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A teleprompter, or autocue, is a display device that prompts the person speaking with an electronic visual text of a speech or script. Using a teleprompter is similar to using cue cards. The screen is in front of, and usually below, the lens of a professional video camera, and the words on the screen are reflected to the eyes of the presenter using a sheet of clear glass or a specially prepared beam splitter. Light from the performer passes through the front side of the glass into the lens, while a shroud surrounding the lens and the back side of the glass prevents unwanted light from entering the lens.
Because the speaker does not need to look down to consult written notes, he appears to have memorized the speech or to be speaking spontaneously, looking directly into the camera lens. Cue cards, on the other hand, are always placed away from the lens axis, making the speaker look at a point beside the camera, which leaves an impression of distraction.
The TelePrompTer Corporation was founded in the 1950s by Fred Barton, Jr., Hubert Schlafly and Irving Berlin Kahn. Barton was an actor who suggested the concept of the teleprompter as a means of assisting television performers who had to memorize large amounts of material in a short time. Schlafly built the first teleprompter in 1950. It was simply a mechanical device, operated by a hidden technician, located near the camera. The script, in inch-high letters, was printed by a special electric typewriter on a paper scroll, which was advanced as the performer read, and the machines rented for the considerable sum of $30 hourly at the time. In 1952, former President Herbert Hoover used a Schlafly-designed teleprompter to address the Republican National Convention in Chicago.
Lyndon B. Johnson was the first U.S. President to use a teleprompter for speeches. Newsreels of Johnson's predecessors depict them frequently looking down at written words as they communicate with their audience.
The first personal computer–based teleprompter, Compu=Prompt, appeared in 1982. It was invented and marketed by Courtney M. Goodin and Laurence B. Abrams in Hollywood, California. The custom software and specially-redesigned camera hardware ran on the Atari 800 Personal Computer, which featured smooth hardware-assisted scrolling. Their company later became ProPrompt, Inc., which is still providing teleprompting services over 28 years later. Other paper-based teleprompting companies – Electronic Script Prompting, QTV and Telescript – followed suit and developed their own software several years later, when computers with enough graphics power to provide the smooth scrolling text became available. In January 2010 Compu=Prompt received a Technology and Engineering Emmy Award for "Pioneering Development in Electronic Prompting".
Jess Oppenheimer, who created "I Love Lucy" and served for its first 5 years as its producer and head writer, developed the "in-the-lens" prompter and was awarded U.S. patents for its creation. This system uses a mirror to reflect a script onto a piece of glass placed in front of the camera lens, thus allowing the reader to look directly into the camera. First used by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1953 to read commercials on-camera, it soon became a staple of television news and is the primary system used with prompters today.
Mechanical prompters were still being used as late as 1992, as was the case with The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
In the mid-1990s, QTV (a US-based company, now part of the Autocue Group) pioneered use of TFT-LCD monitors with its award-winning "FDP-9", rather than the traditional CRTs. This enabled significantly less weight on the camera and improved portability. They also were first to introduce high-brightness monitors, enabling prompters to be used in direct sunlight. In 2001, QTV pioneered voice controlled prompting. However, in 2005, Autoscript improved upon the concept and introduced Voice Activated Prompting. With its partner Sysmedia, Autoscript developed a prompter that required no peripheral to control the scroll of the prompter. The voice-activated prompter simply scrolled at the speed of the presenter's speech.
The word teleprompter, with no capitalization, has become a genericized trademark, because it is used to refer to similar systems manufactured by many different companies. The United States Patent Office does not have any live trademarks registered for the word teleprompter, but this does not rule out the possibility of a company enforcing the trademark without registering it. Some other common generic terms for this type of device:
- Autocue (another genericized trademark used in certain Commonwealth countries)
- electronic speech notes
- cueing device
- idiot board (slang)
Modern design 
Modern teleprompters for news programs consist of a personal computer, connected to video monitors on each professional video camera. The monitors are often black-and-white monochrome and have the scanning reversed to compensate for the reflection of the mirror. A peripheral device attached to the serial port has a knob that can be turned to speed up, slow down, or even reverse the scrolling of the text. The text is usually displayed in white letters on a black background for the best readability, while cues are in inverse video (black on white). Difficult words (mainly international names) are spelled out phonetically, as are other particulars like "Nine-eleven" (to specify that the event 9/11 should not be pronounced "nine-one-one", for example).
With the development of inexpensive teleprompter software applications as well as free web-based teleprompter applets, many different disciplines are now using teleprompters to help them deliver sermons, deliver speeches, and to create quality audios. Unlike their big brothers, these entry level products work on desktops, laptops, and even tablets to enable the speaker to control the rate and flow of their speech. They are also used by many different organizations and schools to deliver prewritten information by relative novices. They are usually called "personal teleprompters."
Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris uses a teleprompter-like setup in conducting interviews which he refers to as the "Interrotron." The prompter equipment is set up on the camera (often a film camera); however, instead of displaying a written script, it is used to display the image coming from a video camera trained on Morris who is seated nearby. In this way, the interview subject can be looking directly into the lens of the camera to see Morris' face while speaking, instead of off in some other direction. The camera focused on Morris can also be set up with a prompter displaying the subject (using the "video assist" output if a film camera is used on the subject). In this way, the two people can carry out a virtual face-to-face conversation for the interview.
- Brown, Laurie (2005-12-28). The Teleprompter Manual. The Difference. ISBN 0-9767761-0-3.
- Engineers' Device Eased Speechmakers' Minds, Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2011, p.A6
- "TV's Cost-Cutting Gadets," Sponsor, 22 September 1952, 36. http://americanradiohistory.com/Archive-Sponsor-Magazine/1952/Sponsor-1952-09-2.pdf
- Laughs, Luck...and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time, by Jess Oppenheimer with Gregg Oppenheimer, pp. 204-205
- US 2883902
- US 2926559
- Reuters: When words get in the way, Bush goes phonetic
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