Modern Media

Interested about our modern media (TV, radio, films and books), where it came from and how it got to what we see today? Here's a concise historical review for you!

The concept of the primitive camera was first documented in the renaissance period (around 1400 AD) by artist Leonardo Da Vinci, although the camera obscura had actually been in use since ancient times.

With the invention of the movable type printing press around 1450 by Johann Gutenberg newspapers and book publishing began to flourish and reach the masses instead of the few elite, affluent patrons.

Radio was invented by Guglielmo Marchese Marconi, in 1895, a device used primarily to transmit bleeps (called "Morse code"). Voice and music broadcast would not be practical until after around 1915 with the invention of the radio tube.

Around 1892 Thomas Edison invented the audio recording device eventually dubbed the "phonograph" which gave birth to the Compact Disc in the 1980s. Edison intended this device to be used in conjunction with another gismo, his motion picture camera. Edison and his associates (Edwin S. Porter, among others), in fact, created the "music video" and the concept of "un-plugged" - basically because there was no electronic amplification. By 1897 he was photographing singers and musicians playing live in his "Black Maria" studio located in New York. He asked George Eastman, maker of amateur photographic films, to make him special long lengths of film 35mm (about 1 1/2 inches) in width with perforations along each side.

The Lumiére (pronounced Loom - EE - air) brothers in France invented the first documented projected movies in 1895 and probably made the first publicly demonstrated documentary films of workers leaving their bicycle plant near Paris.

Alice Guy (pronounced gu-EE, a long E sound) probably made the first story film ("The Cabbage Fairy") and maybe even the "trick" or special effects film in the middle of 1895, though some historians dispute this fact and feel Georges Méliès (pronounced George Mel - EEE - aye), a noted magician, made the first "trick films" in that same year in the same location, Paris France.

Edwin S. Porter created the initial grammar of motion pictures (and television) by shooting things out of sequence (such as doing the ending first) and giving us close-ups, far shots and also probably invented the first "western" movie with a complete plot - "The Great Train Robbery" made around 1902 although some credit D.W. Griffith with much of cinema grammar, which he did improve and expand between 1911 and 1919.

Germaine Dulac made some of the first experimental or "avant-garde" films ("The Smiling Madame Beaduet" and "The Seashell and the Clergyman") around 1915 and also in this general time frame Lee De Forest invented the audio tube, making radio, television, the phonograph, sound movies and computers eventually possible. He also invented the first sound on film process around 1921. Although Edison, Porter and Guy were making a flock of sound films between 1897 and 1907. The De Forest invention made it practical.

The oldest existing animated feature film, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" was made in Germany between 1923 and 1925 by Lotte Reininger (employing special techniques of multiple planes (layers of images stacked over other images) historians would wrongly attribute to Walt Disney many years later).

Warner Brothers released the "Jazz Singer" in 1929 and many people wrongly credit this as the first sound film. Actually Fox Film Corporation was making sound newsreels using their own sound-on-film process at least a whole year before this film was released and Edison made them as early as the turn of the 20th century as we have already seen...

Color film was in use, in one form or another, since 1910, but Technicolor perfected it in the 1930s using three strips of black and white film with color filters, then printing this onto clear film using dyes (a process similar to how color pictures are printed in your favorite magazine). This "three strip" Technicolor process was eventually replaced by Eastman Kodak's single color film stock in the early 1950s.

The concept of television and color television actually dates back to crude demonstrations in the 19th century, and the TV picture tube was invented around 1910, but the first real television cable-cast wasn't until around 1929. Actual broadcast of TV didn't begin until after World War II, around 1947.

With the advent of television, movie going suffered a loss of audience. To draw people into the theaters "wide screen" and "3-D" processes were introduced. Fox was one of the first to make wide screen movies ("The Robe" being the first film shot in their 'CinemaScope' process), but this concept lost momentum in the late 1970s. Today few films are shot in a wide, wide screen process (and when they are, it is the more modern Panavision wide screen process that is now used). The actual process of making Panavision or CinemaScope movies involves squeezing the image to make it thinner (perfect circles become egg shaped ovals) and then projecting it back through a lens that spreads it out wide onto a large screen.

Singer Bing Crosby helped finance the experimental concepts of video tape in the mid-1950s and around this same time NBC (National Broadcasting Company) began limited broadcasting using our current color television process. (Three images tubes are used, with Red, Blue and Green filters -- much like the Technicolor process described above for movies. Then your TV set has a bunch of Red, Blue and Green dots which light up as the color signal tells them to during broadcast.) Around 1968 television went totally color.

The Altair personal computer was introduced in the 1970s. It was quickly followed by offerings from Atari, Commodore and Radio Shack, starting the PC revolution (IBM didn't actually join the race until around 1980). The preliminary concepts of the Internet were also proposed in the 1970s, but it wasn't until the early 1990s that companies like CompuServe, America Online and Prodigy began offering the "web" to everyone at low cost.

The CD and Laser Disks were first developed around 1978 (about the same time Beta video tape recorders were introduced). VHS video followed shortly thereafter offering more recording time. Beta eventually became obsolete by 1985.

High definition and digital television began to see limited use in Japan during the late 1980s, but their introduction in the US didn't come until the end of the 20th century. DVD was also in experimental use and is now starting to see wide use in the world, destined to replace both CD for music and VHS tape for video during the next few years. You will soon see "home" DVD making machines (which are already here, but quite expensive) for storing audio and video readily available and affordable.

Digital filmmaking is now seeing experimental use and the concept of "film" cameras is already on the way out in favor of digital imaging still and video cameras. You will eventually see digital projection systems at your local movie theaters (the next Star Wars chapter from George Lucas is expected to be shown digitally in selected theaters).

Some believe the "Star Trek" holodeck is only a few years away from us (and the U.S. Army is currently using a crude prototype of this concept in their training routines)! 3-D interactive entertainment you can touch and feel (anyone remember the VR craze?). Is this a possibility? Maybe....


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