Your LCD or plasma has a great, great grandfather. And it’s not the chunky CRT that preceded it in the 90s. No. Eighty five years ago, public eyes first hit TV—while it broadcast the head of a dummy.
Although Scottish inventor John Logie Baird’s studies were so rudely interrupted by World War I, he was nonetheless determined to get moving images working outside of a lab once back home. TV—as much as you could call it that—was primitive then. Experimentally primitive. Like, shadows cast by silhouettes primitive. There was room for improvement.
So Baird seized upon a prior invention—a device called a Nipkow disk, which let electric light shine through narrow slants as it spun. The result—again, on the primitive side—was an image produced by lines that scanned one at a time. Sort of like TVs now, only instead of 1080 lines of resolution, Baird was cranking out 30.
But it worked. It only displayed five frames per second, but it worked. His first test was a little on the creepy side, broadcasting the face of a stiff ventriloquist’s dummy named “Stooky Bill”—probably something you wouldn’t want to see in HD. But from there he quickly moved to an actual human, and on January 26th, 1926, scientists and press at the Royal Institution in London received a public demonstration of the device at work. And by this time, the image was produced at a blistering 13 frames per second! Whoo boy.
It was crude. But it was impressive. And it made public the fact that moving images could be transmitted from one place to another entirely—nothing of the kind had ever been witnessed before. Baird went on to innovate with colour broadcasts, longer ranges, and greater resolution. No matter how paltry thirty lines at 13 fps sounds to us today, we shouldn’t forget how downright shocking this would have been 85 years ago. And how important it was for someone to keep pushing. So, today, happy anniversary to John Baird and his set—I’ll keep you in my heart next time I’m watching a Blu-ray.