originally referred to the cathode ray tube
used in television
receivers, as named by inventor Vladimir Zworykin
in 1929. Today it usually means a kinescope recording
/ˈkɪni/ for short. The process is known as telerecording
in the UK
. This is a recording of a television program made by filming the picture from a video monitor. Typically, the term can refer to the process itself, the equipment used for the procedure: a 16mm
or 35mm movie camera
mounted in front of a video monitor, and synchronized to the monitor’s scanning rate, or a film made using the process.
Eastman Television Recording Camera
In September 1947, Kodak
introduced the Eastman Television Recording Camera, in cooperation with DuMont Laboratories, Inc.
, 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 programs that were broadcast live from New York
or other originating cities, to stations not connected to the network. 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 Du Mont 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. The television industry’s film consumption eventually 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 in 1952 instituted a "hot kinescope" process in which 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.
Double system method of editing
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.
Change to 35 mm film broadcasts
Filmed programs 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. This, however, was about to change.
In 1951, the stars and producers of the Hollywood-based I Love Lucy, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, decided to shoot their show directly onto 35 mm film using the three-camera system, instead of broadcasting it live. Normally, a live program originating from Los Angeles (for example, The Frank Sinatra Show) 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,
- In the beginning there was a very definite reason for the decision of Desilu Productions to put I Love Lucy on film instead of doing it live and having kinescope recordings carry it to affiliate outlets of the network. The company was not satisfied with the quality of kinescopes. It saw that film, produced especially for television, was the only means of insuring top quality pictures on the home receiver as well as insuring a flawless show.
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) that continues to this day.
The program director of the short-lived DuMont Television Network
, James Caddigan, devised an interesting but somewhat impractical alternative—the Electronicam
. In this system, 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 39 syndicated episodes of The Honeymooners
were filmed using Electronicam, 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
As new technologies for storing video
became available, kinescopes slowly began to fade in importance: 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.
Twilight of the 16 mm kinescopes
The networks continued to make kinescopes of their daytime dramas (many of which still aired live into the late 1960s) available 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
. 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 later years, film and television producers were often reluctant to include kinescope footage in anthologies, because of the "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 contrasty or 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.
A kinescope image looks less fluid than an original live or videotaped program, because normal film has only 24 frames per second, as opposed to the 60 NTSC
or 50 PAL fields
used by video. To record an NTSC broadcast on film at 24 frames per second, the Kinephoto machine used a film shutter
with a 72-degree arc, or one-fifth of a circle, running at 24 revolutions per second. When the shutter blocked the image, the film was advanced one frame. Each frame of film captured the two interlaced
fields (as opposed to a single "progressively scanned
" frame) that compose a complete television image, with the shutter cutting off one-fifth of the 60 total fields. Thus, in 1 second, 48 television fields would be captured on 24 frames of film, and 12 additional fields would be omitted as the shutter closed and the film advanced.
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/sec. or 29.97 frame/s. when color TV was invented.
In recent years, the BBC has introduced a video process called VidFIRE, which can restore kinescope recordings to their original frame rate by interpolating video fields between the film frames.
Status of kinescopes today
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
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. After these programs were shown, the kinescopes would be returned to Gleason, who kept them in his vault, and only released them to the public 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 laser disc 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.