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Forty Years of Video Recording

Imagine a phone call to a 3M tape laboratory at 30 minutes past noon with the following request: "I need a video tape tomorrow morning for a demonstration at the US National Association of on Broadcasters convention in Chicago. Can you get me one?"

The caller was the late Dr. William ‘Bill’ Wetzel, then general manager but later vice president of 3M's Magnetic Tape Division. His request would not have been difficult today, but that noon-hour telephone call was made in April 1956, and the 2" quad video tape had not been invented.

Fortunately 3M researchers had been working on a number of projects involving magnetic particles and binders capable of producing excellent frequency response with very low noise levels. They also had a very good knowledge of chemistry needed to meet the temperatures and pressures described as necessary.

Using this knowledge, Mel Sater, a polymeric binder specialist and Joe Mazzltello worked for the next twenty hours to fulfil Bill Wetzel's request. The next morning they delivered a package to Wetzel who took it to Chicago. Inside the package was an untried, small roll of 2" magnetic tape that theoretically would work for video. The tape was a shot in the dark – developed without those 3M researchers even seeing the first ever Ampex Video Tape Recorder, the machine used at that 1956 convention demonstration. So, there was no way to test the tape ahead of time, and it was a very crude tape by today's standards.

The demonstration of the Ampex VR-1000 on 15th April 1956 began simply and quietly. The speaker's remarks were recorded on the ‘overnight wonder’ tape as he delivered them. Then the speech was played back before the audience on the recorder and the signal fed to a TV monitor. The broadcasters in the audience saw what Wetzel later described as photographic quality pictures. There was a moment or two of stunned silence, then an outburst of cheers, stamping feet, whistles and pandemonium.

Before a month had passed after that demonstration, the three American commercial broadcasting networks placed orders for a new tape and the quadruplex video recorder.

Motion pictures took several decades to move out of black and white into the new world of colour. Video tape crossed that great divide in 1965 converting to colour just nine years after its black and white introduction. By the mid 1960s, the electronic recording medium had come into general use for both programming and commercial production. ‘Emmy’ awards went to video taped TV ‘specials’ in 1965, 1966 and 1967. The 2" quadruplex system held sway for broadcast quality video taping for more than twenty years.

Meantime in 1969 the IVC 900 one-inch helical recorder for colour broadcasting had been introduced. A year later 3M introduced its Scotch high energy helical video tape for improved colour recording. Many advances have been made since the development of the first Ampex 2" Low Band High Band VTR and the first 2" video tape with the introduction of a range of industrial " and 1" reel to reel VCRs.

In 1977, the Betamax and VHS video cassette recorders were introduced to European consumers. By the middle of the next decade, home video recorders using cassettes with half-inch tape were introduced in the VHS and Beta Formats. Industry sources report that just under four million recorders were sold by 1980. Tape manufacturers sold millions of blank videocassettes in the Beta and VHS formats in the same period. In the professional area we have seen performance improvements in the U-Matic with the introduction of High band and SP. Meanwhile the broadcast industry saw the first 1" B and C format VTRs in 1977 and these made a significant impact on the way TV programmes were originated, edited and transmitted. During that period from 1956 to 1977, significant advances were made to improve the performance and reliability of video tapes resulting in better quality pictures, sound and also durability in editing. Improvements in the magnetic particles, the binder design and video tape manufacturing methods contributed to these advances.

In 1982, another major breakthrough came with the introduction of Betacam with its camera-recorder concept. This revolutionised the way news was originated with electronic news gathering (ENG); the effect on film news gathering was significant. Further developments were made with automated library management systems (LMS) for commercial playout and also performance improvements with the introduction of Betacam SP and MII. Both these formats use metal particle tape to enable the shorter wavelengths to be recorded and replayed.

Since 1956 all video tape recording systems had used the FM analogue method of recordings but in 1988 Sony and BTS introduced the first Digital Video Tape Recorder, the D1. This system recorded onto a 16m or 13m-small particle Cobalt Magnetic Tape and used three sizes of cassette shell. This format utilised the 4:2:2 Component Digital method to record the luminance (Y) and colour difference signals (R-Y) and (B-Y).

In 1990, Sony introduced the first Composite DVTR with its D2 system. This recorder used the same three cassettes as D1, but now loaded with 19mm Metal Particulate Tape. Shortly after another format emerged, the Panasonic " Digital D3. This is a composite DVTR system with a similar specification to D2, using similar Metal Particulate Tape, but with three cassettes.

Since then we have seen significant advances in the consumer video with 8mm, S-VHS and Hi-8 development, enabling low cost acquisition of news items on a small cassette system. This uses advanced metal particulate tape but for best performance in PAL metal evaporated tape is available. More widespread use of digital recording began in 1992 with the emergence of digital Betacam and its backwards compatibility with analogue Betacam. Once again in 1996 we see yet further developments in technology with the DV series and Digital-S equipment using metal particulate and metal evaporated tape.

The original 2" wide quad tape that made its network television debut back in 1956 used 30 square inches of tape to record one second of black & white pictures. In contrast, the latest developments allow digital colour pictures and DAT quality (features of the JVC GR-DV1 camcorder) on a surface area of only 0.18 square inches on 1/4" wide tape – a recorded area reduction of 166 times.

Reproduced with acknowledgement from Transco’s bi-monthly advertising magazine. For all your professional audio and video requirements ring Transco on 020-7287 3563, fax 020-7494 3583. Internet

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