News From The Woods.12


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published August 1, 1997

"Sherman set the Way-Back Machine for 1980...."

Way back in 1982 I began writing feature articles about technology for the local newspaper, The Baxter Bulletin. My column, called "System Update" was run in the weekly North Arkansas Entertainer section. These columns dealt with videocassette and videodisc technology, home videography, home computers, TV games, communications, and other technological breakthroughs.

Recently, while cataloging some of the family archives, I was going through some old scrapbooks assembled by my mother and I ran across perhaps 10 or 12 of these articles. I hadn't thought about them since those days and so I found myself reading through some of them. Not to pat myself on the back, but these articles were pretty good. One of the first covered the "Video Explosion". It started with a history of television and moved into the more modern video technology. In one article from April of 1982 I covered the differences between analog and digital technology. In the next installment I tackled the "Format Wars" unfolding between the Sony Betamax camp and the development of JVC's VHS video system. I even touched on the addition of a very "new" format on the scene called "micro video", which utilized 1/4" tape and was manufactured by Technicolor, which has since fallen by the wayside many years ago.

Another young technology I researched was a new style of combination camera/recorders being developed by Sony and Matsushita which "resembles a Super 8 movie film camera combined with a portable cassette recorder". This "new" system became, of course, the 8mm video format which has all but engulfed the inferior VHS system, even as digital overtakes analog video as I write this today. I remember at that time I was just getting involved with video production and had purchased a portable 3/4" recorder and single-tube camera, complete with the dreaded multi-pin connector cable, which was always shorting out and in constant need of expensive cable replacement. We've come a long way, baby!

In yet another installment I wrote about the FCC experimenting with a new concept in local and regional broadcasting which became known as LPTV (Low Power Television). My article and subsequent research led one group of enthusiasts here in my hometown to actually apply for and received a LPTV license. The TV station was the first around this region of its kind and was called TV43. Unfortunately it didn't last as the financial advisors of the venture were looking for too much profit too soon and neglected the programming aspects which would continue to keep viewers tuned in. Towards the end of its run I even had my own live TV show on TV43 called "Friday Night Videos" (original, huh?). In an ironic twist of fate, Cedar Crest Studio eventually bought the production equipment of the hapless and penniless TV43 at a bank auction. Their switcher and associated cameras and recorders became the core of the studio's production suite. I still to this day have the original 3/4" editing system which we keep off-line and as a standby tape editing system. It still works like a charm. Talk about "No Baloney Sony"......

In June of 1982 I began a series of articles called "Satellite Dishes: Stealing From The Sky". Boy, they sure used to be more complicated (and a LOT bigger) than these new DSS systems. Programming was so complicated as well. Then there was the licensing requirements and the various ways everybody tried to work around them. Scramblers, descramblers, LNA's, feed horns, modulators, etc. It sure is simpler now and WAY cheaper. I remember a typical Birdview system in the 80's costing as much as $2250. That's LESS installation and the cost of programming. Now it's typically $200-300 and about $20 per month. No dish motors to replace either, and it doesn't take up a large part of your yard.

One particular article of note was a review of the future of personal communications concerning the visual interfacing. The "state-of-the-art" in the early 80's was pretty stagnant. The leading videophone concept at the time was AT&T's black and white entry which failed in the late 80's. I believe that they are about to get it together very soon now. Companies like 8X8, Inc., who have developed ViaTV which, for about $500, turns your TV into a monitor, and works off your regular phone lines at standard rates. Features include adjustable image quality: You can improve the resolution of the person you are viewing by sacrificing the speed of movement.

I have read where computer-makers are gearing up for Christmas this year with add-on's as low as $100 that will enable a new PC to function as a video phone, and communicate with non-PC-based phones like ViaTV and C-Phone, another system which currently operates at 15 frames per second, instead of the usual 30fps. C-Phone is cheaper than ViaTV and also operates over a standard phone line. Competing brands will be compatible with one another. Maybe the Beta/VHS catastrophe did serve a purpose after all, instead of just foisting off an inferior videotape technology on an unsuspecting public.

All in all, after glancing back at those old articles, I feel a sense of awe when considering how far we've come in such a very short span of just 15 years. Back then I would have never guessed that I might have the wonderful digital post-production tools at my disposal without selling my soul to the devil. Or that I would be able to sit here in the Ozarks and write articles and product reviews submitted via email for a national trade magazine dedicated to the Video Toaster User located on the west coast. Or even sit at my PC and compose these articles for News From The Woods, also submitted electronically.

Now if I can just get my uplink and channel account and they can give me 30fps realtime access to the Internet at a price I can afford with common technology to interface with all computers on-line, I can begin live netcasting of my television show "Potpourri". Everything on this end is set up and waiting..........

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