Computers in TV production 

27 June 2022


Cover of Television & Radio 1986

From Television and Radio 1986, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority

Computers are playing an increasingly important role in all operational aspects of the television companies. Grampian Television, the ITV company for Northern Scotland, has been in the forefront of such investment which has helped operational efficiency and, most important, improved the quality of presentation on-screen.

The most advanced state of the art is the use of computer graphics for 3D animation – a technique using such sophisticated software that Grampian had its animated station ‘ident’ created at London’s Digital Pictures, the only British company capable of handling the project. The designers were SSK Productions, Glasgow who were briefed to maintain the station’s corporate image while using the most advanced technology to create a hi-tech, space-age image.

SSK drew up a story board which envisaged spheres and discs moving in space before forming a cube which tumbled and spun to finally explode into the familiar St Andrew’s Cross symbol and Grampian namestyle. These three-dimensional images and colours were built on Digital’s computers over a period of months to produce a 12-second animation which has aroused considerable interest and favourable comment.

Inside Grampian itself, however, computer technology is pervading the entire programme and commercial production area. Most facilities were introduced in February 1983 with the opening of a new central technical area and further equipment has been introduced regularly to enhance the viewer’s enjoyment and the advertiser’s effectiveness.

One of the most remarkable pieces of equipment is the Quantel DLS 6001 electronic slide store which can take pictures off a broadcast image and store them in a memory. They can then be changed in size and position, parts of the picture removed or composite pictures built up by adding more images. The benefits for such programmes as the nightly North Tonight which has all its backdrops stored and which can take still frames off any other format, has been enormous; while local advertisers, in particular, can have quality commercials produced in place of the traditional slide and voice-over.


Two men work on a drawing tablet connected to a computer monitor

Grampian Television’s Head of Graphics, John Blues (left), learns how to use the company’s new Quantel Paintbox.


The results can be even more impressive if linked with the use of the NEC E FLEX digital video effects system which offers screen image compression, slide, split, freeze, mosaic, picture trajectory and automatic tumble to allow the image to be moved at will.

A more recent acquisition which is further transforming onscreen presentation is the Quantel DPB 7000 Digital Paint Box. This enables artists to carry out all their design, graphic and artwork on a video screen, using an electronic stylus and tablet. But this computer graphics system offers much more than simply an electronic canvas. Television pictures can be frozen and refashioned in a variety of ways; a picture library can be consulted and the illustrations called up for use; areas of an image can be magnified for more detailed work; pictures can be cut and pasted; and simple animation can be created. It is £150,000 [£466,000 now, allowing for inflation -Ed] of sheer wizardry!



In the studios, the RCA TK47 cameras are computer controlled to provide perfect colour balance in programmes which are recorded on videotape using Marconi MR2B one-inch VTR machines, controlled by computer software. They can then be edited on the Datatron Super Tempo Editor which uses its computer to process the large amounts of information necessary to perform time-code editing, using up to five VTR machines simultaneously.



Investing in such advanced technology is comparatively easy provided the money is available. The challenge lies in making proper use of the facilities. Grampian’s staff would confirm that it takes time to adapt traditional skills and to appreciate the full potential of new technology. The machine is only as good as the person using it. Computers have, in fact, widened the scope for creativity. No matter how brilliant man or machine, however, management systems have had to be devised to make proper, disciplined use of the technology. The temptation to use effects for visual gimmickry has to be resisted and the new techniques channelled to improve the viewer’s perception of the image and the message.


Courtesy of tv68


You Say

1 response to this article

Paul Robert Walker. 20 October 2023 at 10:57 am

Great to see info on the old and trusty NEC e-flex DVE that saw sterling service in BBC North’s Studio ‘A’ when based on Oxford Road in Manchester. It was in use almost daily alongside a BBC Designs Dept mixer, and then a GVG 300 mixer and featured in shows such as the Oxford Road Show [a music prog] and Cheggers Plays Pop, with the late Keith Chegwin. It was a great piece of kit & very easy to use.

Your comment

Enter it below

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Sunday 16 June 2024