In Depth

Google joins in celebrations for TV's 90th birthday

John Logie Baird's invention was impractical and became obsolete quickly, but it remains TV genesis

Ninety years ago today, in a building in Soho, the first live television demonstration took place in front of a room of members of the Royal Institution and a journalist from The Times.

A face – that of a man called Oliver Hutchinson – appeared on in a small 3.5ins by two inch picture. He was the business partner of John Logie Baird, the Scot often credited with having invented the television – or "Televisor", as it was touted back then.

The historic moment is celebrated in today's Google Doodle.

TV's baby steps didn't exactly enthral those present. According to the Daily Telegraph, The Times journalist later wrote: "It has yet to be seen to what extent further developments will carry Mr Baird's system towards practical use," and complained that the pictures were often blurred and faint.

A year earlier, Baird had been kicked out of the Daily Express offices and called a "lunatic" by the news editor, who was frightened by claims of a machine for "seeing by wireless."

The Scot's first successful test of his Televisor was in 1924, when he transmitted a flickering image onto a wall ten feet away. Two years later, it was a clearer image of Hutchinson in a different room which is now regarded to be the first television demonstration as earlier showcases projected nothing more than faint silhouettes.

Baird's television was "a crude version of the modern telly resembling a radio", says The Independent.

In involved two large revolving disks equipped with lenses that span and broke down light reflected from any object in front of it.  These reflections were then turned into "flashes of electric code", which were transmitted to a receiver to reconstruct the image.

Despite Baird's breakthrough, as soon as a newer, clearer way of transmitting pictures was developed, he quickly lost out - "doomed to be the man who sows the seed but does not reap the harvest," said journalist and critic Dame Rebecca West.

In 1936, in a battle to be the official broadcasting system used by the BBC, his system went up against the Marconi-EMI television.

The heavily mechanical aspect of the Baird system, combined with its much more limited range and capacity  and the intense light beamed at the presenter, made for an impractical and physically uncomfortable operation.

Within three months, the superior Marconi-EMI was selected and the BBC's Baird studios at the Alexandra Palace were shut down.

His system did win a consolation prize though - it beat the Marconi system in a coin toss to broadcast the BBC's first official "high-definition" programme, reports the broadcaster itself.

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