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Vitaphone

From Wikipedia

Vitaphone was the last and most popular of the early sound-on-disc processes for cinema sync sound. It was used on features and short subjects produced by Warner Bros. and its sister studio First National from 1926 to 1930. In this process, the soundtrack was not printed on the actual film distributed to theaters but was issued separately on 16-inch phonograph records. These discs were then played in sync with the film while it was being projected.

Warner Bros. introduced the Vitaphone process in 1926 with the release of the silent feature Don Juan starring John Barrymore. Don Juan did not make a profit, but the next Vitaphone release, The Jazz Singer (1927), broke box-office records, established Warner Bros. as a major player in Hollywood, and single-handedly launched the “talkie” revolution.

A Vitaphone equipped theater used special projectors, an amplifier, and speakers. The projectors operated as normal motorized silent projectors but also provided a mechanical interlock with an attached phonograph turntable. When the projector was threaded, the projectionist would align a start mark on the film with the picture gate, and would at the same time place a phonograph record on the turntable, being careful to align the phonograph needle with an arrow scribed on the record's label. When the projector rolled, the phonograph turned at a fixed rate and theoretically played sound in sync with the film frames passing simultaneously through the picture gate. Unlike the prevailing speed of 78 revolutions per minute for phonograph discs, Vitaphone discs were played at 33-1/3 rpm to increase the playing time to match the 11-minute run time of a film reel. Also, unlike most phonograph discs, the needle on Vitaphone records moved from the inside of the disc to the outside.

The Vitaphone process utilized electronic amplification, and had superior fidelity to the sound-on-film processes of the period, particularly in reference to low frequencies. Phonographs also had a superior dynamic range – at least for the first few playings. These innovations notwithstanding, the Vitaphone process lost the early format war with sound-on-film processes for many reasons. Significantly, the distribution for Vitaphone required an infrastructure separate from the existing film distribution system. Additionally, the records would wear out after an estimated 20 screenings and had to be replaced; this consumed even more distribution overhead. Damage and breakage of the discs were also inherent dangers. The Vitaphone process itself had severe and notorious synchronization problems. If a record skipped, it would fall out of sync with the picture, and the projectionist would have to manually restore sync. If the film print became damaged and was not precisely repaired, the length relationship between the record and the print would be lost, thereby also causing a loss of sync.

Vitaphone was retired in 1930 when Warner Bros. and First National stopped recording directly to disc and switched to sound-on-film recording. Theater owners, who had invested heavily in Vitaphone equipment, were unwilling or financially unable to abandon the sound-on-disc process so quickly. By this time, sound-on-film processes were standard, but demand for sound-on-discs continued, compelling the Hollywood studios to offer disc versions of new films all the way until 1937. Warner Bros. kept the "Vitaphone" name alive as the name of its short subjects division, The Vitaphone Corporation. This division was most famous for releasing Leon Schlesinger's “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies.” The Vitaphone name was adopted in the 1950s by Warner Bros.' record label as a trade name for high-fidelity recording.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License found at http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html. It uses material from the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitaphone.