Leading Video Technology Journalist
Lancelot Lawford Braithwaite has likely forgotten more about how video gadgets work than most tech reporters ever knew. Braithwaite transformed himself from an English professor and video engineer into one of the most respected video technology writers of his generation.
Braithwaite was born on November 29, 1936, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to Ena Delores and Lawton Lawford Braithwaite. His father, a lawyer, civil servant and Conveyancer of Crown Lands, introduced him to electricity by letting him fix hot plates and lamps when he was as young as five-years-old, the same age he received his first camera. His father also influenced his interest in physics, chemistry, biology and technical writing. Braithwaite’s mother — an office manager, teacher and piano instructor — also encouraged his study habits.
Braithwaite’s childhood was filled with tinkering. With friends he would rebuild wrecked cars, and he hung around a neighbor’s ham radio shack. He parlayed a fourth-place prize in a photo contest to his first paying job, as a wedding photographer, and at times, funerals — he once photographed a dead woman in her coffin, a job no adult photographer wanted. But not all of his interests were benign. He hurt his eyes and was forced to wear glasses for a few years when an attempt to make fireworks literally blew up in his face.
Braithwaite enrolled at New York University to study engineering physics, electrical engineering, accounting and finance, eventually earning a Bachelor of Science in what is now Communications Arts from NYU in 1964.
While at NYU, Braithwaite served as head lighting and sound technician for plays and operas at the school’s Hall of Fame Playhouse, including Hal Holbrook’s first New York presentation of Mark Twain Tonight. He also served as a gaffer for the play, The Fantastiks, as well as for Martin Scorsese’s first film, It’s Not Just You Murray, shot while both were still students at NYU.
He then spent six months training at RCA Institutes (now TCI) for camera work, technical directing and lighting. Braithwaite soon got a job at WWOR TV and radio in New York. He helped the radio station get back on the air during the great Northeast blackout on November 9, 1965, by jumping the phone lines from the FM transmitter site on the top of the then-powerless Empire State Building to a phone line at the AM transmitter site in New Jersey.
When looking for a sound system, Braithwaite couldn’t afford good speakers, so he decided to buy the best headphones available instead. Dissatisfied with the available information on headphones, he conducted his own research and comparisons. A friend introduced him to Ivan Berger, an established audio tech writer. Berger saw Braithwaite’s research and suggested that he shouldn’t be reading reviews, but writing them. Berger off-loaded a column to Braithwaite — reviewing hi-fi equipment for FM Guide New York.
Braithwaite contributed articles to CB World and Popular Electronics magazines while spending the next five years as an assistant professor of English at Penn State University.
In October 1978, Jay Rosenfield, publisher of Video Magazine, approached Berger to become the magazine’s technical editor. Berger, a respected audio writer asked Braithwaite to be a joint technical editor. The two agreed on a combined byline – Berger-Braithwaite Labs. Their first issue in the spring of 1979 included six joint reviews.
Berger typed while the two argued in print about their conclusions. Their differing viewpoints — Braithwaite stressing performance, Berger insistent on ease of use — morphed into insightful, thorough reviews that proved to be popular with readers. Braithwaite soon became the industry’s most authoritative and respected video equipment reviewer.
In 1982, Berger became technical editor of Audio Magazine, but Braithwaite stayed at Video and continued to write under the Berger-Braithwaite Labs byline. After 20 years at Video, the magazine was folded into Sound & Vision and Braithwaite went to work as technical editor for Good Housekeeping’s brandwise.com website in 1999.
Braithwaite wrote for a number of publications in the succeeding decade, including Sound & Vision
, Popular Electronics
, Audio Magazine
, CB World
, Audio/Video International
, the New York Post
, and Widescreen Review
. In addition, he served as a product engineering consultant for Samsung’s QA Labs, as a judge for the EIA/CEG’s (now CEA) Design and Achievement Awards and Audio/Video International’s Video Grand Prix Awards. He also worked on several EIA/CEG video standards committees, including methods for measuring low light performance in camcorders and for measuring DVD players.