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Die Papierflut per Video zähmen

Unveiling the first practical videotape recorder in Chicago created a whirlwind of activity that out-blew the city's own gusty April, kicking up national headlines and hard-dollar orders in the weeks that followed the 1956 Ampex announcement. But there was something more in the air: the seeds of yet another concept which would itself burst forth as a technological revolution eight years later. It was born with videotape recording, brought to maturity by advanced engineering, and kept alive through that long period by the faith of a few men in the face of doubt and controversy.

 

The new concept was filing by television. Today it is embodied in the Videofile* information System, which combines television recording and Computer techniques to store visual records as magnetic recordings on video tape. By keypunching a series of letters or numbers, a user may call up a document as an image on a tele­vision screen, a printed copy, or both. In 1956, however, it was little more than an idea in a marketing manager's mind. The idea soon spread to other minds. The marketing manager, Robert A. Miner, was in a freethinking, pioneering atmosphere. Charles Gins­burg, developer of the first videotape recorder was engineering manager of the same Ampex division. By the time the first VR-1000 was delivered in the summer of 1956, Miner had discussed the idea not only with Ginsburg but with many other technical experts in the Company.

Inspiration from Film

The idea was inspired by what had been done with motion picture film in the 1930s. A "motion" picture is really a series of single-frame still pictures. The pictures are run so quickly (commercial movies are shown at 24 frames per second) that the human eye cannot distinguish among the individual frames and sees only the continuation of the picturemotion.

Eastman Kodak engineers developed the idea of using the same film to photograph documents as still pictures, one document in one frame. In this way a library could store a complete issue of the New York Times, for example, one page occupying one frame of film in a tiny roll of film. Because the film is much smaller than film normally used to photograph still pictures, the new method was called microfilm storage.

 

Recording television pictures on video tape is not exactly the same as frame-by-frame photography on film but Miner saw similarities. Why not focus a television camera on a single document and take one picture, then focus the camera on another document and take another single televi­sion picture? The result would be a series of docu­ment recordings on video tape - a videotape file. The Videofile System would save a great amount of space in storing voluminous files, but microfilm already did that. It would make documents viewable in a short time, but so did microfilm.

 

The key difference between what already was being done with microfilm and what might be done with video tape was flexibility. Images on microfilm are permanent; they cannot be changed. Thus microfilm files are static. Images on magnetic tape can be permanent too, but they can also be changed. A videotape recording may be erased and a new recording put in its place. Or it may be transferred electronically from one part of a tape to another.

 

A static file might be fine for a library which does not want to change or update the text and newspaper pages on file.  But an insurance company which not only wants to reduce the physical size of its huge files but needs to update those files constantly with new documents must have a dynamic file. Such operations were stuck with slow, inefficient manual filing methods because there was no micro-file with the flexibility needed for highspeed, automatic handling of visual documents in large, active files. Now, for the first time, a dynamic micro-filing method was conceivable.

 

Technical Obstacles

Conceivable did not mean immediately doable. For the next three years the many technical problems standing in the way of a Videofile System were examined and reexamined by Miner and every engineer whose interest he could capture. During this period many engineers came up with innova­tive ideas, large and small, which ultimately would help in some way to make the Videofile System practical.

Miner, too, continued his market research into the size of market and identity of likely customers. He also obtained the goahead to engage an outside market survey company, whose study agreed with Miners research in pinpointing such industries as transportation, insurance, real estate, law enforcement and various government agencies as needing automated micro-filing of visual docu­ments.

 

In 1959, Miner went a Step further. Based on probable cost figures which Robert Markevitch had broken out in a feasibility report, Miner authored the first Videofile System product plan. The plan made it obvious that developing such a System would cost Ampex many millions of dollars. Company funds and engineering talent earmarked for advanced development were tied up in vital projects to increase Ampex leadership in broadcast videotape recording. The Videofile project could not be funded although some technical progress was being made.

 

In 1960, an English en­gineer of widely recognized talents who joined Ampex was assigned to do a deeply technical feasibility study on the Videofile System. "It was one of the best breaks the project ever received," according to Miner. The engineer crystalized the engineering problem, identifying specifically the technical obstacles that could be overcome only by engineering advancements. Many new techniques - such as single-frame recording control had to be developed to make the Videofile System practical.

 

The English engineer, Michael Felix, was to become so familiär with the problems through his assignment that five years later he would be named Chief engineer of the newly formed Videofile Infor­mation Systems Department. For now, however, without development funds to hurdle the technical problems it appeared the forward motion of the Videofile System dream had been stopped, still behind the line of scrimmage.

 

Then William E. Roberts came to Ampex as President and chief executive officer. From this, it would later be clear, stemmed the principal force in putting the Videofile System plan on a cpurse to fulfillment. Not long after Roberts assumed command, Miner was in his office with a slide presentation on Videofiie. Roberts talked to many other people about the potential of the System. In 1962 the pro­gram funds were provided for a further feasibility study. The next year brought perhaps the decisive breakthrough. One of the key engineering prob­lems remaining was the lack of sophisticated single-frame recording techniques. In 1963, another English engineer named Norman Bounsall, at the time a video engineer for Ampex International, perfected the EDITEC* unit. This unit gave broadcast television editors frame-by-frame re­cording control, simplifying tape editing and making animation effects possible.

 

EDITEC, when applied to Videofile System needs, permitted the one-position manipulation of recorded material that was essential to accurate recording, erasing and replacing of single-frame document recordings. A practical Videofile System now seemed closer than ever. A formal Videofile System product plan was developed in 1963. Roberts authorized commencing the first step of the product plan - find that key first customer.

 

Need for a Initial Customer

The National Aeronautics and Space Administra­tion (NASA), in Huntsville, Alabama became interested in a system to be used in the storage and retrieval of partsreliability information. An Ampex team was established with Charlie Steinberg, Bob Miner, Don Rule, Bill Cassell, Charlie Anderson and Norm Bounsall. Steinberg and Miner directed the effort. Don Rule, who was later to become Man­ager of Marketing Support for the Videofile Divi­sion, was responsible for generating the proposal. Bill Cassell who was later to become Contracts Manager for the division was responsible for the contractual matters. Charlie Anderson and Norm Bounsall were responsible for the technical efforts.

 

Product management responsibility for the system was established through the video and instrumentation division. Named as product mancher was an energetic young engineer-manager from New York - Charles A. Steinberg - whose experiences had been in two worlds: the industrial and the academic. Before joining Ampex in 1963, he had held engineering management posts with Air­borne Instruments Laboratory and the Bell Tele­phone Laboratories. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he had obtained his graduate degree, taught electrical engineering courses and conducted research in Computer technology.

 

Steinberg and Miner practically lived in Hunts­ville through those weeks of working with the customer. You might say we were sweating it out from several viewpoints," he smiled, "the negotiations, the competition, and the Huntsville humidity." But the perspiration paid off. In June 1964, NASA contracted for the world's first Videofiie information System. Eight years after its conception, development of a Videofile System began. Norman Bounsall, developer of the EDITEC System, was named project engineer.

Events accelerated from that point. A demonstration System was built, to use with potential customers. That same summer, a management group from Southern Pacific Company including the firm's President visited Ampex, viewed a demonstration of the Videofile concept, and early the next year ordered the first System for commercial application.

 

Roberts, from the Start one of the strongest believers in the system's potential for Ampex, increased the funding of what has become more than a $10,000,000 Ampex investment in the Videofile System program. It made possible the development of cameras, tape drives, disc recording techniques, displays and printer equipment specifically designed for document storage and retrieval.

 

Early in 1965, the Videofile Information Systems Department was formed with Steinberg as manager, Miner as product manager, Bounsall as Sys­tems engineering manager, Rule as marketing support manager, Cassell as contracts manager and soon afterward, Felix was brought in as Chief engineer. In October, 1968, the department was made a division; Steinberg was named general manager and in January, 1969, elected a corporate vice president.

 

As the Southern Pacific System took form, the engineering team began to "pay back" the priceless new technology it had previously borrowed from other divisions. An example is the Ampex HS-100 magnetic disc recording system used for slowmotion, color instant replay in sports telecasts. The HS-100 grew out of a disc buffer developed for the Videofile system.

New Marketing Concept - the Videofile-System

The initial marketing efforts were complex and lengthy. Selling a Videofile Information system was not like selling a videotape recorder. It was much more like selling a complete Computer system - a system that as yet had not been used anywhere.

 

"The Company or government agency which buys a Videofile system is stepping onto completely new ground in two ways," Steinberg explained. "First, the customer is investing millions of dollars in a system which is as new and complicated as the early Computers. Selling a Videofile System requires long periods of application analysis with the customer. It requires, too, the development of a rapport and trust between the salesman and customer to a degree that is not required in many marketing situations."

 

"Second, the customer will often be the first in his field or industry to use this new, this revolutionary approach, to handling active files. In one sense he has the distinction of being a pioneer; in another sense, he is in a fishbowl. Everyone else in his field is watching him closely, waiting to judge the wisdom of his innovative Step. "It is still a critical major decision often requiring board of directors or presidential approval for the customer to commit himself to the Videofile system."

 

More organizations took that "first Step" in their respective fields. In the two years following the Southern Pacific order, they included several gov­ernment agencies, American National Insurance Company, to handle life insurance documents; American Republic Insurance Company, to handle accident and casualty insurance records. Later, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department contracted for a countywide Videofile system enabling outlying Sheriff's stations to file and retrieve any of 18 million police records in the downtown central file as television images. At $5,600,000, the Sheriff's Department contract is the largest single order ever received by Ampex.

 

These and more were typical of the pioneer users that were sought from the beginning - or­ganizations which recognized that the much-discussed "paper blizzard" inundating the nation's business offices, civilian and government alike, was costing them enormous chunks of money each year.

 

But how many potential users are there still, in how many fields? And within each of those fields, how many organizations likely to consider follow­ing in a pioneer's footsteps? Market surveys done by Ampex and others have identified specific industries and applications. The available figures stagger most imaginations. In a sweeping market research report, Arthur D. Little, Inc., has said, in effect, that there is an area of potential business for the Videofile system approach which lies like a vast, unsettled continent between Computer storage and microfilm files - organizations with filing needs too large and active for microfilm and too Visual in nature for a computer's numbers-and-letters storage.

 

By 1973, the report predicts, that growing mar­ket will be worth $700 million, and moving up. And how high is up for the Videofile System and Ampex? Roberts predicts that in the next decade, annual Videofile system sales may be as great as the entire corporation's annual sales figure at the end of the 1960s - or about $300 million.

Its applications will be broader, too, according to Steinberg. He pointed to huge central banks of Visual data accessible to Videofile system users around the country, or the world. Large Videofile Systems will take their place beside large computer systems, the computer storing, retrieving and processing digital data, Videofile storing and re­trieving graphic information.

 

"Within a decade it should be possible for a sheriff's office in Oregon; for example, to ask for and receive, via communications satellite, the tele­vision image of a mug shot and fingerprints from a central file in Washington, D. C. - all in seconds and for a cost of a few cents," he said.

 

The age of doubt and reticence is ended. Buoyed by the hard evidence of reliable system operation under 24 hour-a-day customer use at Southern Pacific, anyone exposed to the Videofile system recognizes that this field is unlike its many more mundane technological brothers. In this field, today's sometimes startling prophesies have an excellent chance of ripening into dramatic fact only a few years out.

 

In a 1964 memo of commendation to the Ampex team which contributed to landing the first Video­file system contract, Roberts wrote: "When we look back, some ten years from today, this could well have been the single most important order that Ampex has written in its history." For filing by television, the limits of growth have yet to be found.

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