The equipment used to capture a television transmission for posterity and so go down in history as the world's first video'ed time-shift was the 'Silvatone' system.
A corroded privately-recorded disc of the 30-line television signal -with 'Television 1933' tantalizingly written onto the label- was discovered in June 1996. After having been restored, it revealed that the person who recorded this disc was selective about his video recording. He chosed the first television revue - called 'Looking In' - with the Paramount Astoria Girls who performed in April 1933.
The images on the disc are a revelation for our understanding of 30-line television. From a highly-damaged disc of a recording made at the original owner's home using earthy equipment connected to a domestic wireless receiver tuned to the BBC's vision transmission in the Medium Wave band, we now have four minutes of recognisable and entertaining television. This is completely contrary to our conditioned expectations on these 30-line transmissions.
We have been told that 30-line transmissions were uninspiring with stilted presentations to the camera and very limited in content. Now, with the Silvatone record, we have evidence of a truly entertaining service which was slick and professional geared to the limitations of the 30-line system. The disc was completely processed and the results were released to the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (NMPFT), UK for a new exhibit. The first public display of the images was at IBC 1996 Amsterdam on the NMPFT stand.
Regular broadcasting on the 30-line service had started on 22nd August 1932. Initially, transmissions were made every weekday (except Thursdays) around 11 pm after main audio transmissions had completed. The shows lasted only 30 minutes. They were made live with one mirror-drum camera in Studio BB in the basement of BBC Broadcasting House in the West End of London (until 1934 when it moved to larger facilities at Portland Place).
The studio was small and the single camera was a major challenge. Imagine making a 30 minute programme with your own cam-corder. It has to be fixed on a tripod so you can't move it around. You can only pan it (the mirror-drum camera could not tilt). You can't use zoom (it hadn't yet been invented.)
In late 1930, if you had had 6 euros you could have bought a home recording system. Made by Cairns and Morrison Ltd of London, the machine allowed you to record via a microphone onto a 13 cm aluminium disc at 78 rpm. The price included six blank discs which could be recorded only once. The intention was to play this back on your own standard record player. You had to fit a special soft stylus (fibre) instead of the steel needle in order for the disc to be played back more than once.
The involved people in the above discovery were Eliot Levin of Symposium Records - who transcribed in 1996 all the existing 'Phonovision' records for the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television; Dave Mason, the 'Sylvatone disc' owner; DF McLean, who restored and repaired the latent image on the disc in 1996; and Reyner, who described the transmission system in 1934.