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Chapter 10 - Television Becomes a Reality

The end of the war, a population weary of deprivation, and an industrial and technological base simply waiting for the onrush of consumer goods. Television development, put aside by the needs of a wartime economy, began again to be the primary concern of RCA. On September 11, 1946, RCA introduced its first line of post-war black and white television sets, and a few weeks later on October 30th, RCA demonstrated color television pictures on a 15-by-20-inch screen, produced by all-electronic means. All-electronic television had arrived.

The war years, of course, were occupied with military demands and whatever new equipment the military needed. We had to practically forget about our previous work and concentrate on the new work they gave us. However, television found its place in the war effort and even before the war was over some television equipment was used in connection with military aviation. When the war came to an end, television immediately came back into prominence as a commercial development.

At the same time, our previous idea of introducing color tele­vision was revived and we started to collect our various experiments for this purpose in order to see what could be done for color broad­casting. The conversion of black and white television to color television was recorded in very crude form in one of my patents dated 1925. However, then it was simply the adaptation of the [Louis] Dufay [Diopticolor] photography which was prevalent at that time. In this system, the color screen was incorporated in the photosensitive film. The patent simply described how to use this three-color filter in front of the black and white television camera that used a suitable optical system and then transmit the picture broken system of three color dots and reproduce it on the kinescope on the white screen and project it through the three-color mosaic in front of the kinescope with the proper registration. Of course, the system was oversimplified because it took a number of years to develop the precision of scanning such a magnitude that the position in color of each individual dot of the image would coincide with the corresponding dot on the projecting screen.

The beginning of practical color television first took quite a different form. Furthermore, since the group which was working on television was now quite large, there were a number of systems at the beginning which were proposed. Finally, at the end of the (p. 112) war, the F[ederal Communications] Commission [FCC] organized a competitive demonstration in Washington comparing with the mechanical line sequential color television using the rotating color filters in front of both pickup and the reproducing television tubes and the completely electronic television using three separate tubes with proper filters in the pickup and the color mosaic kinescope for reproduction.

As early as February 6, 1940, the first all-electronic reception of color was demonstrated to the FCC by RCA in Camden, New Jersey. A year later NBC and RCA scientists achieved the first successful color telecast with an experimental transmission from the Empire State Building. Then, of course, the war intervened.

On October 30, 1946, an all-electronic projection-type color television receiver, showing pictures on a 15- by 20-inch screen, was demonstrated publicly for the first time at the David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton, New Jersey. On July 16, 1947, a new RCA all-electronic color television camera was demonstrated to members of the FCC at Princeton on both a large screen and a home receiver. Still, however, the system remained in the laboratory stage because the RCA scientists wanted to keep the color transmission within the channel width for black-and-white broadcasting. Then, on August 25, 1949, RCA announced to the FCC that it had developed a system of all-electronic high-definition color television operating within the 6-megacycle channels employed for black-and-white telecasting, and that this system was capable of transmitting color programs that could be received in black-and-white on all existing home television sets with no modifications necessary.

All that now remained was to develop a color receiver wherein the three separate picture tubes that received three color signals—red, green, and blue—could be merged optically into a single picture. (p. 113)

In May, 1950, General [David] Sarnoff urged the Federal Communications Commission to approve color television standards based on the RCA all-electronic compatible system rather than upon a mechanical, incompatible system which would necessitate costly adaptation of black-and-white receiving sets. He pointed out that the RCA system had proved in demonstrations its high definition of light and color and its complete compatibility with the millions of black-and-white receivers in public use.

Although an FCC decision in 1950 approved incompatible color television standards, RCA moved ahead in the conviction that only the all-electronic compatible system could serve the public interest.

Again, it was Zworykin’s ancient nemesis the mechanical versus the electronic. Developmentally, mechanical color transmission was far ahead of the all-electronic method, but aside from being cumbersome mechanical color techniques would remain incompatible with existing black-and-white sets. The RCA management felt with continued research and development the all-electronic method could be vastly improved and, of course, be compatible.

In March, 1953, RCA again recommended immediate authorization of commercial color broadcasting standards by the FCC, and comprehensive demonstrations were staged during the spring months for the FCC, the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce of the House of Representatives, and the industry.

On June 25, 1953, RCA-NBC formally petitioned the FCC to adopt the tech­nical signal specifications used by the RCA compatible system as standards for commercial color television broadcasting. Within two months, petitions for compatible signal specifications had also been filed by the National Television System Committee and by several other manufacturers. (p. 114)

These signal specifications were, in basic respects, similar to the standards which RCA proposed to the FCC at the 1949-1950 hearings, but naturally reflected improvements resulting from the knowledge gained during the research and field tests conducted by RCA and others since those hearings.

On October 15, 1953, RCA-NBC joined with other members of the industry in a final demonstration held by the NTSC at the request of the FCC. This provided overwhelming evidence that all-electronic compatible color television, pioneered and developed by RCA, was ready for the American people.

On December 17, 1953, the FCC approved standards for commercial color television broadcasting, based upon compatible signal specifications presented by RCA-NBC and others.

On 4 March 1954, the first compatible color TV cameras and associated equipment to leave the production lines were shipped from the RCA Camden plant, and on 25 March the production began on RCA’s first commercial color television sets at Bloomington, Indiana.

All-electronic television in color was a reality—and a fitting tribute to Zworykin who was scheduled to “retire” from RCA on July 30, 1954. (p. 115)

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