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RCA "Ultrafax" System
January 1949 Radio & Television News

January 1949 Radio & Television News
January 1949 Radio & Television News Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

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.

RCA "Ultrafax" system of high speed communication - RF Cafe

Operating details covering the new RCA "Ultrafax" system of high speed communication.

Donald S. Bond, research engineer for RCA, demonstrates "Ultrafax" at the Library of Congress while Jean Montgomery - RF Cafe

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 on 8/28/2015)

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