Museum Hours:

Saturday 10-6

Sunday 12-5

Please Become a Member of the Museum


Early Color Television

Early Russian Color TV


By V. Yefimov

Today the color television is well-established fact of our life. It is hard to believe that just not long ago it was a matter of a dream! Though the sending of color images was first described in late XIX century, the idea could come true only 50 odd years later.

The All-Union Television Research Institute (VNIITe) had been working on color television since early 50s. And in 1953 - 1955 there already had been experiments on color TV broadcasting in Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) with so-called serial color TV system. As a whole, the system was rather cumbersome, not too reliable, and in addition it was incompatible with black-and-white television, i.e., all the black-and-white home TV sets, already used, were unable to receive those color TV signals.

To the beginning of telecasting the VNIITe produced a few experimental color TV sets (unable to receive black-and-white TV stations). In such a system a video signal occupied greater bandwidth due to additional information in a frame. It resulted in lessening a number of channels within an authorized VHF TV band. These sets were called Raduga ("Rainbow").

These disadvantages of the serial color TV system are fatal only for telecasting but there are some other applications of television where the serial systems are effective, e.g., medical engineering.*

According to results of its experiments, in mid-1950s the Television Institute switched to works on the COMPATIBLE color TV system, free from the mentioned shortcomings. Solution for all these problems was sought by different departments of the Institute and the principal research and coordination of allied teams were performed by the Broadcasting Equipment Department (headed by M.M. Zimnev) at immediate participation, scientific and engineering management by Dr. V.L. Kreutzer.

Prof. P.V. Shmakov, the then Head of the Chair of Television in the Leningrad Electric Engineering Institute of Telecommunications, was appointed as a scientific consultant for the subject, as that Institute also was working on the problem but more theoretically, while the VNIITe was charged with creation of operating equipment.

Looking at the history of development of compatible color television, we can see that a progress in many fields of technology, including television, depends directly on progresses in a number of adjacent sciences and technologies. On the other side, the development of color television beneficially influenced with other technologies, pushing engineers to discoveries of new know-hows.

As the principal organization in creation of the new color TV system, the Television Institute was not restricted to its own researches, it coordinated works of other research institutes, design bureaus and enterprises. These works were rather intensive. The system of color TV transmitters/receivers was roughly made to June 1956. That system shaped, transmitted and received composite video signal, similar to the NTSC standard with elements of the USSR standard TV signal.

Two American-made TV sets were used as receivers, with almost all their units remade for the signal of our system. To examine compatibility, the Soviet-made commercial black-and-white TV set, called "Yantar" (Amber), was used. The color TV system could send movies and slide films.

A sensor of a signal was a slide-cine-projector along with a "scanning beam" device. The transmitter of the system included also a color picture monitor of immediate vision, and the author took part in its creation. That rather bulky apparatus consisted of three cathode-ray tubes with luminiferous surfaces, glowing red, green and blue and two semitransparent mirrors. The color picture was obtained with these mirrors by means of composition of the three monochromes.

We should note some difficulties in designing of transmitters. In spite of wide-spread suspicion of plagiarism, the creation of the whole system was done practically from scratch.

In June 1956, the Ministry ordered to carry all the system to Moscow, with a group of experts headed by Candidate of Science M.E. Goss followed the equipment for its deployment and demonstration. We deployed the system in a foyer of the Sverdlov Hall in Kremlin. Beside us the demonstration was attended by the specialists of the Moscow Electron Tube Plant (MELZ), charged with commercial production of color kinescopes.

After deployment of the color TV system and its alignment we were visited not only by specialists but also by officers of the Council of Ministers, Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.

Naturally, this "parade" had a great significance for the management of our Ministry (and finally, for equipping of TV stations around the country). Mr. A.I. Shokin, who became a Minister of Electronic Industry later, was one of the organizers of these demonstrations.

With our equipment we showed color slides and a travel film by a Moscow TV center. I remember a visit of a group of specialists who generally asked about TV cine-projector and a color kinescope.

An employee from the MELZ talked about their difficulties in organization of mask kinescope production. They had to seat on a screen more than a fifteen hundred thousand of tiny specks of different luminiferous chemicals, glowing red, green and blue, and opposite to a screen had to be located a metal sheet in some way (so-called mask) of a special alloy with more than 500 thousand holes.

Boy, we were amazed when one of those specialists, listened with attention, said that such operations are successively done in nuclear industry. So, our colleagues from the MELZ got an unexpected assistance.

Our "exhibition" was also visited by Klement Voroshilov, then a Chairman of Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Foreign Minister V.M. Molotov. We expected also Nikita Khrushchev but then he had talks in Moscow with Joseph Tito, President of Yugoslavia and could not come.

Our demonstration was successful. The staff of our Institute began further in-depth development of the color TV system, especially the TV camera, cine-projection equipment, commercial TV set and other appliances.

Looking for a way of sending the color information within a composite video signal, we had chosen SECAM standard (serial-simultaneous color TV system), invented in France in 1954 by Henri de France. After joint development and improvement by Soviet and French specialists in 1965 - 1967, our country and some other European countries adopted SECAM III B telecasting standard.

This choice was caused by looser requirements of SECAM III B to TV set parameters compared to other color TV standards, thus TV sets should not be too complicated. Moreover, this standard facilitated growth of color TV stations over vast territories with minimum reconstruction of existing TV centers and repeaters.

Overall elaboration of all parts of the color TV system by our Institute and other organizations made it possible to design up-to-date equipment and manufacture it by Soviet industries for TV stations in the USSR and some other countries. Color TV could be received almost everywhere in this country.

It should be noted that at a first stage the engineering development of commercial color TV receiver progressed along two directions: the one was based on color picture monitor of immediate vision and in the other the mask kinescope was used.

Works on improvement of the color picture monitor by Mr. V.F. Kozlov and the author of this article were fundamental for designing a projection-type three-tube color picture monitor, as well as TV receiver with three projection-type cathode-ray tubes.

After the experimental model of the three-tube monitor was made, some doubts appeared about future of that version. That is why the model was transferred to the Moscow branch of the Television Institute (now called MNITI), to a group headed by L.N. Shvernik to study a possibility to create a commercial TV set using that technique.

A TV set with the mask kinescope was also created in the VNIITe, chiefly by a group of specialists headed by Mr. L.I. Baldin and some allied designers, engineers and technologists. We would like to remind that the MELZ then worked on commercial production of mask kinescopes and the Svetlana Company developed and manufactured special electron tubes for the mentioned TV set: 6P45S, 6D22S, 3C22S and GP-5. As a result, "Raduga" (Rainbow) commercial TV sets were developed and made.

During 1958 - 1960 they were transferred to the Kozitsky Plant in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) for putting into production. Today two specimens of that television can be found in the VNIITe Museum and in the A.S. Popov Central Telecommunications Museum, St. Petersburg.

* It should be noted that during a joint Soyuz-Apollo spaceflight in June 1975, to provide color TV images, spaceborne television equipment included TV camera with serial sending of color information. A signal from the camera was transmitted in the air and transformed in a TV signal compatible with simultaneous color TV system at on-land receiving points.

(From Our notes and links are in blue italic)