broadband / New Media / Old Media

Video and me

In 1966, when I was working on bio feedback (brain waves), my friend and colleague, Peter Harris, and I got the idea (actually I think it was Peter that had the idea) to see if we could put up letters on a screen.  At that time we use an ASR-33 teletype as are main input and output device (think of a kind of typewriter if you can remember them).  We had never seen a character on a screen.  In fact we had no screens on the computer.  What we did have was a telescope that could store images using a long lasting phosphor and we had digital to analog converters (which I think I designed and installed).  Bottom line was we figured out how to put up words on the screen (which was a round little thing) and it was amazing. 

In 1970, I used head per track disk which probably had less than a Meg of memory and which was developed for instant repay for sporting events, to put up whole pages on TV sets which were used by nurse to monitor patients in an ICU.  We developed some kind of character generator to take our ASCII codes and turn them into a small bit map that could be loaded on the disk. 

In 1975 when I ran a division of Mennen Greatbatch which was responsible for computer supported medial systems, I used a PDP-11 and developed a dual access memory unit which could be read be a raster scanner that created a display.  There was one bit in memory for every bit on the display.  We developed software character generators.  It worked pretty well. 

In 1981, when I was Group Manger for Professional Computers at Digital Equipment, I had my group develop a shared memory display because it lets us have software created characters. It was a big fight inside Digital because every one else wanted to use hardware generated characters.   

In 1989, after I had started what became Intel Capital I invested in a company called Digital F/X which was founded by my good friend, Steve Mayer, who was the co founder of Atari.  He wanted to bring to the desk top advanced post production capabilities especially special effects.  Apple invested in the company as did KP.  I got Intel to invest because I had and idea to develop a graphical user interface let the MAC which would be connected to the chips we would develop.  We would put a layer of software between above OS so the OS would sit between two environments that Intel would develop together. But Andy Grove shot that down.  I got so pissed off I sent him a memo calling him the Mick Jagger of the computer world (trying to make today last).  Did not help my career very much. 

In the very early 90’s I continued my interest in displays but now the challenge was video.  I thought that we could find ways to put video on PC’s but other than for educational training most people at Intel thought that was a stupid idea.  But thank God for
Moore’s law because we began to get the computing power we needed to play back encoded video. 

In 1993, Matt Miller (CTO of GI) and I realized that we could use the cable network to provide a high speed network to PC’s in homes.  And the cable modem as we now know it was born.  I thought that video would be a key capability and we demonstrated video downloaded to a computer over a cable network at the Western Cable Show in 1993 and later at the 1994 PC Expo (and of course it was Andy Grove who did the demo).   

In 1996, Intel and Creative Artist Agency (CAA) put together a “demo lab” to showcase the PC and broadband internet as the beginning of a new medium.  We though mistakenly that the content for this new medium would come from the traditional media industry especially the talent.  This turned out not to be the case but I did make a lot of interesting contacts in the media industry. 

In 1998, I joined the board of King World Productions which was the leading syndicate of first run TV shows.  For instance we distributed Oprah.  I was asked to join the board by Herb Allen (Allen&Co) to help the company understand the implications of the changes in technology and help develop a long term strategy.  Soon after I joined, I realized that in a few years it would be possible to encoded TV quality video on a PC and I figured people would store TV shows to view later and would skip the commercials.  This was around the time that Tivo and Replay both came to market.  Since the TV affiliates that represented the build of King Worlds customers were totally dependent on advertising, I thought it was wiser to sell the company than to try to build it our further.  We sold it for three billion dollars to CBS who shortly later was acquired by Viacom.   

In 1999 I invested in Heavy, the leader in broadband entertainment for males 18-34.  We started with animation and small video windows short form.   

2007, I am glad to say that Heavy is doing very well and is probably the leading independent video site on the net.  And we now have internet video on multiple platforms including cell phones.  

So for me it has been 40 years since Pete Harris and I put those first bits on the screen and spelled out the word “test”.  We have clearly made so much progress in developing the technology to create and distribute video content.  But I am still wondering about how the really interesting an compelling content will be greated.  Soon the novelty of having video everywhere will fade. 

3 thoughts on “Video and me

  1. That was amazing to read! I know your hero is Einstein – but are you sure he hasn’t been cloned? 🙂 BTW, were you at Digital in Boston? My brother worked there for years.


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