In the previous series of Techno Talk we covered the history and progress of non-linear editing. It is important to go back to the origins of many aspects of the broadcast industry in order to fully understand the workings, and the reasons for the way technology develops and is used to enhance the wonder that is television.

An N1500 video recorder, with wooden cabinet
The recording of video signals did not commence with the advent of television and the first truly transmittable recorded broadcast only happened some time after the first actual broadcasts. In fact some considerable time after, and were prompted by the need in America to transmit over various time zones.

Take for example a news bulletin being transmitted from the West Coast of the US. This same news bulletin would only be received on the East Coast several hours later (time zone wise) and thus would be at an inappropriate time. Recording the broadcast and sending out at staggered times would ensure that the same broadcast would be made at the same time across several time zones.

While this theory is true, and prompted the invention of the Video Tape Recorder (VTR) - initial tests had in fact been completed at the BBC some years earlier using a 'Wire' recorder, where the signals were recorded longitudinally on fine wire wrapped around huge reels. While this system worked it was impractical due to the speed required to revolve the reels, and indeed the size of the reels required to ensure that sufficient bandwidth was available to record recognisable pictures.

It was in fact in 1950 when Jack Mullin, then Bing Crosby's recordist and chief engineer, began working at the newly established electronics division of Crosby Enterprises to develop a magnetic TV recorder. In 1951 an Ampex team led by Charles Ginsburg began working on a VTR and in October Bing Crosby Enterprises demonstrated an experimental 12-head VTR at 100 inches per second (ips).

In 1953 Vladimir K. Zworykin and RCA Labs demonstrated a longitudinal VTR running very fast at 360 ips over 3 heads with AM sound, however Ampex introduced the Ampex VRX-1000, the first commercially successful videotape recorder, in 1956. It used the 2" Quadruplex format, using two-inch (5.1 cm) tape.

Due to its US$50,000 price, the Ampex VRX-1000 could be afforded only by the television networks and the largest individual stations. In 1963, Philips introduced their EL3400 1" helical scan recorder (aimed at the business and domestic user) and Sony marketed the PV-100, their first reel-to-reel VTR intended for business, medical, airline, and educational use. The Sony model CV-2000, first marketed in 1965, was the first VTR intended for home use. Ampex and RCA followed in 1965 with their own reel-to-reel monochrome VTRs priced under US$1,000 for the home consumer market.

Ampex VRX-1000
The development of the videocassette followed the replacement by cassette of other open reel systems in consumer items: the Stereo-Pak 4-track audio cartridge in 1962, the compact audio cassette and Instamatic film cartridge in 1963, the 8-track cartridge in 1965, and the Super 8 home movie cartridge in 1966.

Sony demonstrated a videocassette prototype in October 1969, then set it aside to work out an industry standard by March 1970 with seven fellow manufacturers. The result, the Sony U-matic system, introduced in Tokyo in September 1971, was the world's first commercial videocassette format. Its cartridges, resembling larger versions of the later VHS cassettes, used 3/4-inch (1.9 cm) tape and had a maximum playing time of 60 minutes, later extended to 90 minutes. Sony also introduced two machines (the VP-1100 videocassette player and the VO-1700 videocassette recorder) to use the new tapes. U-matic, with its ease of use, quickly made other consumer videotape systems obsolete in Japan and North America, where U-matic VCRs were widely used by television newsrooms, schools and businesses. But the cost � US$1,395 for a combination TV/VCR, or $7,069 in 2007 dollars � kept it out of most homes.

In 1970 Philips developed a home videocassette format. Confusingly, Philips named this format "VCR" (although it is also referred to as "N1500", after the first recorder's model number). The format was also supported by Grundig and Loewe. It used square cassettes and half-inch (1.3 cm) tape, mounted on co-axial reels, giving a recording time of one hour. The first model, available in the United Kingdom in 1972, was equipped with a crude timer that used rotary dials. At nearly �600 ($2087), it was expensive and the format was relatively unsuccessful in the home market. This was followed by digital timer version in 1975 � the N1502. In 1977 a new (and incompatible) long-play version ("VCR-LP") or N1700, which could use the same tapes, sold quite well to schools and colleges.

The Avco Cartrivision system, a combination television set and VCR from Cartridge Television Inc. that sold for US$1,350, was the first videocassette recorder to have pre-recorded tapes of popular movies available for rent. Like Philips' VCR format, the square Cartrivision cassette had the two reels of half-inch tape mounted on top of each other, but it could record up to 114 minutes. It did so using a crude form of video compression that recorded only every third video field and played it back three times. Cassettes of major movies such as The Bridge on the River Kwai and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner were ordered via catalogue at a retailer, delivered by parcel mail, and then returned to the retailer after viewing. Other cassettes on sports, travel, art, and how-to topics were available for purchase. An optional monochrome camera could be bought to make home videos. Cartrivision was first sold in June 1972, mainly through Sears, Macy's, and Montgomery Ward department stores in the United States. It was abandoned thirteen months later after poor sales.

It was not until the late 1970s, when European and Japanese companies developed more technically advanced machines with more accurate electronic timers and greater tape duration that the VCR started to become a mass market consumer product. By 1980 there were three competing technical standards, with different, physically incompatible tape cassettes.
But what about VHS and Betamax you may ask? In the next article we will cover the better known format of both home and broadcast recording systems and will then delve deeper and look at what happened after VHS and why this format overtook Betacam in the domestic market.