The last of the old-time tech product reviewers
Michael Antonoff of Backchannel writes about Lancelot Braithwaite, who began reviewing tech products for Video magazine back in the 1970s.
Antonoff writes, “What distinguished Braithwaite from his peers was his deep technical knowledge and an almost holy commitment to the industry. He didn’t just write reviews, but saw himself as part of a community that strived for high quality, ideally measured by precise equipment that led to verdicts driven by data rather than a vague sense of what’s cool. Sometimes, Braithwaite himself would help develop the standards used to gauge a product’s worth. For instance, Braithwaite is credited with developing testing procedures for the Consumer Electronics Association (now the Consumer Technology Association) that gauge the maximum picture resolution output by various types of video players. He’s most proud, though, of developing a method for measuring the low-light performance of camcorders that, he says, came to him during a play watching the stage lighting.
“At Video Braithwaite deployed a ceiling-mounted winch to lift quarter-ton TVs out of cartons so the box could be used for sending the set back to the manufacturer. His style of tech review required judging the ease of setup and accessibility of features, analyzing the manufacturer’s specs, and measuring product performance with objective tools like resolution charts and light meters. Long before tech writing morphed into 50-word blurbs posted posthaste, Braithwaite set a standard for long-form, deliberative consumer electronics journalism.
“While writing a review, Braithwaite sometimes had to confront company engineers, asking them to explain negative test results or why a feature he deemed critical was missing. It took time to do a product review right. And each in-depth review containing graphs and conclusions that consumed multiple magazine pages.”
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