ETC Video Processing Tools

Beginning in the late 1960s, artists and technologists began to custom-create hardware and software for real-time manipulation of video signals through original designs or as hacks to devices common to television production. The artists and tool designers working together at the Experimental Television Center (ETC), in Owego, New York, extended this work across analog and digital domains in an expanded media environment. ETC was renowned for the experimental video processing tools used by its artists in residence over the 40-year span of its existence.

Paik Raster Manipulation Unit (aka the Wobbulator), 1968.

A raster manipulation unit or “wobbulator” is a prepared television which permits a wide variety of treatments to be performed on video images; this is accomplished by the addition of extra yokes to a conventional black and white receiver, and by the application of signals derived from audio or function generators on the yokes. The unit is a receiver modified for monitor capability; all of the distortions can thus be performed either on broadcast signals or, when the unit is used as a monitor, on images from a live or prerecorded source. Although the image manipulations cannot be recorded directly, they can be recorded by using an optical interface. The patterns displayed on the unit are rescanned; a camera is pointed directly at the picture tube surface and scans the display. The video signal from this rescan camera is then input to a videotape recorder for immediate recording, or to a processing system for further image treatment.

The unit is also capable of reversing the raster around the vertical or horizontal axis, producing images which are reversed left to right or top to bottom in orientation. The raster reversal in combination with audio treatments generates an almost endless series of patterns which are highly controllable. The notion of prepared television has been investigated by a number of video artists and engineers; this particular set of modifications was popularized by Nam June Paik.


In 1965, SONY introduced a battery operated video portapak, which enabled independent artists to shoot “live” action shots indoors or outdoors with a hand-held solid state TV camera and a miniaturized video recorder that could be carried over the shoulder.

SONY’s product literature summarizes this revolutionary product used by ETC artists:

“The Battery Operated Videocorder, in a comfortable, compact shoulder-pack weighs a mere 11 pounds! It goes where you go and is completely solid state. There are no wires . . . no cables . . . no converters . . . no limitations as to where and when you can record sight and sound. The Hand-Held TV Camera is simple to operate. A dynamic microphone mounted on top of the camera picks up your audio ... a built-in 1-inch TV screen Viewfinder helps frame your picture and shows you exactly what is being taped. There is a remote-control trigger on the camera handle that starts you recording, immediately! One simple cable connection between camera and Videocorder and your system is complete, and ready to operate. Here is the Videocorder that goes anywhere you go!”

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