History of Video Technology [Infographic]

Title image showing a snippet of a timeline with title 'The History of Video'.

Did you know that video is simply a series of pictures shown in rapid succession? That’s right. Every movie ever created — from this year’s Oscar winners to the last recording on your smartphone — is just a high-speed slideshow of visual images.

The very movement that defines video is purely an illusion, and a rather modern illusion at that. Even the flip book, an essential precursor to the invention of video, didn’t make its appearance until 1868.

Inventors first put pictures into motion in the 19th century, making video technology even younger than the automobile.

There’s no way around it: Video is nascent. And yet, we’ve already pushed the limits of what it can be used to achieve. Video technology has powered live broadcasts from the moon, 3.3 trillion meeting minutes of Zoom meetings each year, and laid the groundwork for an immersive metaverse shaped by augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR).

In the timeline below, we take a quick trip through the history of video and look at just how much innovation has been forged over the past 200 years.

A timeline spanning pre 1900 through 2022 detailing the biggest developments in video technology.

Pre 1900: Pictures Are Put Into Motion

The concept of animation, or making objects appear to move by showing progressive stages of action in a dynamic format, came to life with the phenakistoscope. Belgium physicist Joseph Plateau designed the Victorian parlor toy to trick the human eye into seeing continuous movement by spinning a cardboard disk with looping images. The phenakistoscope predated the flip book but worked in a similar fashion.

By 1878, Eadweard Muybridge applied the same concept to real-life photographs of a galloping horse, thus pioneering the motion picture. The same framework would be used to broadcasts live footage of humankind’s first steps on the lunar surface less than a century later.

Thomas Edison brought these video experiences to the public with the Kinetoscope. This film projector device allowed individuals to view films through a peephole. The first motion picture camera was invented shortly thereafter, putting everything in place for the birth of cinema.


1900-1940: The Film Industry Is Born

In its early days, movie-watching was an inherently public event (unlike the Netflix and Chill vibe that’s grabbed hold today). The nickelodeon flourished at the start of the 20th century, where patrons would pay five cents to view short silent films in black and white.

By 1927, sound was introduced, and in 1939 technicolor premiered in theaters across the United States.

This makes it all the more impressive that two films that remain relevant today — Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz — were filmed just a handful of years after multimedia color films made their debut. Judy Garland brought Dorothy to life with almost no precedent to go off, and Clark Gable delivered the famous expression, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”


1941-1980: Video Technology Finds Its Way Into Homes

Video technology moved from the big screen to living rooms everywhere in the 1940s and 50s. As a result, broadcasters looked for new ways to monetize their content, bringing us the first U.S. television commercial in 1941.


TVs became common household items, finding their way into nearly two-thirds of U.S. homes by the mid-1950s. I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, and The Micky Mouse Club all came to be during this time.


1981-2019: Interactive Technologies and Online Video Change the Game

Fast forward to the 1980s, and passive TV broadcasts were already on their way out. Interactive technologies live video games were becoming a thing, as well as an elusive concept called the internet.

Severe Tire Damage became the first live internet band by streaming a rock and roll performance online. This was achieved using a technology called MBoneusing up about half of the total available bandwidth for the internet at that time.  

Less than fifteen years later, Netflix launched direct-to-consumer streaming, forever disrupting the broadcast industry. Viewers were no longer shackled to a fixed broadcast schedule, and the demand for video everywhere started to grow.


2020 Onward: Streaming Technology Makes Video Ubiquitous

During the early 2020s, video streaming became ubiquitous. Pandemic-mandated social distancing meant that doctor’s appointments, business meetings, and fitness classes went entirely virtual — with video streaming technology powering this revolution.

Online video is now engrained in everyday life, accounting for 80 percent of all internet traffic across the globe. We conduct business meetings over Zoom, scream at porch pirates through our doorbell cams, and sweat to fitness routines on connected gym equipment. Robotic vacuums, smartwatches, and medical devices all have built-in streaming capabilities.

So, what’s next for video technology? Download our report, The Future of Video Technology, to get the lowdown.


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About Traci Ruether

Traci Ruether is a Colorado-based B2B tech writer with a background in streaming and network infrastructure. Aside from writing, Traci enjoys cooking, gardening, and spending quality time with her kith and kin. Follow her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/traci-ruether/ or learn more at https://traci-writes.com/.