The History of Video Recorders - Video Tape and Camera

The Early Days of Video Taping and Digital Recording

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Charles Ginsburg led the research team at Ampex Corporation in developing one of the first practical videotape recorders or VTRs in 1951. It captured live images from television cameras by converting the information into electrical impulses and saving the information on magnetic tape. By 1956, VTR technology was perfected and in common use by the television industry.

But Ginsburg wasn’t done yet. He led the Ampex research team in developing a new machine that could run the tape at a much slower rate because the recording heads rotated at high speed. This allowed the necessary high-frequency response. He became known as the "father of the video cassette recorder.” Ampex sold the first VTR for $50,000 in 1956, and the first VCassetteRs -- or VCRs -- were sold by Sony in 1971.

The Early Days of Video Recording

Film was initially the only medium available for recording television programs -- magnetic tape was considered, and it was already being used for sound, but the greater quantity of information carried by the television signal demanded new studies. A number of American companies began investigating this problem during the 1950s. 

Tape Recording Technology

Audio and video magnetic recording have had a greater impact on broadcasting than any other development since the invention of radio/TV transmission itself. Videotape in a large cassette format was introduced by both JVC and Panasonic around 1976. This was the most popular format for home use and for video store rentals for many years until it was replaced by CDs and DVDs. VHS stands for Video Home System.

The First Television Cameras

American engineer, scientist and inventor Philo Taylor Farnsworth devised the television camera in the 1920s, although he would later declare that "there's nothing on it worthwhile." It was an “image dissector” that converted a captured imagine into an electrical signal.

Farnsworth was born in 1906 on Indian Creek in Beaver County, Utah. His parents expected him to become a concert violinist but his interests drew him to experiments with electricity. He built an electric motor and produced the first electric washing machine his family ever owned at the age of 12. He then went on to attend Brigham Young University where he researched television picture transmission. Farnsworth had already conceived of his idea for television while in high school, and he cofounded Crocker Research Laboratories in 1926 which he later renamed Farnsworth Television, Inc. He then changed the name again to Farnsworth Radio and Television Corporation in 1938.

Farnsworth was the first inventor to transmit a television image comprised of 60 horizontal lines in 1927. He was only 21 years old. The image was a dollar sign.

One of the keys to his success was the development of the dissector tube that essentially translated images into electrons that could be transmitted to a TV. He filed for his first television patent in 1927. He had already won an earlier patent for his image dissection tube, but he lost later patent battles to RCA, which owned the rights to many of inventor Vladimir Zworkyin’s TV patents.

Farnsworth went on to invent over 165 different devices. He held over 300 patents by the end of his career, including a number of significant television patents -- although he was not a fan of what his discoveries had wrought. His final years were spent battling depression and alcohol. He died on March 11, 1971, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Digital Photography and Video Stills

Digital camera technology is directly related to and evolved from the same technology that once recorded television images. Both television/video cameras and digital cameras use a CCD or charged coupled device to sense light color and intensity.

A still video or digital camera called the Sony Mavica single-lens reflex was first demonstrated in 1981. It used a fast-rotating magnetic disc that was two inches in diameter and could record up to 50 images formed in a solid-state device inside the camera. The images were played back through a television receiver or monitor, or they could be printed out.

Advancements in Digital Technology 

NASA converted from using analog to digital signals with their space probes to map the surface of the moon in the 1960s, sending digital images back to earth. Computer technology was also advancing at this time and NASA used computers to enhance the images that the space probes were sending. Digital imaging had another government use at the time – in spy satellites.

Government use of digital technology helped advance the science of digital imaging, and the private sector also made significant contributions. Texas Instruments patented a filmless electronic camera in 1972, the first to do so. Sony released the Sony Mavica electronic still camera in August 1981, the first commercial electronic camera. Images were recorded onto a mini disc and placed into a video reader that was connected to a television monitor or color printer. The early Mavica cannot be considered a true digital camera, however, even though it started the digital camera revolution. It was a video camera that took video freeze-frames.

The First Digital Cameras 

Since the mid-1970s, Kodak has invented several solid-state image sensors that "convert light to digital pictures" for professional and home consumer use. Kodak scientists invented the world's first megapixel sensor in 1986, capable of recording 1.4 million pixels that could produce a 5 x 7-inch digital photo-quality print. Kodak released seven products for recording, storing, manipulating, transmitting and printing electronic still video images in 1987, and in 1990, the company developed the Photo CD system and proposed "the first worldwide standard for defining color in the digital environment of computers and computer peripherals." Kodak released the first professional digital camera system (DCS), aimed at photojournalists in 1991, a Nikon F-3 camera equipped with a 1.3-megapixel sensor.

The first digital cameras for the consumer market that would work with a home computer via a serial cable were the Apple QuickTake camera in 1994, the Kodak DC40 camera in 1995, the Casio QV-11 also in 1995, and Sony's Cyber-Shot Digital Still Camera in 1996. Kodak entered into an aggressive co-marketing campaign to promote its DC40 and to help introduce the idea of digital photography to the public. Kinko's and Microsoft both collaborated with Kodak to create digital image-making software workstations and kiosks which allowed customers to produce photo CD discs and add digital images to documents. IBM collaborated with Kodak in making an Internet-based network image exchange.

Hewlett-Packard was the first company to make color inkjet printers that complemented the new digital camera images. The marketing worked and now digital cameras are everywhere.

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Bellis, Mary. "The History of Video Recorders - Video Tape and Camera." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Bellis, Mary. (2023, April 5). The History of Video Recorders - Video Tape and Camera. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Video Recorders - Video Tape and Camera." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).