Technology Connections
June 18, 2018 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Sure, in this age of LCD screens and 8k displays, it's easy-ish to understand how video is played. But what about before computers, before integrated circuits, hell, before transistors? Simple. Televisions used analog lines of light to draw their pictures.

YouTube's Technology Connections explores, among other things, how televisions worked before they became electronic, how early electronic television cameras worked, how color televisions were invented, made compatible with black and white television, improved for use in difficult terrain in Europe, how competing standards of VCRs were developed, and how VHS won over Betamax, and even how Laserdisc failed to gain widespread adoption but still continued to evolve and improve, even up to when it was killed off by DVD.

That's to say nothing of series focusing on electric cars, light bulbs, and audio recording. If you want a primer on any of these subjects that's detailed but super-approachable, I hope you'll find these videos fit the bill.
posted by thegears (29 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thorium. Don't forget the thorium.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 5:26 PM on June 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


If you wanted to play space invaders, you had to Race the Beam.

It's insane in this world of 6 GB video cards, but once upon a time computers had no framebuffers. The Atari 2600 figured out what to draw on the screen as it went along and only had the time it took to move the cathode ray between pixels to figure out what to draw next.
posted by GuyZero at 5:39 PM on June 18, 2018 [7 favorites]


I'm always kind of blown away to think that during my childhood I was playing video games on what is essentially a particle accelerator.
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:47 PM on June 18, 2018 [13 favorites]


This is one of those channels where every time it pops up, I go "huh, I guess I have nothing better to do," then I watch the video and I am strangely riveted from start to finish. I should probably just subscribe already.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:55 PM on June 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


That “analog lines of light” link in the post is an excellent explanation of how CRT TVs work.

I watched analog TVs for the first 42 years of my life and, while I wouldn’t want to go back to them, I still feel a pang of nostalgia every time I see one. They really are pretty nifty technology.
posted by darkstar at 6:00 PM on June 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I have actually been meaning to put together an FPP on this guy! I'm particularly partial to his videos on lightbulbs, especially his obvious and very endearing passion on the topic of LED traffic lights. Sadly I'm on mobile and can't link easily. Great post!
posted by Dysk at 6:04 PM on June 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Thorium. Don’t forget the thorium.


Yep! Other radioisotopes, too!
posted by darkstar at 6:07 PM on June 18, 2018


The links Dysk mentioned: "but sometimes" and a teardown video.
posted by thegears at 6:07 PM on June 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Exactly those, yes! Thank you!
posted by Dysk at 6:09 PM on June 18, 2018


Yeah, this guy makes some pretty neat videos. Very rarely he gets something wrong or glosses over something important, but 99% of the time when I'm feeling that way, it's addressed at some point later in the video.

In that way it feels more authoritative despite his camera presence not being that at all.

Also, if you like camp, the CG background in his first few videos certainly qualifies! (These things all make the channel more appealing to me, so my apologies if it sounds like I'm slagging it)
posted by wierdo at 6:23 PM on June 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I feel old.

My parents used to send me to the hardware store to get replacement vacuum tubes for our tv.
You had to take them all and test them using a testing machine the size of an old school pinball machine in order to see which one you need to replace. I usually had to buy my mom's smokes too.
posted by srboisvert at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2018 [12 favorites]


My parents used to send me to the hardware store to get replacement vacuum tubes for our tv.

Out local K-mart had a tester back in the TV section you could test your tubes on. But my Dad had a tube tester and boxes and boxes of tubes. he collected TVs for awhile.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:25 PM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


DON'T SIT SO CLOSE!!!
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:30 PM on June 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


I watched analog TVs for the first 42 years of my life and, while I wouldn’t want to go back to them, I still feel a pang of nostalgia every time I see one. They really are pretty nifty technology.

My childhood was ruled by a blonde wood Crosley. We didn’t even get a color tv until the mid 70s. My iMac has a screen the same size as that color tv.

Talking about nostalgia...Before we moved last year, we had to rid ourselves of our big, honkin’ 32” Sony flat-tube tv. Well, it turns out there’s a nostagia thing with these old analog beasts and people seriously into classic console gaming. The old 80s and 90s vintage tubes like mine are looked upon as the proper way to play old Sega Genesis games and the like. Sold our Sony to a couple of Purdue students. They were happy as kids in a candy store.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:39 PM on June 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


The slomo guys filmed a slow motion close-ups of an old CRT TV, a LCD and an OLED TV. You can see the electron beam move from left to right on a CRT at 3 minutes.
posted by Julianna Mckannis at 8:07 PM on June 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Front Porch.
posted by ovvl at 8:57 PM on June 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I love his stuff too, and always like when I think it is apropos. But I am conflicted. His screen presence makes me grind my teeth. OTOH, his content is usually informative, well researched, and clearly presented.

So, yeah. I will come back for topics that interest me, but I don't subscribe. I do sub to enough geeky channels, I see his stuff show up a good bit, so I don't miss a lot.
posted by Samizdata at 9:02 PM on June 18, 2018


Perhaps casts some light on this for the youngsters...
posted by jim in austin at 9:02 PM on June 18, 2018


once upon a time computers had no framebuffers

The framebuffer is like... your mind, man.
posted by ethansr at 11:05 PM on June 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


Before we moved last year, we had to rid ourselves of our big, honkin’ 32” Sony flat-tube tv.

I used to live in a building with a lot of retirees, and every couple of weeks a CRT TV in very good condition was set out by the dumpsters. I felt like Pee Wee in the scene where he saves all the animals from the burning pet store.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:54 PM on June 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


I've linked to his cathode ray tube video in one of my gaming books. In an environment where everyone's shouting and hyper-editing and using generic cartoon avatars for themselves* and hoping to go "viral," Technology Connection's videos are a breath of fresh air.

(* My un-favorites are the legion of videos where the cartoon avatar is actually an illustration of a character from some video game, who appears zoomed-in at the start of the video, along with a fade-in of the guy's internet handle, which is usually something like DarkLink89, in a ham-fisted attempt at branding. There'll probably be a few seconds of music stolen from a Final Fantasy game too. I find it's not common that videos like that are worth ones time.)
posted by JHarris at 11:55 PM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


The old 80s and 90s vintage tubes like mine are looked upon as the proper way to play old Sega Genesis games and the like.

They're not wrong. Graphically those games were designed with the 'fuzziness' of CRT displays in mind and on a modern, more unforgiving LED/LCD display these look awful.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:06 AM on June 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


There are any number of things your local thrift store won't take. CRTs are definitely on it, and have been for years. I had a 32" "flat" Sony which I paid way too much for in the 1990s and was serviceable...straight onto a pile of similar machines at the junkyard.

Metal filing cabinets, BTW, are another thing you cannot give away these days.
posted by maxwelton at 12:37 AM on June 19, 2018


If you have a good CRT TV and a place to store it for awhile, it might be worth holding on to. There are certain advantages to CRT technology over flatscreen, most notably of which being it has very little input lag, that is the time between receiving the signal and displaying it is unnoticeable. This is of particular interest to players of twitch action games. A hardcore arcade game like Robotron or Defender gains an additional level of difficulty when all of your actions are in fact delayed by two or three frames, not to mention if you try to take down Mike Tyson on an NES. Even if you don't notice the delay, it can have a considerable effect.

As a result, I'm fairly convinced that CRTs are going to become another thing like vinyl record players, an "outdated" technology that certain folk will be keen to get their hands on after some years pass. The fact that the wiring in a CRT is of some salvage value will not be making them more common over time.
posted by JHarris at 2:22 AM on June 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


CRTs are wonderful and terrible. It's really unfortunate that plasma TVs turned out to be less durable since their input lag is generally no worse than a CRT and their screen area/watt is much better. (Plus HD for the most part)

Even regular CRTs wear out their phospors, sadly. Almost every one I've junked has been for that reason. Eventually white becomes grey even with the white point maxed out. In not so great CRTs, white becomes a pale color because the red, green, and blue don't wear evenly. You have to be very careful when purchasing if you care at all about picture quality. Luckily, once the late 90s rolled around engineering menus became fairly common and they often track their lifetime hours in use which can help distinguish a set that just needs adjustment from one that would be better off in the bin.

That said, a lightly used set that isn't stored in a humid place will last about forever aside from perhaps needing replacement capacitors. And they aren't even that hard to work on, so long as you are careful and know how to check for and discharge the high voltage components before digging too far into it. Just don't be like me and toss yourself across the room involuntarily.. (Good thing I was working one handed at least!)
posted by wierdo at 3:20 AM on June 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


These are fascinating, thank you! These are things I've always wanted to know but haven't looked up for whatever reason. I found the videos really engaging.
posted by Kris10_b at 6:34 AM on June 19, 2018


Up until quite recently, CRTs were the gold standard for research in visual perception (and, arguably, still are), because it's much easier to control stimulus durations exactly when you know how long it'll really take to refresh the screen, and what the phosphor decay function actually looks like (that, and the contrast is better). There have been some minor efforts to use OLED displays and gaming LCDs for some recent work, but there's a large body of researchers who really, really prefer CRTs for the control they afford.

Most vision researchers I know are hoarding CRT monitors because they're just unavailable at this point (or they're migrating to LCDs / OLEDs), but c.2008-2012, there was considerable interest in figuring out where you could still buy the things.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 8:24 AM on June 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Well, apparently I'm so nerdy that all of the links in this post and thread have been clicked already.

I've been into the Technology Connections vids for a while now and they definitely joined the ranks of Cody's Lab, EEVBlog, AvE and bigclive.

Their breakdowns of various video/laser disc formats is amazing, especially the deep dive into LD-family tech and the various sub-formats that are involved. And apparently people are still buying LaserDiscs and players.
posted by loquacious at 10:43 AM on June 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I like this guy's videos. A few years ago, in a fit of nostalgic aesthetics, I picked up this crazy broadcast monitor. I mostly use it to play videogames and assist in making weird music videos for bands.

It's only a 13" display tube, but holy crap was it heavy enough to cause an all-day carpal tunnel 'event' after carrying it upstairs to my apartment.
posted by destructive cactus at 10:31 AM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


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