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Video technology... how far we've come

I thought you all might get a chuckle out of this video writeup I penned in March 1988 for Stormtrack. It was just a draft and I never got around to turning it in, but it gives an interesting glimpse at how far we've come since the bad old days of VHS.

"A Video Briefing"
Tim Vasquez
March 1988

There is perhaps nothing more satisfying to bring home from a long chase than videotape footage, often even when it is a "bust"! Videotape does an unbeatable job of accurately and reliably catching the "feeling of the moment" throughout the journey in addition to depicting the thunderstorm itself.

Ten manufacturers have announced the development of a 8mm upgrade this March [1988], called Hi-Band 8mm, which may be on the market just after the 1989 chase season. The technology uses a higher and wider internal video frequency band to allow a horizontal resolution of 400 pixels, compared to the current 250 on normal 8mm, resulting in a sharper picture. Flying erase heads insure clean edits, and 120 minutes of footage can be recorded on a tape the size of a audio cassette. Hi-Band 8mm is superior to Super VHS & VHS-C. Hi-Band video will not play on 8mm, but 8mm will play on Hi-Band.

In store for 1990 for the serious chasers is the true 3-D camera, which uses a secondary offset lens and "hides" its video into the interlace scan before it goes to the recording VCR (or camcorder tape). The viewer later wears a pair of special electronic glasses when watching the tape on an ordinary television, and LCD shutters in each eyepiece rapidly alternate on and off (almost invisibly fast) in synchronization to allow one eye to see only the interlace scan, and the other eye to see only the normal scan, with true color and quality preserved. It will be usable on existing VCRs, and even without the glasses you will still see a reasonably perfect image, except for noticable blur on close objects (analogous to the classic 3-D movies without wearing the colored "glasses"). With the glasses, the picture will be almost lifelike minus some slight fuzziness due to the inherent decrease in resolution--but still, you can point the fan at yourself, turn on the tape, and relive the Hobart tornado of 1991. The 3-D video technology is currently being developed for industrial uses. The cost? Probably about $2000, but as with all new technology it will drop during the first few years.

If 3-D is the limit, consider that late next decade, chasers will likely be heading to the fields with high-definition television (HDTV) cameras, currently under large-scale research and development, mainly in Japan. Later next decade it should gain strong but turbulent acceptance in the United States. HDTV has twice the resolution of standard television displays, and the result is a strikingly lifelike, razor-sharp picture. A prototype video recorder has been developed for it by Canon, which packs 120 minutes on a specially developed type of VHS-like tape. Cost? Initially it may be over twice that of current video equipment, but considering Japanese marketing tactics and their confidence in this technology, it may come somewhat cheaper. HDTV currrently demands expensive, complex circuits and operation schemes, so I wouldn't wait around for it.

Finally, a consumer product that has been missing is a device which allows TV images to be printed out on paper, film, or slides. With the flexibility of current VCRs, chasers would be able to cue the videotape to the perfect lightning strike or tornado frame and print out a copy. Nevertheless, the quality will not surpass good-old 35 millimeter film--standard video carries a limiting resolution, and even with electronic "smoothing" to artificially increase resolution, a bit of fuzziness would still be present. The technology needing perfection would include development of a reasonably cheap printer to produce the color images. I would expect a price of $1000 and development time of at least a year. Currently, consumer packages do exist for personal computers such as the Amiga which allow grabbing of video images, and a rough copy of the graphics file can be dumped to the printer, but they leave a lot to be desired.
I had just been discussing this yesterday. I have alot of old Hi 8 chasing tapes that I am wanting to convert to video files to edit on my cpu. I have never been a very tech savvy guy, and not very organized either. I have video from the Brown/Nicollet County Mn. tornadoes from March 29, 1998 as well as my 5/4/03 outbreak video from Battlefield, Mo. In fact prior to 1998 I didn't even shoot video of my chase experiences. Didn't use any instrumentation or video recording. I bought my first Sharp 8mm camera back in early 98 to document my travels across the U.S. and to log my storm chases. Now everything is so user friendly and you can go from shooting a video to national t.v. with an air card within minutes and it has only been a hair over a decade. Great thread discussion. I would like to hear some of the other chaser accounts of what they used to do before technology took over. I know that I liked the show NOVA Tornado, and found it amusing that Bluestein had to phone in to KC via pay phone for radar updates while chasing for research.
Wow Tim, that is fantastic. I made a post in the '2004 vs 2010' thread about the great leaps in technology in just that timeframe. I noticed many of the video and still photos from 2004 are very grainy and it's very obvious that even in just the last 6 years, camera and camcorder sensors have come a long way in reducing grain, expanding resolution, and drastically increasing sensitivity.

I have some old weather tapes I shot as a kid on an RCA VHS camcorder from the mid-90s I'll have to pull out and take a look at sometime.
It sounds like Tim did a nice piece of soothsaying there, and gave a reasonable prediction of what might be to come. Tim - what can we expect in the next 10-15 years, do you think?
I'm thinking recording direct to you laptop via wifi or something like that would certainly have been thought of for the future.

Looking into the past is fun. I do it often with old car magazines. I laugh that a Honda Accord V6 gets about the same horsepower these days as a corvetted did in the mid 80s (230+/-). Technology is a great thing.

Thanks for posting that Tim.