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Which early cinema technology was the first to perfectly synchronize the sound?



Answer: Phonofilm

The next thing that modern consumers are achieving today with terribly unsynchronized audio and video is a poorly buffering video stream. However, apart from streaming video, this is a rarity. Digital television and digital projection systems in cinemas ensure that video and audio remain perfectly synchronized.

Although such qualities are easy to expect, films have not always been such a miracle of the taken-for-granted synchronicity. For decades, early innovators in the field of cinematography had difficulty bringing synchronized sound to the big screen. The first movies with any audio track just played music to accompany the movie, without trying to synchronize the two closely. Thomas Edison and William Dickson experimented with a system they called Kinetoscope, ranging from small single viewing machines to movie theaters. The Cinema House system relied on a sophisticated but inefficient mechanical system of reels and other equipment to maintain the synchronization between film and sound. It has failed more than it worked, and it has never been fine-tuned enough to allow a consistent in-sync dialogue.

The innovation process continued, but most of the inventors relied on attempts to synchronize a stand-alone device recording with a stand-alone movie. While the two may have been created at the same time, it has been virtually impossible to synchronize them with any kind of consistency.

All this changed when American inventor Lee De Forest built on Finnish research. Inventor Eric Tigerstedt and German inventors Josef Engl, Hans Vogt and Joseph Massole built a commercially viable camera system that directly sets the tone during movie recording recorded on the film. For the first time in history, both visual and auditory components were recorded and kept in perfect synchrony.

The quality of the recordings was poor compared to stand-alone film cameras and recording devices. Despite the improvements, De Forest had difficulty penetrating the device in Hollywood, as the studios were keen to change their way of working and bear the cost of retrofitting cinemas for the new film technology. While the technology never made a feature film, De Forest and his crew filmed dozens of vaudeville acts, early jazz artists and even Franklin D. Roosevelt. Entertainment historians appreciate De Forest's recordings, as they capture many historically important players in the vaudeville and jazz scene who would otherwise never have been recorded like that.

Although Phonofilm never became standard, it influenced the industry and the variations of music. The sound-on-film system dominated the film industry until the advent of digital projection.

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1; Public Domain.


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