Vitaphone was developed by Western Electric and Bell Labs. Stanley S.A. Watkins and George R. Groves, two British engineers at Bell, were the main force behind it. It was an early way to create "talking pictures". Vitaphone worked by syncing a 16 inch record to the film reel. These records were very large for the day, and the needle on the player traveled from the center outward, instead of from the edge inwards, like most other records. Another unusual feature of Vitaphone records is that they were less rigid, allowing for better sound quality. They were good for twenty plays before they wore out.

To produce a Vitaphone feature, a camera was attached to a turntable, and the sounds were recorded directly on to a blank phonograph disc. The recorder was its own worst enemy; it was so noisy that it had to be placed inside a sound proof booth to keep the camera from picking the noise up and ruining the soundtrack. When playing back the film in theaters, the reel and the disc would be started up at the same time. An arrow indicating where to place the needle on the record and a "start" frame on the reel helped get things synchronized.

Vitaphone's first prominent use was in the Warner Brother's feature, The Jazz Singer, 1927; however, it had been in use, albeit experimentally, since 1925, and Don Juan predated it by a year as the first Warner Brother's production using it. Only three major studios used Vitaphone exclusively for their talkies during the height of the technology's popularity: Warner Brothers, First National, and Hal Roach. The others used sound-on-film techniques that were less cumbersome, though they did also release Vitaphone editions of their films for theatres unable to play them otherwise.

Vitaphone was in popular use for only a short period of time: from 1927, when The Jazz Singer was released, to 1930, when Warner and First National gave up on it for their major films. In the 1930's, Vitaphone fell almost completely out of favor, and was used only on rare occasions. It was superseded by Movietone.

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