Peter Yanczer's Pages
The Mirror Drum
The light source used in large screen theater systems might have been a modulated arc or a standard arc lamp, the latter requiring a Kerr cell along with its associated components. In later years, the arc light was replaced with powerful incandescent lamps. For receivers used in the home, crater arc lamps were able to provide sufficient image brightness.
This is a picture of a mirror drum receiver manufactured by John Logie Baird in 1932. It provided a 30 line image of 9 inches by 4 inches. A larger version of this receiver produced a 14 inch by 6 inch picture. This receiver used a 100 watt incandescent lamp as a white light source, that was in turn modulated with the video signal by a Baird "Grid Cell". This was Baird's version of the Kerr cell.
Beyond 60 lines with mirrors of a reasonable size, the drum became tended to be large. The mirrors were also difficult to adjust. Shown in the two photos below are three examples of recently made 32 line mirror drums. The mirrors are of the very efficient first surface variety and measure approximately one inch square. The drum itself is nine inches in diameter. Each mirror has three adjustment screws. The drum is driven by its shaft through a tension spring in order to reduce any tendency for the drum to "hunt".
There was constant pressure to increase the number of lines in the image. However, this tended to increase the size of the scanning assembly as well the signal bandwidth requirements. Commercial television started with 24 line pictures, mostly because of the bandwidth limitations of transmitters operating in or just above the Broadcast Band. As the transmissions were allowed to move up in frequency, more lines could be added to the image, thereby improving image resolution. With pictures up to 60 lines, scanning disks/drums with holes, lenses or mirrors could provide acceptable pictures with disks of reasonable size. Beyond that, ( 120 lines and up) the holes, lenses or mirrors became too small or the disk/drum too large and the requirement for manufacturing precision too great for scanning disks to see further use in receivers. By 1932, the Nipkow disk and mirror drum had both pretty much had their day. This was also the end of the "low definition" era of television. With 60 lines (or less), television images were limited to close-ups of actors or scenes with large recognizable objects.