On BBC Click this weekend you’ll see a few glimpses of the BBC’s R&D centre at Kingswood Warren.
If you’re a serious geek you may have heard of it but chances are you haven’t. Most people who work at the BBC are unaware of their work and only the tiniest proportion have ever bothered to go and visit.
Yet it’s one of the most fascinating and significant places in broadcasting. For the past 60 years they’ve been creating and testing key technology used in studios and sitting rooms- from HDTV to Digital Radio, from everyday radio mics to the ambitious technologies of 3DTV we’ll enjoy in the future.
- They list their top ten successes as
- FM Radio and RDS
- The first switch-over, 405-line black & white TV to 625-line colour
- Analogue TV Standards Conversion
- Digital Television
- High-definition TV
- DAB Radio
- Online bbc.co.uk and beyond
- Production Magic virtual graphics (SMART, Match of the Day, Bamzooki)
- DVB-T2 enabling HD on Freeview in winter 2009
Walking down the panelled corridors of the neo- Gothic house, through to brick built labs, you find iconic pieces of televison history stashed in corners. Graham Thomas pointed out the enormous set used for early experiments for HDTV, which Kingswood were working on 26 years ago. He said it took 6 men with poles to lift , which is presumably why it still sits proudly in a corner, watching its flat screen progeny.
One of the most curious places is the anechoic chamber, a sealed room built in the sixties lined with a metre of soundproofing foam and used for audio experiments. A live mic dangles from the ceiling as a safety measure. No sound gets in or out of this place, so if you were ever accidentally shut in, no-one would hear you scream. You can’t help but think this must have happened.
We were filming so there wasn’t time to stop and quietly record the sound for you. But here’s flautist John Hackett demonstrating the acoustics in there
You time travel around the site. Back to childhood,as you walk past the studio where they filmed Bill and Ben, forward to 2012 and the plans for live graphics illustrating the muscle power of athletes and the velocity of their throws.You squeeze past test cards from the seventies and pattened sofas to watch a stunning demonstration of 3DTV on a 40in screen without glasses.
It’s well worth taking a look at the wealth of their projects on their website.
They have learnt to be patient and incredibly philosopical about their work . Andy Bowers , who now heads up the Research Department, says that when he joined 26 years ago as a trainee, one of the first projects he worked on was HDTV, deciding on the number of lines and the size of the screen. But it’s been a worthwhile wait.
Other technology is ready but waits quietly for the right moment. Surround video – where the images are shot on both a fish eye and conventional HD camera may be used to bring the 2012 Olympics to city centres, giving people the sense of being right in the stadium. Or it may bring you the ultimate game world. Or it may never see the commercial light of day.
In a matter of weeks the department will leave the tranquil atmosphere of Kingswood for White City, where their ground breaking work will continue. It seems a suitable moment to say thank you to these self-effacing engineers, with superb minds, who have delivered such important projects. You might like to send them a Christmas card.
We should do more to promote the work of teams like these, to inspire the next generation to share the challenges of creating the broadcasting technologies of 2050. They couldn’t be in better company.