After the settlement of the strike and the successful launch of their ADR stock, Sony had returned to normal (See Part I, Chapter 12
). An eventful 1961 drew to a close on December 16, when Sony concluded a contract with Paramount Pictures to provide "technical assistance in the production of a chromatron tube and color television receiver utilizing it."
"The days of radio are over. The future lies in television." Ibuka's simple comment resulted in the birth of Sony's model TV8-301, the world's first portable television. It was, however, a black and white receiver.
"We are surrounded by vivid colors in our daily life. Television, then, must be true to life. A TV set that cannot reproduce color is far from having been perfected." Producing color TVs was the next logical step for anyone involved in television. Sony was no exception. Many people had taken part in the technical research of color TVs from the earliest days of television. Early color receivers used cathode-ray tubes developed by RCA, which employed the three-electron gun shadow mask system. These cathode-ray tubes had three major drawbacks however: they were expensive, difficult to tune and broke down often. In comparison with black and white sets, the images were much darker. Moreover, when viewed in a normally lit room, the beautiful colors did not come through. Colors often ran into one another --- in general it was difficult to attain an accurate picture.
The consensus was that the dark picture and failure to produce true color did not merit the high price. This feeling accounted for the slow sales of color sets. In the U.S., the ratio of B/W TV owners to color TV owners was 50 to 1 (50 million to 1 million). In Japan, the situation was worse, with only 300 color receivers sold in contrast to nine million B/W sets.
Ibuka and the others decided that if they were going to tackle color TV, they would not rely on the shadow mask process with all its drawbacks. The Sony staff was confident that they could come up with a television without precedent. "Sony is an innovator. We do things that no one has done." With this, Sony began the urgent search for a replacement to the shadow mask.
Sony was not alone. Dissatisfaction with the shadow mask screen was widespread. One possible substitute was the "banana tube." Television signals were sent through this long thin tube, followed by RGB signals flashed at timed intervals, shuttered through a striped filter rotated through the beam. The rotating sound made a clattering noise, which in Japanese is onomatopoetically referred to as "karakara." The color television using it was given the dubious, but amusing, name of "karakara television," because of its phonetic closeness to the word "color." The apple tube, which had been developed by Philco, was another possibility. Then there was the chromatron tube. This was the invention of famous American atomic physicist and Nobel laureate, Dr. E. O. Lawrence.
In March 1961, Kihara and his staff took part in the IRE Show which was held at the New York Hilton Hotel and the New York Coliseum. An exhibit of the latest technology and technological applications, this was more like a scientific exposition than the present day trade show. Kihara and his staff had brought along the SV-201, the world's smallest video recorder and Hi-D (high-density) metal powder-coated tape which had been developed for the recorder.
Here at the show, the Sony staff came across the brightest color display they had ever seen. It had originally been conceived as an IFF (Identification of Friend or Foe) display for military use. At one glance, however, Kihara knew that it was what they had been looking for.