Edison’s 22mm Home Kinetoscope
Much earlier than the VCR, and way before streaming from the Cloud, Thomas Edison introduced the 22mm Home Kinetoscope. Home theater devices were attempted as early as cinema was invented, but the Home Kinetoscope was one of the first successful home projection system.
While the film itself is 22mm, the actual images contained therein are more like 6mm essentially making the Home Kinetoscope the smallest format that ever released commercial product. The benefit was that a small 100 foot roll could contain almost as much content as a 1000 foot 35mm roll. Considering that in 1912 many releases still lasted only 1 reel, this meant that users could get the same films they enjoyed in the theatre on a single reel and without edits.
Mechanically speaking the Home Kinetoscope remains one of the most unusual projectors due to the efficient design of the film. To use the machine, the strip of film would first be cranked clockwise, then when the images stopped the user would then turn a knob to adjust the positioning of the gate and then crank the film counterclockwise. Finally, the user would adjust the position of the gate again and turn clockwise for the last length of the strip.
Instead of the sprockets being on the outside as we see in more common projectors, the two rows of sprockets are in the center section requiring two claws for movement. The use of this side-by-side claw system proved to be both a blessing and curse in that a broken sprocket on one side would not stop the projection. However, a bad splice across the film or a momentary jam could not only cause the claw to tear a gouge through 4 sprockets on both sides, but the stationary pause would, of course, create a burnt frame of film. Since the film passes through the gate 3 times per showing, an already damaged film strip would only cause more destruction. For example, if you tore the sprockets on the first pass you would get 2 more passes to most assuredly cause more damage before finishing the reel.
In today’s fast-paced, YouTube-centric world, it’s especially fun to remember how home entertainment all started.
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