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Die Story über Ampex (5) von 12

Die einzigartige Pionierleistung bei der Bildaufzeichnung

In late 1951, an electrical engineer with 10 years of radio broadcasting experience in the San Francisco area was looking for a new career and a new home. Visits to Marin County, north of San Francisco, had sold him on the area, and he began looking for a suitable house for his family, which included five children. Some weeks previously, at the urging of friends, he had applied for a job with a small electronics company called Ampex, but there was nothing available. So he went ahead and bought a house in Novato, about an hour and a half north of the Ampex plant in Redwood City. One week after he moved in, Ampex founder and President Alexander M. Poniatoff called to offer him a job. Soon the house in Novato was on the market.

 

The man's name was Charles Ginsburg. Just a few years later he would accept an "Emmy" for Ampex from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and a list of other prestigious professional awards, including the David Sarnoff Gold Medal of the Society of Motion-Picture and Television Engineers; the Vladimir K. Zworykin Television Prize of the Institute of Radio Engineers and the Valdemar Poulsen Gold Medal awarded by the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences.

 

For Ginsburg is the man who led a team of dedicated engineers that literally gave video recording to the world. Now, asked about his first impressions of those days nearly two decades ago, Ginsburg says, "Well, golf in Marin County wasn't too good in those days anyway. I am glad Ampex called."

 

The story actually starts in January of 1952. Ginsburg was invited to conduct a highly secret Ampex engineering program. The sum of $14,500 had been alloted by the company to investigate the possibility of developing a rotary recording head for a tape recorder that would achieve the high relative head-to-tape speeds necessary for recording television images. The idea fascinated Ginsburg immediately. Buoyed by what he knew of Ampex's achievements in audio recording, he enthusiastically set to work. It couldn't be described as a plush assignment. His first week on the job he had no bench and worked on the floor in a small building at 2385 Bay Road. Eventually, though, he had his first Ampex laboratory - a converted ladies' room at the same address.

 

Ginsburg worked alone until August of that year, at which time he acquired a new assistant. Poniatoff had met an extraordinarily astute Sequoia high school graduate by the name of Ray Dolby, and had asked the young man to come to work for Ampex. Ginsburg worked with young Dolby on a temporary project and was so impressed with his ability, he asked to have him made a full-time employee and assigned to him. Dolby accepted and continued his colIege studies at night. "We can't give Dolby enough credit," Ginsburg says now. "He was as sharp a young man as I've run across, and he made important contributions to the project. He succeeded in finishing school and getting his degree even while we were putting extreme demands on his time."

 

(Ray Dolby has had an illustrious career since his Ampex days. After Army duty, he was graduated with distinction from Stanford and went to Cambridge on a Marshall Scholarship. There he earned a Ph.D. in electron microscopy. After establishing a research institute in India, he moved to England, where he today has an important research laboratory. He has recently received popular attention for the noise reduction method for audio recording that has made his name a by-word among high fidelity fans.)

 

Now a team of two, Ginsburg and his assistant, Dolby, began to attack the problem with vigor. In the early fifties there was great interest in the television industry in developing a magnetic recording device for television images. Three approaches to this seemingly overwhelming problem were being pursued by major technical organizations. The first was the so-called brute force method: actually pulling tape across recording heads at enormous speeds. This meant the tape would have to pass the heads roughly 300 times faster than in audio recording. The problems are obvious: at such speeds motional stability becomes almost impossible to achieve, friction problems multiply, and the size of the reels required to hold such an enormous amount of tape would prohibit any realistic-sized machine.

 

The second approach was to go to a "semi-high" speed of about 100 ips and break up the video signal into separate channels using time division multiplexing. This, too, is a complicated and awkward technique. The third approach was to use rotary heads. Instead of the signal being recorded laterally along the length of the tape, it would be recorded almost vertically by means of a rotating head.

Rotary Head Developed

Ginsburg's crew took a 2-inch-wide tape, instead of the normal audio 1/4-inch size, and placed four recording heads on a drum. This rotated each head across the tape, instead of along it. The tape moved at 30 ips: relative tape-to-head speed was approximately 500 ips. The team worked hard and long on the project, getting a little money from the budget, here, a little there, and doing as much as they could on their own time so as not to exhaust the "official" funds too quickly. Ampex was still a tiny company in 1953, with annual sales totaling only $3.5 million. Midway through that year, management reviewed its requirements for engineering dollars and concluded it could no longer pursue the speculative video program.

 

Ginsburg and his assistant had anticipated this development, but refused to give up the project. They asked for an unusued area in one of the buildings and requested permission to continue on their own time, working evenings and weekends. In 1953, Ray Dolby was drafted into the Army, and Ginsburg lost an important helper. He continued his "moonlight" engineering, attacking the motional instability problem with occasional help from other interested engineers until Charles "Chuck" Anderson came to the company in the summer of 1954. Anderson, an experienced engineer, immediately took to the project, and he and Ginsburg doubled the efforts to get their video program off the corporate shelf and back into a funded research niche.

 

Finally, in the summer of 1954, the project had matured to the point that they were willing to gamble on an "audition" for the benefit of Ampex management. Key company executives were gathered together to show the first television images recorded on magnetic tape using a rotary head device. The picture was crude and unstable, but it succeeded in rekindling the enthusiasm of Ampex managers. As a direct result of the showing, the project was revived. New funds were allotted, and project members were given their own work area behind locked doors. As quickly as funds were received, they were used up by the eager crew. A team of six engineers worked feverishly, determined to prove to management that a priority should be assigned their video recording project. They were: Ginsburg, Anderson, Fred Pfost, Shelby Henderson, Alex Maxey and Ray Dolby, newly returned from the Army.

 

One Year Goal

In early 1955, the team made another demonstration to the company's Board of Directors, and in Ginsburg's words, "It put us in business for sure. We were given money, privacy, secrecy and more space - the works." The team now set a goal to demonstrate a viable video recording system to the public within one year. Alex Poniatoff maintained a lively interest in the program from its inception. Ginsburg relates an incident which occurred early in the program.

 

In 1952, Ginsburg was stymied for days trying to solve a complex formula for the capacitance of the video recorder's rotating cylinder, a vitally important parameter. Poniatoff, on a walk through the company's laboratories, poked his head in the door to ask Ginsburg how the work was going. Ginsburg merely shrugged and pointed at the blackboard. Poniatoff surveyed the trailing formulae and frowned, "Well, keep at it," he said, and went back to his office. Later that afternoon Poniatoff came back with a sheet of paper, on which was the entire solution to the capacitance equation. "Will this help?" was all he said. It did. One by one the problems were solved, and a workable system came closer to reality.

 

A curved tape configuration, for example, was developed to give consistent quality to the signal across the total width of the magnetic tape. Between the summer of 1954 and the summer of 1955, a workable frequency modulation system was invented to cope with the television signal frequencies. Successive demonstrations showed better and better pictures.

 

As progress continued, March 14, 1956 was set as the target date for the unveiling of the video recorder. The introduction was to take place at the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NAB) in Chicago. One year was left in which to solve some very important problems, and as Ginsburg remembers, "We worked hard for those first few years, but in that 12 months before the showing we virtually lived in the lab."

 

Although the video efforts of tiny Ampex went unnoticed, several major firms were also working to develop a magnetic videotape recorder, including RCA, G.E. and Bing Crosby Enterprises. RCA had been most vocal about its effort. Every time RCA made a special announcement, the Ampex team would hold its collective breatty. They were in a race and they knew it. While the engineering team maintained its faith in the project, not everyone had equal enthusiasm. At a board of directors meeting in February 1956, (just weeks before the product was to debut), a special marketing study was presented that said essentially "if this would happen, and if that would happen and if this were true, and if that were true - a whole string of impossible ifs - then we might expect to sell 30 machines by 1960 at about $30,-000 each.

 

History has made this particular forecast look bad. By 1962, Ampex had delivered 1,000 video recorders, plus many accessories, at an average price of more than $50,000 each. Six weeks before the fateful unveiling, Ampex invited several network representatives to visit the video recording lab. The company felt secure that the Ampex machine was far enough ahead of its competitors to warrant public exposure.

First Demonstration Planned

It was during this meeting that Ampex firmed up an agreement with CBS to unveil the VRX-1000 at a meeting of CBS affiliates the day before the convention in Chicago's Conrad Hilton Hotel. The machine would soon be renamed the Mark IV.

 

On the morning of April 14, 1956, managers of CBS affiliate stations gathered at the Conrad Hilton. As was the custom, a TV camera was focused on the speaker's dias, and several monitors were located around the room so that all attending could see the speaker clearly. Unknown to the attendees, the Ampex video recorder was set up in a small room behind the main conference hall, linked to to the camera and monitors. After the first portion of the meeting was completed, and at a prearranged signal from the president of CBS, one of the nervous Ampex engineers (probably Pfost) hit the playback button. "We were scared to death," Ginsburg says.

 

"At first there was just silence," he recalls. "Everyone was watching precisely what had happened minutes before, but at first they just couldn't believe it. We wondered if something had gone wrong. There must have been two or three minutes of excruciating silence, and then all hell broke loose. They were hollering and screaming and jumping out of their seats."

 

Before the session was even over and the closing remarks were presented, most of the CBS affiliates found Ginsburg, Anderson and the video recorder in the tiny room. They mobbed the Ampex men with questions about the machine delivery dates, prices. "I've-got-to-have-one-of-those" was the cry. It was late that night before Ginsburg and Anderson said good night to the last CBS affiliate.

 

The plan for the next day was to move the equipment from the second-floor conference room to the first-floor exhibit booth for display at the convention. It was a four-day meeting, and the Ampex crew had confidently planned and organized, well-timed pace for demonstrations and private interviews with interested networks and stations. But the same mob repeated itself. Lines formed with people trying to squeeze in ahead of others to get at the Ampex booth. A demonstration was required every 20 minutes, and an Ampex salesman was writing orders with the speed of a shorthand secretary. The telephones in the Ampex suite rang throughout the night. The reaction to the Ampex coup, to the mortification of all the larger firms with incomplete video research in their own labs, spread west to San Francisco and east to Boston within hours. Wall Street took note, and interest in Ampex soared.

Orders Soar

Firm orders taken at the meeting amounted to about $1 million, and within four weeks after the demonstration $4.5 million in orders were logged - this in a year, when Ampex annual sales totaled $18,737,00. A year later, the television industry paid formal tribute to the dramatic Ampex achievement. In March of 1957, Ginsburg personally stepped forward to receive the coveted Emmy award on behalf of Ampex and especially on behalf of his team of hard-working engineers. Ginsburg was made manager of Advanced Video Development soon after.

 

The development of a practical video recorder has been acclaimed as one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century and has had tremendous impact on modern society. It was sorely needed to permit the growth of world television. Initially, it was used for delaying original productions for airing at appropriate hours in different time zones. In the 13 years since its dramatic unveiling, it has become a versatile and indispensable tool of television production, as will be described in a subsequent chapter.

 

The television industry and Ampex owe much to Charles Ginsburg, the radio engineer who sought a new challenge in 1951 and found one worthy of his skill and determination.

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