Kinescope /ˈkɪnɪskoʊp/, shortened to kine /ˈkɪniː/, also known as telerecording in Britain, is a recording of a television program on motion picture film, directly through a lens focused on the screen of a video monitor. The process was pioneered during the 1940s for the preservation, re-broadcasting and sale of television programmes before the use of commercial broadcast-quality videotape became prevalent for these purposes.
Typically, the term can refer to the process itself, the equipment used for the procedure (a 16 mm or 35 mm movie camera mounted in front of a video monitor, and synchronized to the monitor's scanning rate), or a film made using the process. Kinescopes were the only practical way to preserve live television broadcasts prior to the introduction of videotape in 1956. A small number of theatrically released feature films have also been produced as kinescopes.
The term kinescope originally referred to the cathode ray tube used in television receivers, as named by inventor Vladimir K. Zworykin in 1929. Hence, the recordings were known in full as kinescope films or kinescope recordings. RCA was granted a trademark for the term (for its cathode ray tube) in 1932; it voluntarily released the term to the public domain in 1950.
There is some evidence to suggest that the BBC experimented with filming the output of the television monitor before its television service was suspended in 1939 due to the outbreak of World War II. A BBC executive, Cecil Madden, later recalled filming a production of The Scarlet Pimpernel in this way, only for film director Alexander Korda to order the burning of the negative as he owned the film rights to the book, which he felt had been infringed. However, the evidence for this is purely anecdotal, and indeed there is no written record of any BBC Television production of The Scarlet Pimpernel during the 1936–1939 period. The incident is, however, dramatised in Jack Rosenthal's 1986 television play The Fools on the Hill.
Some of the surviving live transmissions of the Nazi German television station Fernsehsender Paul Nipkow, dating as far back as the 1930s, were recorded by pointing a 35mm camera to a receiver's screen, although most surviving Nazi live television programs such as the 1936 Summer Olympics (not to confuse with the cinematic footage made during the same event by Leni Riefenstahl for her film Olympia), a number of Nuremberg Rallies, or official state visits (such as Benito Mussolini's) were shot directly on 35mm instead and transmitted over the air as a television signal, with only a two minutes' delay from the original event, by means of the so-called Zwischenfilmverfahren (see intermediate film system) from an early outside broadcast van on the site.
According to a 1949 film produced by RCA, silent films had been made of early experimental telecasts during the 1930s. The films were produced by aiming a camera at television monitors - at a speed of eight frames per second, resulting in somewhat jerky reproductions of the images. By the mid-1940s, RCA and NBC were refining the filming process and including sound; the images were less jerky but still somewhat fuzzy.
By early 1946, television cameras were being attached to American guided missiles to aid in their remote steering. Films were made of the television images they transmitted for further evaluation of the target and the missile's performance.
The first known surviving example of the telerecording process in Britain is from October 1947, showing the singer Adelaide Hall performing at the RadiOlympia event. Hall sings "Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba (My Bambino Go to Sleep)" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love", as well as accompanying herself on ukulele and dancing. When the show was originally broadcast on BBC TV it was 60 minutes in length and also included performances from Winifred Atwell, Evelyn Dove, Cyril Blake and his Calypso Band, Edric Connor and Mable Lee, and was produced by Eric Fawcett. The six-minute footage of Miss Hall is all that survives of the show.
From the following month, the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip also survives, as do various early 1950s productions such as It is Midnight, Dr Schweitzer, The Lady from the Sea and the opening two episodes of The Quatermass Experiment, although in varying degrees of quality. A complete 7-hour set of telerecordings of Queen Elizabeth II's 1953 coronation also exists.
In the era before satellite communications, kinescopes were used to distribute live events such as a royal wedding as quickly as possible to other countries of the Commonwealth that had started a television service. A Royal Air Force aircraft would fly the telerecording from the UK to Canada, where it would be broadcast over the whole North American network.
Even after the introduction of videotape, the BBC and the ITV companies made black and white kinescopes of selected programs for international sales, and continued to do so until the early 1970s by which time programs were being videotaped in color. Most, if not all, videotapes from the 405-line era have long since been wiped as have many from the introduction of 625-line video to the early days of color. Consequently, the majority of British shows that still exist before the introduction of color, and a number thereafter, do so in the form of these telerecordings. A handful of shows, including some episodes of Doctor Who and most of the first series of Adam Adamant Lives!, were deliberately telerecorded for ease of editing rather than being videotaped.
In September 1947, Eastman Kodak introduced the Eastman Television Recording Camera, in cooperation with DuMont Laboratories, Inc. and NBC, for recording images from a television screen under the trademark "Kinephoto". Prior to the introduction of videotape in 1956, kinescopes were the only way to record television broadcasts, or to distribute network television programs that were broadcast live from New York or other originating cities, to stations not connected to the network, or to stations that wished to show a program at a time different than the network broadcast. Although the quality was less than desirable, television programs of all types from prestigious dramas to regular news shows were handled in this manner.
NBC, CBS, and DuMont set up their main kinescope recording facilities in New York City, while ABC chose Chicago. By 1951, NBC and CBS were each shipping out some 1,000 16mm kinescope prints each week to their affiliates across the United States, and by 1955 that number had increased to 2,500 per week for CBS. By 1954 the television industry’s film consumption surpassed that of all of the Hollywood studios combined.
After the network of coaxial cable and microwave relays carrying programs to the West Coast was completed in September 1951, CBS and NBC instituted a "hot kinescope" process in 1952, where shows being performed in New York were transmitted west, filmed on two kinescope machines in 35 mm negative and 16 mm reversal film (the latter for backup protection) in Los Angeles, rushed to film processing, and then transmitted from Los Angeles three hours later for broadcast in the Pacific Time Zone.
In September 1956, NBC began making color "hot kines" of some of its color programs using a lenticular film process which, unlike color negative film, could be processed rapidly using standard black-and-white methods.
Even after the introduction of Quadruplex videotape machines in 1956 removed the need for "hot kines", the television networks continued to use kinescopes in the "double system" method of videotape editing. It was impossible to slow or freeze frame a videotape at that time, so the unedited tape would be copied to a kinescope, and edited conventionally. The edited kinescope print was then used to conform the videotape master. More than 300 videotaped network series and specials used this method over a 12-year period, including the fast-paced Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
With the variable quality of Kinescopes, networks looked towards alternative methods to replace them with a higher degree of quality.
Programs originally shot with film cameras (as opposed to kinescopes) were also used in television’s early years, although they were generally considered inferior to the big-production "live" programs because of their lower budgets and loss of immediacy.
In 1951, the stars and producers of the Hollywood-based television series I Love Lucy, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, decided to film the show directly onto 35 mm film using the three-camera system, instead of broadcasting it live. Normally, a live program originating from Los Angeles would be performed live in the late afternoon for the Eastern Time Zone, and seen on a kinescope three hours later in the Pacific Time Zone. But as an article in American Cinematographer explained,
The I Love Lucy decision introduced reruns to most of the American television audience, and set a pattern for the syndication of TV shows after their network runs (and later, for first-run airings via syndication).
The program director of the DuMont Television Network, James L. Caddigan, devised an alternative — the Electronicam. In this, all the studio TV cameras had built-in 35 mm film cameras which shared the same optical path. An Electronicam technician threw switches to mark the film footage electronically, identifying the camera "takes" called by the director. The corresponding film segments from the various cameras then were combined by a film editor to duplicate the live program. The "Classic 39" syndicated episodes of The Honeymooners were filmed using Electronicam (as well as the daily five-minute syndicated series Les Paul & Mary Ford At Home in 1954–55), but with the introduction of a practical videotape recorder only one year away, the Electronicam system never saw widespread use. The DuMont network did not survive into the era of videotape, and in order to gain clearances for its programs, was heavily dependent on kinescopes, which it called Teletranscriptions.
Attempts were made for many years to take television images, convert them to film via kinescope, then project them in theaters for paying audiences. In the mid-1960s, Producer/entrepreneur H. William "Bill" Sargent, Jr. used conventional analog Image Orthicon video camera tube units, shooting in the B&W 819-line interlaced 25fps French video standard, using modified high-band quadruplex VTRs to record the signal. The promotors of Electronovision (not to be confused with Electronicam) gave the impression that this was a new system created from scratch, using a high-tech name (and avoiding the word kinescope) to distinguish the process from conventional film photography. Nonetheless, the advances in picture quality were, at the time, a major step ahead. By capturing more than 800 lines of resolution at 25 frame/s, raw tape could be converted to film via kinescope recording with sufficient enhanced resolution to allow big-screen enlargement. The 1960s productions used Marconi image orthicon video cameras, which have a characteristic white "glow" around black objects (and a corresponding black glow around white objects), which was a defect of the pickup. Later vidicon and plumbicon video camera tubes produced much cleaner, more accurate pictures.
In 1951, singer Bing Crosby’s company Bing Crosby Enterprises made the first experimental magnetic video recordings; however, the poor picture quality and very high tape speed meant it would be impractical to use. In 1956, Ampex introduced the first commercial Quadruplex videotape recorder, followed in 1958 by a color model. Offering high quality and instant playback at a much lower cost, Quadruplex tape quickly replaced kinescope as the primary means of recording television broadcasts.
U.S. television networks continued to make kinescopes of their daytime dramas available (many of which still aired live into the late 1960s) as late as 1969 for their smaller network affiliates that did not yet have videotape capability but wished to time-shift the network programming. Some of these programs aired up to two weeks after their original dates, particularly in Alaska and Hawaii. Many episodes of programs from the 1960s survive only through kinescoped copies. The last 16 mm kinescopes of television programs ended in the late 1970s, as video tape recorders became more affordable.
In Australia, kinescopes were still being made of some evening news programs as late as 1977, if they were recorded at all. A recording of a 1975 episode of Australian series This Day Tonight is listed on the National Archives of Australia website as a kinescope, while surviving episodes of the 1978 drama series The Truckies also exist as kinescopes, indicating that the technology was still being used by ABC at that point.
In later years, film and television producers were often reluctant to include kinescope footage in anthologies because of its inherent inferior quality. While it is true that kinescopes did look inferior to live transmissions in the 1950s, it was due to the industry's technical limitations at that time. Even the best live transmission could look hazy by the time it reached the home viewer. Advances in broadcast technology soon allowed for a wider gray scale in black-and-white, and a fuller spectrum of colors, making kinescopes a perfectly viable commodity. This was demonstrated in the feature film Ten from Your Show of Shows, a compilation of Sid Caesar kinescopes released to theaters. Reviewers were astonished at how good the kinescoped image looked on a large screen. Kinescopes have since lost their stigma of inferiority, and are commonly consulted today for archival purposes.
Up until the early 1960s, much of the BBC's output, and British television in general, was broadcast live, and telerecordings would be used to preserve a programme for repeat showings, which had previously required the entire production being performed live for a second time. In the UK, telerecordings continued to be made after the advent of commercial broadcast videotape from 1958 as they possessed several distinct advantages, particularly for overseas program sales. Firstly, they were cheaper, easier to transport and more durable than video. Secondly, they could be used in any country regardless of the television broadcasting standard, which was not true of videotape. Thirdly, the system could be used to make black and white copies of color programs for sale to television stations who were not yet broadcasting in color.
The telerecording system could be of a very high quality, easily reproducing the full detail of the television picture. One side effect of the system was that it removed the 'fluid' look of interlaced video and 'filmized' the picture.
The system was largely used for black and white reproduction. Although some color telerecordings were made, they were generally in the minority as by the time color programs were widely needed for sale, video standards conversion was easier and higher quality and the price of videotape had become much reduced. Before videotape became the exclusive transmission format during the early to mid-1980s, any (color) video recordings used in documentaries or filmed program inserts were usually transferred onto film.
In the 1950s a home telerecording kit was introduced in Britain, allowing enthusiasts to make 16 mm film recordings of television programs. The major drawback, apart from the short duration of a 16 mm film magazine, was that a large opaque frame had to be placed in front of the TV set in order to block out any stray reflections, making it impossible to watch the set normally while filming. It is not known if any recordings made using this equipment still exist.
British broadcasters used telerecordings for domestic purposes well into the 1960s, with 35 mm being the film gauge usually used as it produced a higher quality result. For overseas sales, 16 mm film would be used, as it was cheaper. Although domestic use of telerecording in the UK for repeat broadcasts dropped off sharply after the move to color in the late 1960s, 16 mm black and white film telerecordings were still being offered for sale by British broadcasters well into the 1970s.
Telerecording was still being used internally at the BBC in the 1980s too, to preserve copies for posterity of programs which were not necessarily of the highest importance, but which nonetheless their producers wanted to be preserved. If there were no videotape machines available on a given day, then a telerecording would be made. There is evidence to suggest that the children's magazine program Blue Peter was occasionally being telerecorded as late as 1985. After this point, however, cheap domestic videotape formats such as VHS could more easily be used to keep a back-up reference copy of a program.
Another occasional use of telerecording into the late 1980s was by documentary makers working in 16 mm film who wished to include a videotape-sourced excerpt in their work, although such use was again rare.
In other territories, film telerecordings were stopped being produced after the introduction of videotape. In Czechoslovakia, the first videotape recorders (Machtronics MVR-15) were introduced in 1966, but soon were replaced by the Ampex 2" Quadruplex in 1967. Most of the programs, like TV dramas, were recorded on video, but only a few programmes continued to be telerecorded onto 16mm film. The last telerecording was produced in 1969 and soon after all programmes were recorded on video only.
Kinescopes were intended to be used for immediate rebroadcast, or for an occasional repeat of a prerecorded program; thus, only a small fraction of kinescope recordings remain today. Many television shows are represented by only a handful of episodes, such as with the early television work of comedian Ernie Kovacs, and the original version of Jeopardy! hosted by Art Fleming.
Another purpose of Kinescopes involved satisfying show sponsors. Kinescopes sometimes would be sent to the advertising agency for the sponsor of a show so that the ad agency could determine whether or not the sponsor's ads appeared properly. Due to this practice, some kinescopes have actually been discovered in the storage areas of some of these older advertising agencies or in the storage areas of the program sponsors themselves.
Kinescopes were also used for some live television programs, like Captain Kangaroo, when back-to-back episodes were made in a day for different time zones.
Telerecordings form an important part of British television heritage, preserving what would otherwise have been lost. Nearly every pre-1960s British television programme in the archives is in the form of a telerecording, along with the vast majority of existing 1960s output. Videotape was expensive and could be wiped and re-used; film was cheaper, smaller, and in practice more durable. Only a very small proportion of British television from the black and white era survives at all; perhaps 5% from the 1953-58 period and 8-10% from the 1960s.
Many recovered programmes, particularly those made by the BBC, have been returned as telerecordings by foreign broadcasters or private film collectors from the 1980s onwards, as the BBC has taken stock of the large gaps in its archive and sought to recover as much of the missing material as possible. Many of these surviving telerecorded programmes, such as episodes of Doctor Who, Steptoe and Son and Till Death Us Do Part continue to be transmitted on satellite television stations such as UKTV Gold, and many such programmes have been released on VHS and DVD.
A kinescope must be able to:
In kinescoping an NTSC signal, 525 lines are broadcast in one frame. A 35 mm or 16 mm camera exposes one frame of film for every one frame of television (525 lines), and moving a new frame of film into place during the time equivalent of one field of television (131.25 lines). In the British 405-line television system, the French 819-line television system and the European 625-line television system, television ran at 25 frames—or more correctly, 50 fields—per second, so the film camera would also be run at 25 frames per second rather than the cinematic film standard of 24 frames.
Therefore, in order to maintain successful kinescope photography, a camera must expose one frame of film for exactly 1/30th or 1/25th of a second, the time in which one frame of video is transmitted, and move to another frame of film within the small interval of 1/120 of a second. In some instances, this was accomplished through means of an electronic shutter which cuts off the TV image at the end of every set of visible lines.
Most U.S. kinescope situations, however, utilized a mechanical shutter, revolving at 24 revolutions per second. This shutter had a closed angle of 72° and an open angle of 288°, yielding the necessary closed time of 1/120 of a second and open time 1/30 of a second. Using this shutter, in 1 second of video (60 fields equaling 30 frames), 48 television fields (totaling to 24 frames of video) would be captured on 24 frames of film, and 12 additional fields would be omitted as the shutter closed and the film advanced.
Because television is a field- rather than frame-based system, however, not all the information in the picture can be retained on film in the same way as it can on videotape. The time taken physically to move the film on by one frame and stop it so that the gate can be opened to expose a new frame of film to the two fields of television picture is much longer than the vertical blanking interval between these fields—so the film is still moving when the start of the next field is being displayed on the television screen. It is not possible to accelerate the film fast enough to get it there in time without destroying the perforations in the film stock—and the larger the film gauge used, the worse the problem becomes.
The problem of adapting the way the image is either displayed or captured on film, to get around the above, was solved in various different ways as time went on—improving the quality of the image.
The 72°/288° shutter and the systematic loss of 12 fields per second were not without its side effects. In going from 30 frame/s to 24 frame/s, the camera photographed part of some fields. The juncture on the film frame where these part-fields met was called a "splice".
If the timing was accurate, the splice was invisible. However, if the camera and television were out of phase, a phenomenon known as "shutter bar" or "banding" took place. If the shutter was slow in closing, overexposure resulted where the part-fields joined and the "shutter bar" took the form of a white line. If the shutter closed too soon, underexposure took place and the line was black. The term "banding" referred to the phenomenon occurring on the screen as two bars.
A simpler system less prone to breakdown was to suppress one of the two fields in displaying the television picture. This left the time in which the second field was displayed for the film camera to advance the film by one frame, which proved enough. This method was also called 'Skip field' recording.
This method had several disadvantages. In missing out every second field of video, half the information of the picture was lost on such recordings. The resulting film consisted of fewer than 200 lines of picture information and as a result the line structure was very apparent; the missing field information also made movement look very 'jerky'.
A development on the suppressed field system was to display the image from one of the fields at a much higher intensity on the television screen during the time when the film gate was closed, and then capture the image as the second field was being displayed. By adjusting the intensity of the first field, it was possible to arrange it so that the luminosity of the phosphor had decayed to exactly match that of the second field, so that the two appeared to be at the same level and the film camera captured both.This method came to be preferred.
Another technique developed by the BBC known as 'spot wobble' involved the addition of an extremely high frequency but low voltage sine wave to the vertical deflection plate of the television screen, which changed the moving 'spot' through which the television picture was displayed into an elongated oval. While this made the image slightly blurred, it removed the visible line structure and resulted in a better image. It also prevented moiré patterns appearing when the resulting film was re-broadcast on television and the lines of the recording did not match the scan lines.
The first successful procedure was to use the Mechau film projector mechanism in reverse. The Mechau system used a synchronised rotating mirror to display each frame of a film in sequence without the need for a gate. When reversed, a high-quality television monitor was set up in place of the projection screen, and unexposed film stock is run through at the point where the lamp was illuminating the film.
This procedure had the advantage of capturing both fields of the frame on a film, but it was difficult to keep the mirrors running at the right speed and all the equipment adjusted correctly, which often resulted in poor quality output. An additional problem was that the whole procedure took place in an open room and it was known for insects to settle on the screen which were then permanently present on the film recording. The Mechau film magazine only held enough for nine minutes so two recorders were needed to run in sequence in order to record anything longer.
Lenses did not need a great depth of field, but had to be capable both of producing a very sharp image with high resolution of a flat surface and of doing so at high speed. In order to keep from light fall-off on the perimeter of the lens, a coated lens was preferable. 40 mm or 50 mm lenses were usually used with 16mm in calibrated mounts. Focus was checked by examining a print yielded under a microscope.
In order to record half-hour programs without interruption, magazines were designed which accommodated a load of 1,200 feet for 16 mm film. Stations recording on 35 mm utilized 6,000 foot magazines for one hour of continuous recording.
The camera could be equipped with sound recording to place the soundtrack and picture on the same film for single system sound recording. More commonly, the alternative double system, whereby the soundtrack was recorded on an optical recorder or magnetic dubber in sync with the camera, yielded a better quality sound track and greatly facilitated editing.
Kinescope tubes intended for photographic use were coated with phosphors rich in blue and ultra-violet radiations. This permitted the use of positive type emulsions for photographing in spite of their slow film speeds. The brightness range of kinescope tubes were about 1 to 30.
Kinescope images were capable of great flexibility. The operator could make the image brighter or darker, adjust contrast, width and height, turn left, right or upside down, and positive or negative.
Since kinescopes were able to produce a negative picture, direct positive recordings could be made by simply photographing a negative image on the kinescope tube. When making a negative film, in order for final prints to be in the correct emulsion position, the direction of the image was reversed on the television. This applied only when double system sound was used.
For kinescopes, 16 mm film was the common choice by most studios because of the lower cost of stock and film processing, but in the larger network markets, it was not uncommon to see 35 mm kinescopes, particularly for national rebroadcast. By law, all film supplied to TV stations, both 16 mm and 35 mm had to be on a non-flammable, safety film base.
For U.S. video recording, fine grain positive stock was the most common used because of its low cost and high resolution yield. Of the fine grain stocks, the following were recommended by film manufacturers:
Videotape engineer Frederick M. Remley wrote of kinescope recordings,
Because each field is sequential in time to the next, a kinescope film frame that captured two interlaced fields at once often showed a ghostly fringe around the edges of moving objects, an artifact not as visible when watching television directly at 50 or 60 fields per second.
Some kinescopes filmed the television pictures at the same frame rate of 30 full frames per second, resulting in more faithful picture quality than those that recorded at 24 frames per second. The standard was later changed for color TV to 59.94 fields/s. or 29.97 frame/s. when color TV was invented.
In the era of early color TV, the chroma information included in the video signal filmed could cause visible artifacts. It was possible to filter the chroma out, but this was not always done. Consequently, the color information was included (but not in color) in the black & white film image. Using modern computing techniques, the color may now be recovered, a process known as color recovery.
Certain performers or production companies would require that a kinescope be made of every television program. Such is the case with performers Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle, for whom nearly complete program archives exist. As Jackie Gleason’s program was broadcast live in New York, the show was kinescoped for later rebroadcast for the West Coast. Per his contract, he would receive one copy of each broadcast, which he kept in his vault, and only released them to the public (on home video) shortly before his death in 1987.
Milton Berle sued NBC late in his life, believing the kinescopes of a major portion of his programs were lost. However, the programs were later found in a warehouse in Los Angeles.
Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions, the producers of such TV game shows as What's My Line?, had a significant portion of their output recorded on both videotape and kinescopes. These programs are rebroadcast on the American cable TV’s Game Show Network.
All of the NBC Symphony Orchestra telecasts with Arturo Toscanini, from 1948 to 1952, were preserved on kinescopes and later released on VHS and LaserDisc by RCA and on DVD by Testament. The original audio from the kinescopes, however, was replaced with high fidelity sound that had been recorded simultaneously either on transcription discs or magnetic tape.
In the mid-90s, Edie Adams, wife of Ernie Kovacs, claimed that so little value was given to the kinescope recordings of the DuMont Television Network that after the network folded in 1956 its entire archive was dumped into upper New York bay. Today however, efforts are made to preserve the few surviving DuMont kinescopes, with the UCLA Film and Television Archive having collected over 300 for preservation.
In September 2010, a kinescope of game 7 of the 1960 World Series was found in the wine cellar of Bing Crosby. The game was thought lost forever, but was preserved due to Crosby's superstition about watching the game live. The film was transferred to DVD and was broadcast on the MLB Network shortly afterwards.
Because videotape records at fifty interlaced fields per second and telerecordings at twenty-five progressive frames per second, videotaped programmes that exist now only as telerecordings have lost their characteristic "live video" look and the motion now looks filmic. One solution to this problem is VidFIRE, an electronic process to restore video-type motion.
Early Australian television drama series were recorded as kinescopes, such as Autumn Affair and Emergency, along with variety series like The Lorrae Desmond Show. Kinescopes continued to be made after video-tape was introduced to Australia; most existing episodes of the 1965-1967 children's series Magic Circle Club are kinescopes (per listings for episodes on National Film and Sound Archive website)