The process used to successfully produce an audio tape recorder could surely be applied to a video tape recorder. surely, any electronics maker would have come to the same conclusion. Sony, which prided itself as the pioneer of magnetic recording, resolved to take up this challenge.
Already the BBC, RCA, Ampex and Bing Crosby, among others, had begun to develop VTRs. The machines developed by these firms, however, were large monsters.
Unlike audio tape, VTR tape was wound at speeds of 4-5 m/sec. or faster, and the diameter of the tape reel increased rapidly during winding. Not only did it take time for the tape to reach the proper speed once it was turned on, but once it started running, inertial force made it difficult to stop the machine without ripping the tape. After looking over the American models, Ibuka gave the 20,000 rpm, four-head machines little chance of seeing practical use.
The 1957 announcement by Ampex that it had developed the world's first commercial VTR took Ibuka and Sony staff by surprise. The product Sony predicted would never make it was actually being marketed. In fact, by May of the following year, NHK and major private Japanese television corporations began to use the machine.
" If Ampex can do it, there's no reason why Sony can't," said Ibuka, raising the battle cry. Ibuka decided that the immediate task before them was first to catch up with and then surpass Ampex's technology. Then they would have to develop their own product and produce a smaller, lighter VTR.
The Ampex commercial VTR was a striking achievement, but was not without drawbacks. The large, cumbersome machine employed two-inch tape and an oversized drum. Replacing the head, which frequently wore down, cost tens of thousands of yen. The 30 million yen price tag, too, was unbelievable at the time.
Kihara's first impression upon looking at the image produced by the Ampex model with its plethora of vacuum tubes was, "What a monstrosity!" At the time, Kihara and his staff were already designing their own VTR. Their only reference until then, however, had been a copy of the circuit diagrams. With these precious diagrams they intended to decipher the Ampex VTR. These diagrams were not very clear nor helpful, however. While praying that a more accurate form of information would come their way, Kihara and his staff had continued to race against time to produce their own design.
They understood the movement and the underlying principles involved. And they had the circuit diagrams, dubious as they were. The most important components were shown as assemblies with the catalog number only. The wiring was questionable. It was unclear how separate schematics were interconnected; and there were locations where the actual machine and schematics did not match.
For example, output circuitry was totally different from block to block. At first Kihara and his staff could not make heads or tails of this. Eventually though, they realized that more than one engineer had taken part in the project, each designing a given block to his own liking. Typically American, perhaps, but Kihara and his associates were not in a position to appreciate it at the time. Kihara's group would never have unraveled this maze if they had not designed their own audio tape recorder earlier.
Shortly afterwards, Sony became the first Japanese company to produce a VTR. While it was capable of recording and reproducing television signals, its picture quality, noise and stability were still far from satisfactory.