1927 Demonstrated The First All-electronic Television

January 24, 2012 by staff 

1927 Demonstrated The First All-electronic Television, The history of television records the work of numerous engineers and inventors in several countries over many decades. The fundamental principles of television were initially explored using electromechanical methods to scan, transmit and reproduce an image. As electronic camera and display tubes were perfected, electromechanical television gave way to all-electronic broadcast television systems in nearly all applications.
The beginnings of mechanical television can be traced back to the discovery of the photoconductivity of the element selenium by Willoughby Smith in 1873, the invention of a scanning disk by Paul Gottlieb Nipkow in 1884 and John Logie Baird’s demonstration of televised moving images in 1926.

As a 23-year-old German university student, Paul Nipkow proposed and patented the first electromechanical television system in 1884. Although he never built a working model of the system, variations of Nipkow’s spinning-disk “image rasterizer” for television became exceedingly common, and remained in use until 1939. Constantin Perskyi had coined the word television in a paper read to the International Electricity Congress at the International World Fair in Paris on August 25, 1900. Perskyi’s paper reviewed the existing electromechanical technologies, mentioning the work of Nipkow and others.

However, it was not until 1907 that developments in amplification tube technology, by Lee DeForest and Arthur Korn among others, made the design practical. The first demonstration of the instantaneous transmission of still silhouette images was by Georges Rignoux and A. Fournier in Paris in 1909, using a rotating mirror-drum as the scanner and a matrix of 64 selenium cells as the receiver.

In 1911, Boris Rosing and his student Vladimir Zworykin created a television system that used a mechanical mirror-drum scanner to transmit, in Zworykin’s words, “very crude images” over wires to the “Braun tube” (cathode ray tube or “CRT”) in the receiver. Moving images were not possible because, in the scanner, “the sensitivity was not enough and the selenium cell was very laggy”.

On March 25, 1925, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of televised silhouette images in motion, at Selfridge’s Department Store in London. AT&T’s Bell Telephone Laboratories transmitted halftone still images of transparencies in May 1925. On June 13 of that year, Charles Francis Jenkins transmitted the silhouette image of a toy windmill in motion, over a distance of five miles from a naval radio station in Maryland to his laboratory in Washington, using a lensed disk scanner with a 48-line resolution.

However, if television is defined as the live transmission of moving images with continuous tonal variation, Baird first achieved this privately on October 2, 1925. But strictly speaking, Baird had not yet achieved moving images on October 2. His scanner worked at only five images per second, below the threshold required to give the illusion of motion, usually defined as at least 12 images per second. By January, he had improved the scan rate to 12.5 images per second.

Then on January 26, 1926 at his laboratory in London, Baird gave what is widely recognized as being the world’s first demonstration of a working television system to members of the Royal Institution and a newspaper reporter.

Unlike later electronic systems with several hundred lines of resolution, Baird’s vertically scanned image, using a scanning disk embedded with a double spiral of lenses, had only 30 lines, just enough to reproduce a recognizable human face.

In 1927, Baird transmitted a signal over 438 miles (705 km) of telephone line between London and Glasgow. In 1928, Baird’s company (Baird Television Development Company/Cinema Television) broadcast the first transatlantic television signal, between London and New York, and the first shore-to-ship transmission. He also demonstrated an electromechanical color, infrared (dubbed “Noctovision”), and stereoscopic television, using additional lenses, disks and filters. In parallel, Baird developed a video disk recording system dubbed “Phonovision”; a number of the Phonovision recordings, dating back to 1927, still exist. In 1929, he became involved in the first experimental electromechanical television service in Germany. In November of the same year, Baird and Bernard Natan of Pathé established France’s first television company, Télévision-Baird-Natan. In 1931, he made the first outdoor remote broadcast, of the Epsom Derby. In 1932, he demonstrated ultra-short wave television. Baird’s electromechanical system reached a peak of 240-lines of resolution on BBC television broadcasts in 1936 though the mechanical system did not scan the televised scene directly. Instead a 17.5mm film was shot, rapidly developed and then scanned while the film was still wet. On November 2, 1936 the BBC began transmitting the world’s first public television service from the Victorian Alexandra Palace in north London following alternate daily test broadcasts of the Baird and Marconi systems to the Radio Show at Olympia at the end of August. It therefore claims to be the birthplace of television broadcasting as we know it today. The intermediate film system was discontinued within three months in favour of a 405-line all-electronic system developed by Marconi-EMI.

Herbert E. Ives and Frank Gray of Bell Telephone Laboratories gave a dramatic demonstration of mechanical television on April 7, 1927. The reflected-light television system included both small and large viewing screens. The small receiver had a two-inch-wide by 2.5-inch-high screen. The large receiver had a screen 24 inches wide by 30 inches high. Both sets were capable of reproducing reasonably accurate, monochromatic moving images. Along with the pictures, the sets also received synchronized sound. The system transmitted images over two paths: first, a copper wire link from Washington to New York City, then a radio link from Whippany, New Jersey. Comparing the two transmission methods, viewers noted no difference in quality. Subjects of the telecast included Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. A flying-spot scanner beam illuminated these subjects. The scanner that produced the beam had a 50-aperture disk. The disc revolved at a rate of 18 frames per second, capturing one frame about every 56 milliseconds. (Today’s systems typically transmit 30 or 60 frames per second, or one frame every 33.3 or 16.7 milliseconds respectively.) Television historian Albert Abramson underscored the significance of the Bell Labs demonstration: “It was in fact the best demonstration of a mechanical television system ever made to this time. It would be several years before any other system could even begin to compare with it in picture quality.”

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