625 vs 405, colour vs B&W, PAL vs NTSC, 50 frames vs 60, AM vs FM, 44.1Khz vs 48Khz. Since the beginning of the electronic age, engineers have built clever devices, specifically to mediate, translate, reformat, convert…
These conversions are mostly now trivially easy to do: in the camera, in your phone, by the billion deep inside a YouTube data centre. Wherever content crosses a border, switches format or jumps networks it’ll still need conversion but it happens in a blink, invisibly, in real-time.
But back then, before the Internet linked everything together and before everything was digital, it took walls of kit, complex signal paths, rooms lined with hot cathode ray tubes and glowing valves. Whole departments and teams were devoted to switching formats, taking inputs in one language and creating outputs in another. Conversion was a big deal.
To mark the anniversary of the first use of the BBC’s electronic field-store converter on 19 December 1959, here’s a stack of glorious BBC converters, from the 1950s to the 1970s - and a small tribute to the whole business of standards conversion. Converters, we salute you.
Click the individual pictures for captions.