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Vera and Ampex VTR


In the early 1950s the BBC almost invented the world's first broadcast quality video recorder.

Vera, the Vision Electronic Recording Apparatus, filled a small room and in pre-metric days boasted 20.5" spools of half-inch tape, running at 200 inches per second to record 15 minutes of 405 line monochrome pictures and mono sound. Two machines were ganged together to make continuous recording possible.

Previous attempts at video recording had failed because of the difficulty of capturing low frequencies on tape that had to move fast to capture high frequencies. Vera simultaneously  recorded three tracks, two video and one audio. The 3 MHz picture signal was split into two bands, one  0 - 100KHz, the other 100KHz to 3MHz.

The high band was recorded normally on one track, like very high fidelity audio. The low band frequency modulated a high frequency carrier on the other track. Complicated braking systems were needed to start, stop and rewind the tape without snapping or stretching it.

The recording heads were hand-made, with insulating material hand sheared from mica sheet. The tape gave best results only after a few dozen playings had polished its surface and improved contact with the heads.

The BBC used Vera for a few broadcasts, but dropped the project in 1958 when the UK and Europe adopted a new 625 line standard which needed a 5MHz bandwidth.

Running Vera faster to achieve this would have reduced recording time to only a few minutes per reel.

US company Ampex had by then proved that its quadruplex recorder, first demonstrated in 1956, could record a full hour of 625 line tv on a single spool. It did so by running the tape slowly but mounting the heads on a wheel and spinning them rapidly across the tape width.


The BBC's Vera
was replaced by the first Ampex quad machine
First Ampex VTR Bing Crosby worked with Ampex
The first Ampex VTR
Bing Crosby was very enthusiastic about pre-recording his sound and vision broadcasts
Ampex team leader Charles Ginsberg
Ampex team leader Charles Ginsberg.
Ampex team leader Charles Ginsberg
Early Ampex VTR
Ray Dolby
Although he did not like to talk about it, a young Ray Dolby was part of the Ampex team. Here at his San Francisco HQ
Ray Dolby
Here in the UK with Princess Anne
More recent Ampex equipment
More recent Ampex equipment
More recent Ampex equipment
Some more modern Amex studio equipment





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