Thomas Edison’s Black Maria was the first film production studio in the world. Residing in West Orange, New Jersey, it was lit with a retractable roof and filmed magic shows and vaudeville performances starting in 1893. About 119 years later, we have video cameras in our pockets in the form of smartphones and tablets, tiny camcorders, 3D cameras for stunning HD movies, and every variety in-between. Film and video were some of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, truly changing how the world saw itself. The digital era has made video ubiquitous, leading to services, like YouTube, that give people the ability to chronicle every last second of their lives, for all to see. How did we get to this point?
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nation’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies, created the first digital video standard in 1984, known as H.120. Resolutions maxed out at 175×144 pixels. H.120 eventually led researchers to find a way to compress bitrates, which later led to the ability to stream video.
Compression came in 1988, again from the ITU. H.261 was the real catalyst into the era we know today. Resolution came in at 352×288 and streamed between 40Kbits per second and 2Mbits per second. Three years later came AVI (audio video interleave) from Microsoft as a video container for Windows. Anybody that dealt with AVI in the early 1990s can tell you it was perhaps one of the biggest pains ever to deal with. But it was innovation.
Big leaps would come throughout the 1990s. MPEG-4 and high-definition standards would emerge, making it possible to move from video cassette to DVDS, and later deliver streaming the way we know it today.
The infographic below from Real Networks (itself a pioneer in the era of digital video) shows the evolution of digital video from the early 1980s to modern day. Moving pictures have come a long way since Edison and Black Maria.