Television Technology Demystified: a non-technical guide, by Aleksandar Louis Todorovic, Focal Press/Elsevier, Burlington, MA. c20006 271 p.
Imagine you’re someone like I used to be…someone who had only a vague awareness of the basics of electronics and was even less knowledgeable about all things digital. Only then can you imagine how delighted and surprised I was to find this non-technical guide to television. It’s a book that’s understandable to anyone–whether your future includes television production work, television watching, or both.
The author, Mr. Todorovic, promises that… “…this book will be nonmathematical, and essential concepts and parameters will be easy to understand without the need to call upon previous scientific or engineering knowledge.” Though containing only concise text and simple diagrams, the book is not just a guide to the world of television technology, but a virtual tour guide to our digital world. Every time I felt at the furthest limits of my technical abilities, the author summarized my new-found knowledge, assuring me as to what I now understood. Then, I was immediately shown how to build on what I had learned using the next topic.
Beginning with an overview of the apparatus and mechanics of human vision and hearing, the book proceeds with the fascinating history of the efforts to capture (and transmit) analog sights and sounds, starting with the camera. (Did you know that the invention of television was set in motion when the photoconductivity of certain metals was first noticed by a telegraph operator in 1873?) I had no idea that the first TV picture was received in 1925—nor did I know that the first public TV service was in Great Britain. And, I bet you never knew that crooner Bing Crosby personally financed the project that produced the first recording of a video signal, way back in 1952!
The author then supplied the technical background for everything important in television: photographing television scenes, scanning the scene to create the video picture, color television, videotape recording, video editing, digital sampling, digital television, digital video & digital audio compression, exchanging data in bitstreams, metadata, networked production, television graphics, integrated digital newsrooms, blue screens, virtual sets, and HDTV. Not only does he bring you all the way to state-of-the-art as of 2005, but he introduces the “next new thing”: D-cinema.
Along the way, the author answers a host of interesting questions, such as:
- Why, in motion pictures, do stage coach wheels seem to rotate backwards?
- How does a camcorder work?
- What causes dropouts?
- Why are the primary colors for painting Red, Blue, and Yellow, but the primary colors for lighting a television studio and producing TV in color are Red, Blue, and Green?
- In old, analog TV broadcasts, why did I sometimes see “snow” or “ghosts”?
- And, arguably, the most important question of all these days: Why is digital now preferred for the creation, transmission, and storage of electronic communication– when our eyes and ears only can only register analog?
As he answers your questions, Todorovic explains all those ubiquitous (mostly digital) acronyms, such as: VTR, PAL, NTSC, DV, DVB, DVC, DVD, JPEG, MPEG, MP3, IP, LAN, WAN, UTP, CG, etc., etc. He knows them all quite well, as he has spent over 40 years in the broadcasting field. In fact, he was a member of many of the committees which established the various international technical standards by which world-wide television operates. Yet, his writing brings his insights within reach of any beginner.
No, it’s not a book for the beach as it’s over 15 inches wide when opened all the way. Organized like a textbook, it’s also rather slick, and I found it slipping off my lap. However, the novice who overlooks its few faults can learn a lot.
And now, a case study of how this book has proved useful to me already:
Recently, I was watching on DVD an episode of the 1960s TV series, Mission: Impossible. Barney, the character who’s the Impossible Mission team’s electronics & tech wizard, had only a few moments in which he needed to edit part of a videotape—cutting out a portion of a speech being delivered. Using his film editing equipment, he proceeded to cut the tape in three sections & pulled out a section. At this point I thought to myself: “That’s impossible, because videotape cannot be edited mechanically unlike already-developed film.” As professor Todorovic notes the book’s page 199: “On all VTRs [videotape recorders] the sound track is recorded on a separate track or on a separate segment, and in spatial terms a piece of audio is not collocated with its corresponding video frame.” Yes, what Barney was purportedly doing was not just improbable, it was totally impossible!
Armed with information from this book, you, too, will be able to begin to understand our digital world—and also, maybe, even spot when you’ve been had!