Monday, January 16, 2012

Homebrew Hero - Homemade NBTV video recording system in 1974

What do you do in 1974 if you are 20 years old and want to send video to other Amateur Radio operators?

An off-the-shelf home-video camera was the equivalent of $8000 USD (if you could find one) and the circuitry required to transform the high bandwidth signal into one that could be transmitted on AM would have been prohibitively complex.

Believe it or not the only solution was to build your own narrow band video camera! These creations followed on from narrow band television work done in the 1930's and took advantage of advances in materials and solid state technology.

The camera used by VK3AML (Chris Long) in the video below was a Flying Spot Scanner camera which required a completely darkened room and used a spot of light that scanned the scene. The reflected light was picked up by a photomultiplier tube and recorded as a frequency modulated audio tone on tape or broadcast via radio.

We're fortunate to have some of the original video preserved from 1974 since the audio and video signals had been recorded onto open-reel tape.

The 30 line television system developed by John Logie Baird in the 1930s allowed home experimenters to build their own equipment, a practice which still exists today through the Narrow-bandwidth Television Association. Relatively few narrow-band TV signals are transmitted nowadays so most amateur radio operators are unaware of this special interest group.

The video below shows some of the actives and projects that members of the Narrow Band Television Association have been involved in and gives some historical background on this interesting field.

Chas (WA1JFD) from the Antique Radio forums mentions that at approximately the same time other amateur radio operators such as Donald Mara (WA1PLT) were experimenting with Slow Scan Television (SSTV). SSTV sent higher resolution pictures at a slower frame rate, typically taking 8 seconds to send a complete image. Below is a picture of some of the first commercial SSTV equipment that was made available to US hams.

Robot 70 (monitor) & 80 (camera) SSTV system introduced in 1970
I wasn't able to find exact prices for SSTV equipment like the ROBOT 70 & 80 but period articles seem to indicate you wouldn't get much change from $1000 in 1970 for a complete SSTV station. This is equal to around $5000 USD today.