Introduction to the Second Edition

We now have digital television. In the studio and in the edit suite. In the distribution chain and in the home. As of this writing, you can turn on a digital high definition television set in New York City and you can watch DTV and sometimes even HDTV. The same is true in some select cities across the United States, not just in the major markets.

By the time you read these words, more stations will be on-the-air and more consumers will have digital television sets for their homes.

The "digital revolution" is supposed to bring the world closer together, into a "global village." Which just goes to prove what broadcasters and videographers have known all along...

It's A Small World After All
John J. Godfrey

Who knew that when I started to be interested in TV (1949) that 1/4-inch audiotape would eventually turn into 1/4-inch videotape, first analog linear, now 6.35mm (1/4-inch) digital.

I have seen videotape recorders and cameras become the miniatures that they are now. CBS, Philips and Ampex developed the first broadcast portables (the camera weighed about 40 pounds and the VTR was 80 pounds). Sony developed 1/2-inch helical scan in 1967 and that was beginning of the competition of the small formats.

I have been involved in getting those bastard formats that a broadcaster wouldn't touch, to air. Starting in 1970, working as tape supervisor for WNET in New York, I was asked to work with the notorious South Korean "Father of Video Art," Nam June Paik and his desire to get his material on air directly (CV non-interlaced 1/2-inch video.) A show called Free Time with David Silver who was doing a show about Public Access on Manhattan Cable also wanted to show some of the programs they were producing. I was about 20 percent successful in getting the material directly to tape; the rest had to be shot off a monitor.

In 1972, I was put in charge of the engineering and technical execution of The Experimental Television Laboratory at WNET/13. Here I worked with video artists in creating their works. Initially, the recordings were done on IVC 1-inch tape machines. In 1973, we acquired the CVS "Digital TimeBase Corrector" (Only ABC and The TV Lab had one each). This allowed a videographer, as Michael Shamberg put it, to "take unstable, poor quality videotape and turn it into stable, poor quality videotape."

This beginning of the digital revolution allowed us to do just that; take very unstable lower formats of videotape and make them technically stable. As part of the TV Lab, shows were shot on CV 1/2-inch, IVC 1-inch, 3/4-inch, and 1/2-inch EIAJ. This was 1973 to 1977. The manufacturers worked with networks (CBS and later, 1982-83 NBC and ABC) in developing these possibilities. Meanwhile, the TV Lab aired such shows as Jon Alpert's Cuba, the People shot in color on 1/2-inch JVC reel to reel; TVTV's Lord of the Universe shot in 1/2-inch B&W and 1-inch color; and on and on. In fact, in 1976 with the TV Labs' artists in residence using 3/4-inch, the TV Lab accounted for 75 percent of all original programming at WNET-all shot on small format. However, all of the material was transferred to 2-inch for editing and airing.

In 1976, the broadcast 1-inch machine became available, and in 1978, I took the CMX 340X that initially was connected to 3-Sony 2850's as an off-line editing system to the next step. I upgraded the 2850's to BVU-200's (3/4-inch), still used the CVS TBCs, and added an Ampex VR-2 (1-inch) as the mastering machine. I also had control of a MM-1100 1-inch 16-track audio recorder for audio mixing. We now were mastering directly to 1-inch.

I took this basic format to Jon Alpert's when, in 1981, we created Electric Film. This did not stay in this configuration for very long. In 1983 Sony introduced Betacam, and I set up the first Betacam to 1-inch suite in February 1983.

Now all tape machines were using "digital" timebase correctors.

One side note: The word "digital" has become a generic term for "marketing." If it has a number display or something with a relationship to ones and zeros, we'll call it "DIGITAL." I remembering getting the first "digital" alarm clock. Well, this thing had numbers on plastic flaps that flipped every minute. Digital must be defined as having circuitry that takes the analog world and its values into a world of ones and zeros and back out again. It is a convenient way of storing and/or modifying information, whether permanently or temporarily, considerably better than storing or modifying the continuously complexly changing values of real world analog without having those values modified by undesirable analog artifacts. (It's harder to screw up the signal when it's digital.)

Back to our discussion. From 1983 to the present, every two years or so have seen evolutionary development of the media's tools towards digital. The introduction of D1 in 1985 and D2 in 1987 were the sparks for our current supply of digital recorders now numbered, as of this writing, to D9. This numbering system does not include DV, DVCAM, DVCPRO and DVCPRO50 not to mention Digital Betacam, Betacam SX and HDCAM with probably a few others invented while I'm trying to write this. Eventually there will be units, which will record on a DVD and then you just throw the disk and your other DVD recordings into a video jukebox editor.

I have hardly touched on the nonlinear world of editing in which all of the data is stored digitally, both audio (there's another area that's gone digital so completely that I also almost skipped over it) and video. This is common enough, like that of computer publishing; everyone is getting into it.

As I said audio is so completely digital now that I almost forgot about it. In fact, when my son was 10 (in 1995) I introduced him to records. I realized that he had never seen a record. Just like all of our children's children will not know clockwise and counter clockwise because of all the digital clocks.

Nonlinear audio editing and mixing has been around since 1989, all done digitally and archived on DAT, ADAT, D-88, RDAT, MD or CD-Rs.

We now have complete camera systems that, from behind the lens to the final display, deals with our analog world completely digitally. All distribution to our homes can be done entirely digitally, and is now being implemented by the FCC in allocation of the DTV frequencies for over-the-air transmission while DSS has been bringing the digital signal into our home for several years. On the back of the DSS decoder is a digital output which can be connected to a D-VHS deck for recording.

I have just mentioned most of the gear that I have had my hands on in the past 34 years. There are still the newer high definition digital units. There are only a few new "standards" of the HD digitals. Panasonic, Sony, Hitachi, and Philips all have their versions of HD. Now some of these depend on whether it's wideband, 480p, 720p or 1080i (I would suggest a lot of research in this area, because there are empirical and subjective views on which is better), and the newest format 1080p/24. HD gives us a closer rendition of what we see in everyday life. Every step forward into the world of digital is a way of maintaining analog integrity of our real world translated into our new digital world. This cycle (to a complete digital high definition world) should be completed by about 2015.

Who knows what will be next? Here is a little hint of how the pioneers thought. I was talking to Charlie Anderson (one of the Ampex five, he invented the FM signal system of the 2-inch video recorder) and saying that I expected to see a fully 3D holographic image just suspended in our living room. He said, "Why bother with that, why not just have a headset that transmits the image directly into the brain?" This was in 1986!

John J. Godfrey is a two-time national Emmy award winner (with 12 nominations) and has edited over 2,900 programs in the past 34 years. He has served as a beta test engineer for CMX, Sony, Abekas, EMC2, Avid and JVC; has been a consultant to CMX, Sony, Sonic Solutions, Avid, JVC and Panasonic; and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech and Theater, Humanities from Purdue University.

He is owner and president of John Godfrey & Associates of Westport, CT.

Back to the Table of Contents
Back to Digital Television: The Site's home page