mark Schubin

July 15th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Presented on July 10, 2015 at the “International Symposium on Medical-Engineering Collaboration: Medicine Definitely Jumps Up with 8K,” organized by and presented at Nihon University, Tokyo.

Direct Link (26 MB / TRT 14:46):
The History, Present, and Possible Future of Increased Resolution for Motion Imaging by Mark Schubin


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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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