Don't let the title fool you.
This "Ultrafax" system developed by RCA in the late 1940s was essentially the first
attempt at video on demand, or streaming video. Rather than piping the signal over
cable or local broadcast frequency towers, a microwave link was used. While initial
system equipment space and financial requirements meant only corporations, universities,
and governments could procure an Ultrafax, engineers who developed the system envisioned
an eventual culmination of equivalent systems in every home. Even at the end of
the last century it was still not possible for program providers to personalize
broadcasts to individuals. It wasn't until broadband Internet came on the scene
in the 2000s that such services were possible. Now, a decade later, people watch
any video they want on cellphones while riding in a car.
We've come a
long way, baby.
A new million words a minute communications system demonstrated
recently in Washington, D.C.
Operating details covering the new RCA "Ultrafax" system of high
Donald S. Bond, research engineer for RCA, demonstrates "Ultrafax"
at the Library of Congress while Jean Montgomery looks at a copy of the 1047-page
novel "Gone with the Wind" which was transmitted word-for-word in its entirety in
about two minutes. Documents beamed through the air are received and reproduced
as exact duplicates of the original. "Ultrafax is an RCA development.
The Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. was recently the scene of a unique
demonstration of a new system of television communications which is capable of transmitting
and receiving written or printed messages and documents at the rate of a million
words a minute.
The demonstration of "Ultrafax" was conducted by Radio Corporation of America,
developers of the new system. David Sarnoff, president of RCA, explained that the
development presents several new and interesting communications possibilities among
which are the exchange of international television programs; combined television
and "Ultrafax" service for the home which would permit various types of publications
to be transmitted directly to the viewer without interrupting the program being
viewed; the transmission of a full-length motion picture from a single negative
in the production studio to the screens of thousands of motion picture theaters
throughout the country; and the possibility of a radio-mail system with vast pickup
and delivery services of the Post Office Department.
The first message to be publicly transmitted was a handwritten letter by Mr.
Sarnoff. Letters from Secretary of Defense Forrestal and Wayne Coy, Chairman of
the FCC, were also transmitted over the "Ultrafax" system.
Posted October 4, 2022
(updated from original post