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Video Tape Recorder Unveiled 50 Years Ago 121 121

Argyle writes "50 years ago Ampex unveiled the first video tape recorder. TV Technology has an excellent story about the surprise launch of the video tape recorder, impacting almost every aspect of business, entertainment, and family life as we know it today. The enabler of the entire modern entertainment industry, the video tape recorder was was designed by only six men, Charles Ginsburg, Charles Anderson, Ray Dolby, Shelby Henderson, Alex Maxey, and Fred Pfost."
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Video Tape Recorder Unveiled 50 Years Ago

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  • by DurendalMac (736637) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @03:30AM (#15134555)
    Sorry, I couldn't resist that one.
  • Waste of time... (Score:5, Informative)

    by evilviper (135110) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @03:47AM (#15134600) Journal
    In an age when video cameras and recording devices are virtually everywhere, it's difficult to believe that it wasn't always possible to walk into a Wal-Mart or Best Buy store with $50 and leave with a new video recorder.

    Yes, difficult to believe... if you're 16 years old. Jesus, it was less than 20 years ago that VCRs became ubiquitous.

    The science of magnetically recording video images is so mature today that it's taken completely for granted,

    Tell that to someone without a DVR... I was just digitizing VHS tapes the other day, and the memories came flooding back, of eaten tapes, tons of visual glitches, tapes deteriorating from age or repeated recordings, etc. Magnetic tape recording seems very iffy, even today.

    That whole article is a waste of time. Extremely verbose and filled with hyperbole, and yet very little to say.

    I strongly recomend the (defacement-proof link) Wikipedia Ampex article [wikipedia.org] which I found infinitely more informative and concise than this article, when I was reading up on the history of broadcast a few weeks ago.
    • Don't confuse consumer grade tape machines with commercial grade tape machines. When you pay $100K for a tape machine, you get something with much better performance, consistency and reliability, that can be used for decades with periodic overhaul of the recording heads. I know people who use tape machines that were built 20+ years ago on a daily basis. These "ancient" machines still meet specs and rarely break.
      • Do not underestimate the inginuity of small children to find a way to destroy your very expensive hardware.
        Whether it be feeding the machine with soggy banana or giving it something to play with - the kids will win.
        And those nice tapes make wonderful streamers.
    • by mlewan (747328) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @04:32AM (#15134693) Homepage Journal
      "In an age when video cameras and recording devices are virtually everywhere, it's difficult to believe that it wasn't always possible to walk into a Wal-Mart or Best Buy store with $50 and leave with a new video recorder."

      "Yes, difficult to believe... if you're 16 years old. Jesus, it was less than 20 years ago that VCRs became ubiquitous."

      I'd guess it wouldn't help to be 16 years old. There were no VCRs around when I was a kid. There are hardly any VCRs around today either, as everything is replaced with DVDs. The only persons agreeing with the article author would be someone born around 1985 who tragically died around 2000, so they never got to see the DVD revolution.

    • The wikipedia does lack some of the unnecessary fluff, bit it seems a bit shorter on anything outside the pure technical details of the hardware. eg

      [TVT article]
      It was the star of the convention and even though Ampex had set a selling price of $45,000 for production models (more than $320,000 in 2006 dollars), orders were written that week for more than 70 machines. (Market research conducted prior to the show indicated that there would be a demand for no more than a dozen globally.)
      and
      Even so, sales orders
    • Re:Waste of time... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Matrix2110 (190829)
      I have not RTFA but your post bring back the hard memories...

      I had to go to work with 50lbs of recording machinery with another 20lbs of batteries in the snow...

      Those darn 2" recorders were so very heavy.

      Having said that, the current generation of camcorders and 5 megapixle cellphones don't know what they have in the palm of the hand.

      At least I know.

      • I had to go to work with 50lbs of recording machinery with another 20lbs of batteries in the snow...

        Uphill both ways? Barefoot?

        Cmon, how hard was it? :)
    • Tell that to someone without a DVR... I was just digitizing VHS tapes the other day, and the memories came flooding back, of eaten tapes, tons of visual glitches, tapes deteriorating from age or repeated recordings, etc. Magnetic tape recording seems very iffy, even today.

      I've been digitizing old reel to reel tapes, some going back as far as the early 60s, and have had a lot of fun.

      Despite all of tape's problems, at least you can get your information off of it without too much hassle (tape baking [tangible-technology.com]). With DV
      • With DVDs and CDs one bit of corruption kills the entire work, making you wish there was just a drop out or two . . .

        For realtime playback, DVDs are less resilient to errors. However, if you're looking to copy them, you can always read-around an error, and get 99% of the data as perfect as the day it was pressed. Also, if you're willing to do it by hand (with an electron microscope), you can practically always recover the data, even in heavily scratched areas. Short of the metal actually flaking off, the

  • ...because it is irrevocably tied to a bunch of other stuff in a big tangle of cables.
  • Betamax (Score:2, Interesting)

    by glas_gow (961896)
    We had one of the first betamax videos when they came out. We had it for a couple of months ... during the world cup in Mexico my father sat up until 2am programming the thing to record every game. Then a few weeks later some ****ers broke into the house and stole the thing, along with all my father's world cup tapes. By that time VHS was taking over, and since we didn't know anyone who'd had a VHS stolen, we replaced those lovely DAT-like betamax tapes for the horror, the horror, of chewed VHS tape.

    Tape ru
    • lovely DAT-like betamax tapes

      I think you are off by an order of magnitude, but not two.


    • We had one of the first betamax videos when they came out.

      I still have one! Free to a good home - want it? (Warning: you pay shipping.) E-mail me, slant6mopar@yahoo.com. If I could find my digital camera (damned miniturization makes things get lost easily!), I'd put photos online. It's a 1975 Sony top-loader with mechanical tuners, and *only supports Beta I* (effectively, SP only - no LP or EP speeds). If there's interest, I'll actually pull it out of the closet and copy down the model number. FOB Ottawa,

  • by AaronLawrence (600990) * on Saturday April 15, 2006 @04:14AM (#15134657)
    This is cool because it reminds us what can happen when a *real* innovation is created, instead of version X+1 of existing software program with new feature Y.

    People go crazy, you make more money than you can dream of, the world changes.

    That's what geeks should dream to do...
    • If you read the article you can read that this vcr was a X+1 technology. Not only does the article mention two previous video recorders from wich lessons were learned it also makes the link that a video recorder is just a audio recorder +1

      Neither did it create a truly new product kinescope already existed and provided a pretty similar function. Just slower.

      So what this really proves is that most tech is based on other tech and that devices wich the average human considers revolutionary are in fact evoluti

      • It's funny that even after reading his post you come to the conclusion that he read the article ;-)

      • I think you're wrong about it being X+1 technology. The other video tape recording techniques simply didn't work, so they don't count as X. Kinescope could not play back immediately or be erased (and the picture quality really sucked), so it doesn't count either. There truly was nothing like the VTR before Ampex made one. Otherwise they wouldn't have received such a deafening round of applause and 70 orders in a weekend.

        The cell phone was a similar technology revolution. There truly was nothing like it - a

    • This is cool because it reminds us what can happen when a *real* innovation is created

      I wonder how many people in the audience were saying "This'll ruin the movie industry. We'd better kill it off before that happens".

    • it reminds us what can happen when a *real* innovation is created

      I think CD was like that. Not so sure about DVD though.

      • >I think CD was like that. Not so sure about DVD though.

        DVD, to the consumer, was X+1. Essentially a CD for moving pictures, and was received as "it's about time", not "what an amazing, unexpected development."

        Audio cassette tape might have been more important, but it took Ampex so long to make it available for consumers (due to IP constraints!), that it was also received with derision.
  • by johnnywheeze (792148) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @05:43AM (#15134793)
    Very nostalgic, for those of us who work with broadcast VTR's on a daily basis. I can still thread a quad machine in a pinch, but even I can't wait to get rid of tape completely.

    The next generation of broadcasters are going to look at tape like we look at recording on wax cylinders.

    Good to see it's beginning, and even better to see its end. It's time has passed.
    • We may be at the end of an era, but beta and VHS won't give in without a fight, I'm a master control operator for our local NBC affiliate and we still have an odetics beta tape machine, purchased back in 94, twelve years and I look at that beast with such disdain because it is so freakin huge! and to do the same job that one digital server does for the commercials for our sister station. While other stations are upgrading to fully digital stations (i.e. news, operations, production, master control) we "can
    • Can we be so sure that the tape era is dead? In the remote sensing (satellite measured data) area the main storage method is still magnetic tape. It simply can store more data and is reliable for storing data long term. This point reminds me of the comment made by somebody in IBM a while back regarding writable cdroms and how they are not reliable in the long term (yet). Furthermore it is a bit of a concern when people store there digital photos on a medium that has yet to be truly tested in the long term.
    • Yeah it takes me back to my Brodcast TV days too..

      I wonder how may people here even know what a quad is.

      For those who don't it's a 2" wide reel to reel video tape system.
      It has an air drivin head and is quite the beast.

      The station I worked for had 2 Ampex VR1200's, 2 RCA TR-50's and at the end of the quad era at theat station we picked up an Ampex AVR-1.. That thing was cool.

      We ran those in production untill 1999 when they were retired for a digital library (think SAN with a video playback control system)

      I
  • by nblender (741424) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @08:43AM (#15135039)
    The time was ..... 12:00 .... 12:00 .... 12:00 ..... 12:00 .... 12:00 .... 12:00 (Apologies to those of you who are 30yo and have no idea what I'm talking about).
  • Auto Focus (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sharrestom (531929)
    There was a film a couple of years back about Hogan's Heroes' Bob Crane called "Auto Focus" starring Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe. He was one of the first to use the new "portable" VTR from Sony for sex video's. I googled up this: http://crimemagazine.com/bobcrane.htm [crimemagazine.com]
  • by jocknerd (29758) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @08:47AM (#15135050)
    They unleashed a monster. Could have nipped it in the bud back in the 50's.
  • by b1t r0t (216468) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @10:13AM (#15135262)
    This was a seeming impossibility, as the only means for preserving video images was kinescope recording, a process in which a special motion picture camera photographed a television monitor. When the recording was finished, the film had to be removed and sent away for developing. Under normal circumstances, this could take hours.

    Actually, it wasn't the only way. In the late 1920s, back when cameras were still mechanical-scan, there were people in the UK who had hooked up vinyl disc recorders (search for "phonovision") to their primitive television sets and recorded a few programs. Not only did they record programs, but they actually used them for time-shift viewing!

    The video recorder wasn't trivial. The problem was getting enough octaves of bandwidth for the video signal. And the bandwidth was directly related to the head-to-tape speed. Using transverse or helical scan (transverse scan is really just helical scan at a very sharp angle), you can increase the head speed enough for video. Later, color added another problem, and a technique called "color under" was used which shifted the chroma information to another band.

    Laserdisc isn't really much different, except that it has enough bandwidth to not need color-under. And no, just because it has pits and non-pits, it is NOT digital, though the audio can be. The distance between the pit edges represents a wideband analog signal, with four sub-bands for audio and one for video.

  • Some of the stories on Slashdot can be a bit dated, but this happened fifty years ago and /. is only reporting on it now?

    - RG>
  • by LibertineR (591918) on Saturday April 15, 2006 @10:17AM (#15135275)
    Why no national holiday? The VCR did more to take Pornography from the seedy theater into your homes. In fact, were it not for the VCR, many people would still be thinking of motor oil whenever the subject of 'lube' came up.
  • An old (1970?) copy of Audio magazine toured Hugh Hefner's 'Playboy Mansion' and gave details of his gear and gadgets. A big reel-to-reel video recorder was pictured along with a library of Hef's favorite movies. Wow. Watch whatever movie you wanted, right in your living room. Hot stuff for the day.
  • But 50 years ago, they didn't realize that any idiot would be able to go out with a $100 video camera and take countless videos of their friends doing stupid stunts with absolutely no meaning. No theme, no posture, just footage of people jumping off of buildings.
  • MPAA celebrates 50 years surviving in the uneven battle with the evil video recorders.
    And they still got enough money to sue kids and grandparents too! Yei!
  • Locust Valley High School, circa 1974 - 1980:

    My "high tech" junior high and high school was wired for video. Most classrooms had a coax port on the wall . . . nor for "cable" TV but for local transmission.

    As I recall, there were maybe four channels.

    The A.V. room had a funky old rack unit with a patch panel and a couple of small B&W monitors. Feeding into this were three reel-to-reel video tape machines: Two half-inch, plus one giant 1" Ampex. (Near the end of my high school years we got a video cartridg

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