Who Invented Television?
We humans are evolved to believe whatever we’re told by purported authority figures. Hardly anyone, even today when information is no more than a click away, can be bothered to do any research. Consequently we all tend to believe whatever it was we were told when we were growing up.
Raised in Texas? Evolution is a myth invented by Satanists. Raised in Arabia? Allah is the only true god. Raised in France? Humanist values emanate from the most cultured nation on the planet. Raised in Scotland? John Logie Baird invented the television.
Alas for our beliefs, they are rarely accurate.
Baird invented the television in the same way that Leonardo da Vinci invented the helicopter, although to be fair to Baird he actually built working prototypes whereas da Vinci merely sketched his ideas on paper. As a result, toward the end of 1925 Baird’s device was able to reproduce the image of a silhouette in back-and-white and then later a more-or-less recognizable image of a human face.
Unfortunately, Baird’s invention was much closer to a Victorian magic lantern than to the televisions that came to dominate people’s homes more than thirty years later. This is because Baird’s early television apparatus used rotating wooden discs in which were cut holes of varying size. By combining a light emitter with the rotating holes, a very simple 30-line picture refreshed at 5 frames per second could be created. The picture had very low resolution and was very flickery to the human eye, but it was just about recognizable.
It’s easy to imagine that the limitations of Baird’s mechanical contraption rendered it unsuitable for mass adoption.
At the time Baird was working on his own invention, others were likewise attempting to create moving pictures in a box, but using principles quite different from Baird’s Victorian-style mechanical device. In the USA an inventor by the name of Vladimir Kosmich Zworykin was using cathode-ray tubes as the core technology for both cameras and display screens. Cathode-ray tubes work by means of sending a beam of electrons forward to hit a glass surface impregnated with tiny phosphorous dots. When one of the dots is hit by electrons it briefly gives off light. In reverse, the technique permits cameras to capture images which can then be wirelessly transmitted to television screens for display.
Cathode-ray tubes had enormous advantages over mechanical devices among which were mobility (Baird’s cameras were huge and fixed in place), much greater resolution (425 horizontal lines versus Baird’s 30 lines) and much faster refresh rate (30 times per second versus Baird’s 5 times per second). This enabled much more accurate rendition of images as well as the ability to cope with movement, which Baird’s machines continued to struggle with even as he improved scanning and refresh rates. Finally, once manufacturing techniques were perfected, cathode-ray tubes were far less prone to failure than Baird’s rotating wooden discs and all the machinery they required.
Baird’s mechanical approach was ultimately a dead-end, though due to its simplicity it enabled Baird to demonstrate the first color pictures long before cathode-ray technology was able to do so. Unfortunately, even color pictures were insufficient to make Baird’s invention viable.
Baird continued to work in research and development and is rumored to have contributed to Britain’s technology efforts throughout World War II. He’s occasionally credited with inventing a kind of radar, which he called noctovision. Unfortunately, unlike actual radar which can provide information about distance and speed of an object, noctovision was too primitive to be of practical use.
So while Baird was essentially a Victorian inventor sadly born thirty years too late, he nevertheless made important early contributions to signal processing and, as a pioneer of “moving pictures in a box,” began to alert the general public that televisions were on their way. But despite proud Scots belief to the contrary, Baird didn’t invent television in any meaningful sense, nor did he invent radar.
We owe the arrival of television in our homes, and all the good and ill it has brought with it, to Vladimir Kosmich Zworykin.