First Color Videotape 1958

This video is the oldest surviving color videotape recording. A camera crew recorded this on May 22, 1958, and even though the cold war was raging, these were simpler times. In the video President Dwight Eisenhower dedicates NBC’s WRC-TV new color television studios in Washington D.C.

The color is turned on at 1:23. They used 2 inch wide videotape which played in a two-inch quadruplex videotape machine. Quad employed a transverse four-head system which scanned the two-inch tape across its width. Separate linear heads recorded the sound track.

Before Videotape

Before videotape the only way to record a TV show was with a kinescope which was a film recording. The film was broadcast using a live video camera focused on the film screen. The invention of 2 inch videotape led to a much better way to record and save a performance. Many kinescopes of early TV shows have been preserved and are available on YouTube. The next color videotape format would not come until 1976-78. This was 1 inch videotape.

Today videotape is rarely used for recording, editing or playback, but it is still used as an archival medium. Tapeless machines now record video as computer files to hard disks, optical discs and to solid-state memory such as SD cards which is the current market leader. Tapeless machines have many advantages, one of the chief advantages is that there is much less mechanics. This makes them more reliable as there are no tape mechanisms to jam, break or go out of alignment.

Tape is still used by filmmakers and TV networks because it is inexpensive, reliable and it lasts. Masters of TV shows and other productions are often stored on tape for these reasons, but tapeless formats like DVCPRO P2, XDCAM and AVCHD, are gaining broader acceptance for production and storage. However, the high cost of solid state and the limited shelf life of hard-disk drives makes them less desirable for archival storage. The last VCR was manufactured in July 2016.

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