The History of Video Cameras: 1920’s – 1940’s

Scottish engineer John Baird invented the first working mechanical television system. The technology behind his video camera was based on the electromechanical Nipkow disk (a mechanical, geometrically operating image scanning device, invented Paul Gottlieb Nipkow), and was used in experimental broadcasts by the BBC in the 1930s.  Baird created one of his first recordings in 1927 through a process he called “Phonovision”, which worked similar to the first audio recordings of the time in that recording were made on wax discs very similar to gramaphone records. The concept behind the Photovision was that it would be a process for recording using a camera and recording system mechanically linked and synchronized with a separate mechanism for playback.(McLean,p75-76) Unfortunately the amount of noise and distortion on the recordings made the pictures unreadable on his playback mechanism, and the system never took off.

In 1927, American engineer, Philo Farnsworth successfully transmitted the first all-electronic moving image. The image was a simple straight line, whose source was a glass slide that was backlit by an extremely bright lamp. His television system, which used all-electronic transmitting tubes, included the first ever “Image Dissector” (a television camera that performed the conversion and dissecting of light).  This device, which makes transmitting moving images possible, works by breaking images into points of light that are converted into electrical impulses, and then collected and translated back into light.

In 1934 the all-electronic television was being used in broadcasts, and receiving rapid engineering improvements. Meanwhile consumer sales of mechanical receivers were quite slow due to their high costs. The advancements in all-electronic television put an end to mechanical television broadcasts, as it’s last broadcast came in 1939 — the same year that RCA purchased Philo Farnsworth patents and they began demonstrations at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. It was at this event that RCA and a handful of other manufacturers began advertising to the public the appeal of household televisions.

In 1938 RCA persuaded the Radio Manufacturers Association (RMA) to consider adoption of its television system for standardization.  Following an RMA recommendation, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held hearings in 1940 to address the adoption of television standards. In the first set of hearings, opposition came from competition who argued against the RCA formed standards. In a final set of hearings, rival claims continued that RCA was stifling research and development into other alternative standards. This resulted in the FCC eliminating commercial broadcasting until an industry consensus on one common system could be made.


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