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The history of television comprises the work of numerous engineers and inventors in several countries over many decades.
The first practical demonstrations of television, however, were developed using electromechanical methods to scan, transmit, and reproduce an image. As electronic camera and display tubes were perfected, electromechanical television gave way to all-electronic systems in nearly all applications.
The beginnings of mechanical television can be traced back to the discovery of the photoconductivity of the element selenium by Willoughby Smith in 1873, the invention of a scanning disk by Paul Gottlieb Nipkow in 1884 and John Logie Baird's demonstration of televised moving images in 1926.
As a 23-year-old German university student, Nipkow proposed and patented the first electromechanical television system in 1884. Although he never built a working model of the system, variations of Nipkow's spinning-disk "image rasterizer" for television became exceedingly common, and remained in use until 1939. Constantin Perskyi had coined the word television in a paper read to the International Electricity Congress at the International World Fair in Paris on August 25, 1900. Perskyi's paper reviewed the existing electromechanical technologies, mentioning the work of Nipkow and others. However, it was not until 1907 that developments in amplification tube technology, by Lee de Forest and Arthur Korn among others, made the design practical.
The first demonstration of the instantaneous transmission of images was by Georges Rignoux and A. Fournier in Paris in 1909. A matrix of 64 selenium cells, individually wired to a mechanical commutator, served as an electronic retina. In the receiver, a type of Kerr cell modulated the light and a series of variously angled mirrors attached to the edge of a rotating disc scanned the modulated beam onto the display screen. A separate circuit regulated synchronization. The 8x8 pixel resolution in this proof-of-concept demonstration was just sufficient to clearly transmit individual letters of the alphabet. An updated image was transmitted "several times" each second.
In 1911, Boris Rosing and his student Vladimir Zworykin created a television system that used a mechanical mirror-drum scanner to transmit, in Zworykin's words, "very crude images" over wires to the "Braun tube" (cathode ray tube or "CRT") in the receiver. Moving images were not possible because, in the scanner, "the sensitivity was not enough and the selenium cell was very laggy".
On March 25, 1925, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of televised silhouette images in motion, at Selfridge's Department Store in London. Since human faces had inadequate contrast to show up on his primitive system, he televised a ventriloquist's dummy named "Stooky Bill" talking and moving, whose painted face had higher contrast. AT&T's Bell Telephone Laboratories transmitted halftone still images of transparencies in May 1925. On June 13 of that year, Charles Francis Jenkins transmitted the silhouette image of a toy windmill in motion, over a distance of five miles from a naval radio station in Maryland to his laboratory in Washington, D.C., using a lensed disk scanner with a 48-line resolution.
However, if television is defined as the live transmission of moving images with continuous tonal variation, Baird first achieved this privately on October 2, 1925. But strictly speaking, Baird had not yet achieved moving images for his scanner worked at only five images per second, below the threshold required to give the illusion of motion, usually defined as at least 12 images per second. By January, he had improved the scan rate to 12.5 images per second. Then on January 26, 1926 Baird gave what is widely recognized as being the world's first demonstration of a working television system, to members of the Royal Institution and a newspaper reporter from The Times, at his laboratory in 22 Frith Street, Soho, London. Unlike later electronic systems with several hundred lines of resolution, Baird's vertically scanned image, using a scanning disk embedded with a double spiral of lenses, had only 30 lines, just enough to reproduce a recognizable human face.
In 1927, Baird transmitted a signal over 438 miles (705 km) of telephone line between London and Glasgow. In 1928, Baird's company (Baird Television Development Company/Cinema Television) broadcast the first transatlantic television signal, between London and New York, and the first shore-to-ship transmission. He also demonstrated an electromechanical color, infrared (dubbed "Noctovision"), and stereoscopic television, using additional lenses, disks and filters. In parallel, Baird developed a video disk recording system dubbed "Phonovision"; a number of the Phonovision recordings, dating back to 1927, still exist. In 1929, he became involved in the first experimental electromechanical television service in Germany. In November of the same year, Baird and Bernard Natan of Pathé established France's first television company, Télévision-Baird-Natan. In 1931, he made the first outdoor remote broadcast, of the Epsom Derby. In 1932, he demonstrated ultra-short wave television. Baird's electromechanical system reached a peak of 240-lines of resolution on BBC television broadcasts in 1936 though the mechanical system did not scan the televised scene directly. Instead a 17.5mm film was shot, rapidly developed and then scanned while the film was still wet. On November 2, 1936 the BBC began transmitting the world's first public television service from the Victorian Alexandra Palace in north London following alternate daily test broadcasts of the Baird and Marconi systems to the Radio Show at Olympia at the end of August. It therefore claims to be the birthplace of television broadcasting as we know it today. The intermediate film system was discontinued within three months in favour of a 405-line all-electronic system developed by Marconi-EMI.
Herbert E. Ives and Frank Gray of Bell Telephone Laboratories gave a dramatic demonstration of mechanical television on April 7, 1927. The reflected-light television system included both small and large viewing screens. The small receiver had a two-inch-wide by 2.5-inch-high screen. The large receiver had a screen 24 inches wide by 30 inches high. Both sets were capable of reproducing reasonably accurate, monochromatic moving images. Along with the pictures, the sets also received synchronized sound. The system transmitted images over two paths: first, a copper wire link from Washington to New York City, then a radio link from Whippany, New Jersey. Comparing the two transmission methods, viewers noted no difference in quality. Subjects of the telecast included Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. A flying-spot scanner beam illuminated these subjects. The scanner that produced the beam had a 50-aperture disk. The disc revolved at a rate of 18 frames per second, capturing one frame about every 56 milliseconds. (Today's systems typically transmit 30 or 60 frames per second, or one frame every 33.3 or 16.7 milliseconds respectively.) Television historian Albert Abramson underscored the significance of the Bell Labs demonstration: "It was in fact the best demonstration of a mechanical television system ever made to this time. It would be several years before any other system could even begin to compare with it in picture quality."
Meanwhile in the Soviet Union, Léon Theremin had been developing a mirror drum-based television, starting with 16 lines resolution in 1925, then 32 lines and eventually 64 using interlacing in 1926, and as part of his thesis on May 7, 1926 he electrically transmitted and then projected near-simultaneous moving images on a five foot square screen. By 1927 he achieved an image of 100 lines, a resolution that was not surpassed until 1931 by RCA, with 120 lines.
On December 25, 1925, Kenjiro Takayanagi demonstrated a television system with a 40-line resolution that employed a Nipkow disk scanner and CRT display at Hamamatsu Industrial High School in Japan. This prototype is still on display at the Takayanagi Memorial Museum in Shizuoka University, Hamamatsu Campus. His research in creating a production model was halted by the US after Japan lost World War II.
In 1908 Alan Archibald Campbell-Swinton, fellow of the Royal Society (UK), published a letter in the scientific journal Nature in which he described how "distant electric vision" could be achieved by using a cathode ray tube (or "Braun" tube, after its inventor, Karl Braun) as both a transmitting and receiving device, apparently the first iteration of the electronic television method that would dominate the field until recently. He expanded on his vision in a speech given in London in 1911 and reported in The Times and the Journal of the Röntgen Society. In a letter to Nature published in October 1926, Campbell-Swinton also announced the results of some "not very successful experiments" he had conducted with G. M. Minchin and J. C. M. Stanton. They had attempted to generate an electrical signal by projecting an image onto a selenium-coated metal plate that was simultaneously scanned by a cathode ray beam. These experiments were conducted before March 1914, when Minchin died, but they were later repeated by two different teams in 1937, by H. Miller and J. W. Strange from EMI, and by H. Iams and A. Rose from RCA. Both teams succeeded in transmitting "very faint" images with the original Campbell-Swinton's selenium-coated plate. Although others had experimented with using a cathode ray tube as a receiver, the concept of using one as a transmitter was novel. By the late 1920s, when electromechanical television was still being introduced, several inventors were already working separately on versions of all-electronic transmitting tubes, including Philo Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin in the United States, and Kálmán Tihanyi in Hungary.
On September 7, 1927, Farnsworth's image dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, at his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco. By September 3, 1928, Farnsworth had developed the system sufficiently to hold a demonstration for the press. In 1929, the system was further improved by elimination of a motor generator, so that his television system now had no mechanical parts. That year, Farnsworth transmitted the first live human images with his system, including a three and a half-inch image of his wife Elma ("Pem") with her eyes closed (possibly due to the bright lighting required).
Meanwhile, Vladimir Zworykin was also experimenting with the cathode ray tube to create and show images. While working for Westinghouse Electric in 1923, he began to develop an electronic camera tube. But in a 1925 demonstration, the image was dim, had low contrast and poor definition, and was stationary. Zworykin's imaging tube never got beyond the laboratory stage. But RCA, which acquired the Westinghouse patent, asserted that the patent for Farnsworth's 1927 image dissector was written so broadly that it would exclude any other electronic imaging device. Thus RCA, on the basis of Zworykin's 1923 patent application, filed a patent interference suit against Farnsworth. The U.S. Patent Office examiner disagreed in a 1935 decision, finding priority of invention for Farnsworth against Zworykin. Farnsworth claimed that Zworykin's 1923 system would be unable to produce an electrical image of the type to challenge his patent. Zworykin received a patent in 1928 for a color transmission version of his 1923 patent application, he also divided his original application in 1931. Zworykin was unable or unwilling to introduce evidence of a working model of his tube that was based on his 1923 patent application. In September 1939, after losing an appeal in the courts and determined to go forward with the commercial manufacturing of television equipment, RCA agreed to pay Farnsworth US$1 million (the equivalent of $13.8 million in 2006) over a ten-year period, in addition to license payments, to use Farnsworth's patents.
The problem of low sensitivity to light resulting in low electrical output from transmitting or "camera" tubes would be solved with the introduction of charge-storage technology by Kálmán Tihanyi beginning in 1924. His solution was a camera tube that accumulated and stored electrical charges ("photoelectrons") within the tube throughout each scanning cycle. The device was first described in a patent application he filed in Hungary in March 1926 for a television system he dubbed "Radioskop". After further refinements included in a 1928 patent application, Tihanyi's patent was declared void in Great Britain in 1930, and so he applied for patents in the United States. Although his breakthrough would be incorporated into the design of RCA's "iconoscope" in 1931, the U.S. patent for Tihanyi's transmitting tube would not be granted until May 1939. The patent for his receiving tube had been granted the previous October. Both patents had been purchased by RCA prior to their approval. Charge storage remains a basic principle in the design of imaging devices for television to the present day.
Development continued around the world. At the Berlin Radio Show in August 1931, Manfred von Ardenne gave a public demonstration of a television system using a CRT for both transmission and reception. However, Ardenne had not developed a camera tube, using the CRT instead as a flying-spot scanner to scan slides and film. Philo Farnsworth gave the world's first public demonstration of an all-electronic television system, using a live camera, at the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia on August 25, 1934, and for ten days afterwards.
In 1933 RCA introduced an improved camera tube that relied on Tihanyi's charge storage principle. Dubbed the Iconoscope by Zworykin, the new tube had a light sensitivity of about 75,000 lux, and thus was claimed to be much more sensitive than Farnsworth's image dissector. However, Farnsworth had overcome his power problems with his Image Dissector through the invention of a completely unique "multipactor" device that he began work on in 1930, and demonstrated in 1931. This small tube could amplify a signal reportedly to the 60th power or better and showed great promise in all fields of electronics. A problem with the multipactor, unfortunately, was that it wore out at an unsatisfactory rate.
In Britain the EMI engineering team led by Isaac Shoenberg applied in 1932 for a patent for a new device they dubbed "the Emitron", which formed the heart of the cameras they designed for the BBC. On November 2, 1936, a 405-line broadcasting service employing the Emitron began at studios in Alexandra Palace, and transmitted from a specially built mast atop one of the Victorian building's towers. It alternated for a short time with Baird's mechanical system in adjoining studios, but was more reliable and visibly superior. This was the world's first regular high-definition television service.
The original American iconoscope was noisy, had a high ratio of interference to signal, and ultimately gave disappointing results, especially when compared to the high definition mechanical scanning systems then becoming available. The EMI team under the supervision of Isaac Shoenberg analyzed how the iconoscope (or Emitron) produces an electronic signal and concluded that its real efficiency was only about 5% of the theoretical maximum. They solved this problem by developing and patenting in 1934 two new camera tubes dubbed super-Emitron and CPS Emitron. The super-Emitron was between ten and fifteen times more sensitive than the original Emitron and iconoscope tubes and, in some cases, this ratio was considerably greater. It was used for an outside broadcasting by the BBC, for the first time, on Armistice Day 1937, when the general public could watch in a television set how the King lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. This was the first time that anyone could broadcast a live street scene from cameras installed on the roof of neighbor buildings, because neither Farnsworth nor RCA could do the same before the 1939 New York World's Fair.
On the other hand, in 1934, Zworykin shared some patent rights with the German licensee company Telefunken. The "image iconoscope" ("Superikonoskop" in Germany) was produced as a result of the collaboration. This tube is essentially identical to the super-Emitron. The production and commercialization of the super-Emitron and image iconoscope in Europe were not affected by the patent war between Zworykin and Farnsworth, because Dieckmann and Hell had priority in Germany for the invention of the image dissector, having submitted a patent application for their Lichtelektrische Bildzerlegerröhre für Fernseher (Photoelectric Image Dissector Tube for Television) in Germany in 1925, two years before Farnsworth did the same in the United States. The image iconoscope (Superikonoskop) became the industrial standard for public broadcasting in Europe from 1936 until 1960, when it was replaced by the vidicon and plumbicon tubes. Indeed it was the representative of the European tradition in electronic tubes competing against the American tradition represented by the image orthicon. The German company Heimann produced the Superikonoskop for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, later Heimann also produced and commercialized it from 1940 to 1955, finally the Dutch company Philips produced and commercialized the image iconoscope and multicon from 1952 to 1958.
American television broadcasting at the time consisted of a variety of markets in a wide range of sizes, each competing for programming and dominance with separate technology, until deals were made and standards agreed upon in 1941. RCA, for example, used only Iconoscopes in the New York area, but Farnsworth Image Dissectors in Philadelphia and San Francisco. In September 1939, RCA agreed to pay the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation royalties over the next ten years for access to Farnsworth's patents. With this historic agreement in place, RCA integrated much of what was best about the Farnsworth Technology into their systems.
In 1941, the United States implemented 525-line television. The world's first 625-line television standard was designed in the Soviet Union in 1944, and became a national standard in 1946. The first broadcast in 625-line standard occurred in 1948 in Moscow. The concept of 625 lines per frame was subsequently implemented in the European CCIR standard.
In its most basic form, a color broadcast can be created by broadcasting three monochrome images, one each in the three colors of red, green and blue (RGB). When displayed together or in rapid succession, these images will blend together to produce a full color image as seen by the viewer. Experimental color television used a rotating disk in front of the screen, with the three colors appearing successively. Aside from the need to coordinate the mechanical reception device rotation speed with the characterics of the transmitted signal, this and other experimental color television technologies were not compatible with existing black and white sets; i.e., they would seriously degrade the black and white picture. Remembering the debacle when the change of FM broadcast band in 1946 made all the existing FM radios inoperable (unless fitted with a converter), the compatibility of color television was an important concern in the early 50's.
One of the great technical challenges of introducing color broadcast television was the desire to conserve bandwidth, potentially three times that of the existing black-and-white standards, and not use an excessive amount of radio spectrum. In the United States, after considerable research, the National Television Systems Committee approved an all-electronic Compatible color system developed by RCA, which encoded the color information separately from the brightness information and greatly reduced the resolution of the color information in order to conserve bandwidth. The brightness image remained compatible with existing black-and-white television sets at slightly reduced resolution, while color televisions could decode the extra information in the signal and produce a limited-resolution color display. The higher resolution black-and-white and lower resolution color images combine in the brain to produce a seemingly high-resolution color image. The NTSC standard represented a major technical achievement.
Although all-electronic color was introduced in the U.S. in 1953, high prices and the scarcity of color programming greatly slowed its acceptance in the marketplace. The first national color broadcast (the 1954 Tournament of Roses Parade) occurred on January 1, 1954, but during the following ten years most network broadcasts, and nearly all local programming, continued to be in black-and-white. It was not until the mid-1960s that color sets started selling in large numbers, due in part to the color transition of 1965 in which it was announced that over half of all network prime-time programming would be broadcast in color that fall. The first all-color prime-time season came just one year later.
Early color sets were either floor-standing console models or tabletop versions nearly as bulky and heavy, so in practice they remained firmly anchored in one place. The introduction of GE's relatively compact and lightweight Porta-Color set in the spring of 1966 made watching color television a more flexible and convenient proposition. In 1972, sales of color sets finally surpassed sales of black-and-white sets. Also in 1972, the last holdout among daytime network programs converted to color, resulting in the first completely all-color network season.
Color broadcasting in Europe was not standardized on the PAL format until the 1960s, and broadcasts did not start until 1967. By this point many of the technical problems in the early sets had been worked out, and the spread of color sets in Europe was fairly rapid.
By the mid-1970s, the only stations broadcasting in black-and-white were a few high-numbered UHF stations in small markets, and a handful of low-power repeater stations in even smaller markets such as vacation spots. By 1979, even the last of these had converted to color and by the early 1980s B&W sets had been pushed into niche markets, notably low-power uses, small portable sets, or use as video monitor screens in lower-cost consumer equipment, in the television production and post-production industry.
Programming is broadcast by television stations, sometimes called "channels", as stations are licensed by their governments to broadcast only over assigned channels in the television band. At first, terrestrial broadcasting was the only way television could be widely distributed, and because bandwidth was limited, i.e., there were only a small number of channels available, government regulation was the norm.
In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowed stations to broadcast advertisements beginning in July 1941, but required public service programming commitments as a requirement for a license. By contrast, the United Kingdom chose a different route, imposing a television license fee on owners of television reception equipment to fund the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which had public service as part of its Royal Charter.
The first British television broadcast was made by Baird Television's electromechanical system over the BBC radio transmitter in September 1929. Baird provided a limited amount of programming five days a week by 1930. During this time, Southampton earned the distinction of broadcasting the first-ever live television interview, which featured Peggy O'Neil, an actress and singer from Buffalo, New York. On August 22, 1932, BBC launched its own regular service using Baird's 30-line electromechanical system, continuing until September 11, 1935. On November 2, 1936 the BBC began broadcasting a dual-system service, alternating between Marconi-EMI's 405-line standard and Baird's improved 240-line standard, from Alexandra Palace in London, making the BBC Television Service (now BBC One) the UK's first regular high-definition television service. The government, on advice from a special advisory committee, decided that Marconi-EMI's electronic system gave the superior picture, and the Baird system was dropped in February 1937. TV broadcasts in London were on the air an average of four hours daily from 1936 to 1939. There were 12,000 to 15,000 receivers. Some sets in restaurants or bars might have 100 viewers for sport events (Dunlap, p56). The outbreak of the Second World War caused the BBC service to be abruptly suspended on September 1, 1939, at 12:35 pm, after a Mickey Mouse cartoon and test signals were broadcast, so that transmissions could not be used as a beacon to guide enemy aircraft to London. It resumed, again from Alexandra Palace on June 7, 1946 after the end of the war, began with a live programme that opened with the line "Good afternoon everybody. How are you? Do you remember me, Jasmine Bligh?”" and was followed by the same Mickey Mouse cartoon broadcast on the last day before the war. At the end of 1947 there were 54,000 licensed television receivers, compared with 44,000 television sets in the United States at that time.
The first transatlantic television signal was sent in 1928 from London to New York by the Baird Television Development Company/Cinema Television, although this signal was not broadcast to the public. The first live satellite signal to Britain from the United States was broadcast via the Telstar satellite on July 23, 1962.
The first live broadcast from the European continent was made on August 27, 1950.
The first regularly scheduled television service in the United States began on July 2, 1928, fifteen months before the United Kingdom. The Federal Radio Commission authorized C. F. Jenkins to broadcast from experimental station W3XK in Wheaton Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. For at least the first eighteen months, 48-line silhouette images from motion picture film were broadcast, although beginning in the summer of 1929 he occasionally broadcast in halftones.
Hugo Gernsback's New York City radio station began a regular, if limited, schedule of live television broadcasts on August 14, 1928, using 48-line images. Working with only one transmitter, the station alternated radio broadcasts with silent television images of the station's call sign, faces in motion, and wind-up toys in motion. Speaking later that month, Gernsback downplayed the broadcasts, intended for amateur experimenters. "In six months we may have television for the public, but so far we have not got it." Gernsback also published Television, the world's first magazine about the medium.
General Electric's experimental station in Schenectady, New York, on the air sporadically since January 13, 1928, was able to broadcast reflected-light, 48-line images via shortwave as far as Los Angeles, and by September was making four television broadcasts weekly. It is considered to be the direct predecessor of current television station WRGB. The Queen's Messenger, a one-act play broadcast on September 11, 1928, was the world's first live drama on television.
Radio giant RCA began daily experimental television broadcasts in New York City in March 1929 over station W2XBS, the predecessor of current television station WNBC. The 60-line transmissions consisted of pictures, signs, and views of persons and objects. Experimental broadcasts continued to 1931.
General Broadcasting System's WGBS radio and W2XCR television aired their regular broadcasting debut in New York City on April 26, 1931, with a special demonstration set up in Aeolian Hall at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-fourth Street. Thousands waited to catch a glimpse of the Broadway stars who appeared on the six-inch (15 cm) square image, in an evening event to publicize a weekday programming schedule offering films and live entertainers during the four-hour daily broadcasts. Appearing were boxer Primo Carnera, actors Gertrude Lawrence, Louis Calhern, Frances Upton and Lionel Atwill, WHN announcer Nils Granlund, the Forman Sisters, and a host of others.
CBS's New York City station W2XAB began broadcasting their first regular seven-day-a-week television schedule on July 21, 1931, with a 60-line electromechanical system. The first broadcast included Mayor Jimmy Walker, the Boswell Sisters, Kate Smith, and George Gershwin. The service ended in February 1933. Don Lee Broadcasting's station W6XAO in Los Angeles went on the air in December 1931. Using the UHF spectrum, it broadcast a regular schedule of filmed images every day except Sundays and holidays for several years.
By 1935, low-definition electromechanical television broadcasting had ceased in the United States except for a handful of stations run by public universities that continued to 1939. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) saw television in the continual flux of development with no consistent technical standards, hence all such stations in the U.S. were granted only experimental and non-commercial licenses, hampering television's economic development. Just as importantly, Philo Farnsworth's August 1934 demonstration of an all-electronic system at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia pointed out the direction of television's future.
On June 15, 1936, Don Lee Broadcasting began a one month-long demonstration of high definition (240+ line) television in Los Angeles on W6XAO (later KTSL, now KCBS-TV) with a 300-line image from motion picture film. By October, W6XAO was making daily television broadcasts of films. RCA and its subsidiary NBC demonstrated in New York City a 343-line electronic television broadcast, with live and film segments, to its licensees on July 7, 1936, and made its first public demonstration to the press on November 6. Irregularly scheduled broadcasts continued through 1937 and 1938. Regularly scheduled electronic broadcasts began in April 1938 in New York (to the second week of June, and resuming in August) and Los Angeles. NBC officially began regularly scheduled television broadcasts in New York on April 30, 1939 with a broadcast of the opening of the 1939 New York World's Fair. By June 1939, regularly scheduled 441-line electronic television broadcasts were available in New York City and Los Angeles, and by November on General Electric's station in Schenectady. From May through December 1939, the New York City NBC station (W2XBS) of RCA broadcast twenty to fifty-eight hours of programming per month, Wednesday through Sunday of each week. The programming was 33% news, 29% drama, and 17% educational programming, with an estimated 2,000 receiving sets by the end of the year, and an estimated audience of five to eight thousand. A remote truck could cover outdoor events from up to 10 miles (16 km) away from the transmitter, which was located atop the Empire State Building. Coaxial cable was used to cover events at Madison Square Garden. The coverage area for reliable reception was a radius of 40 to 50 miles (80 km) from the Empire State Building, an area populated by more than 10,000,000 people (Lohr, 1940).
The FCC adopted NTSC television engineering standards on May 2, 1941, calling for 525 lines of vertical resolution, 30 frames per second with interlaced scanning, 60 fields per second, and sound carried by frequency modulation. Sets sold since 1939 which were built for slightly lower resolution could still be adjusted to receive the new standard. (Dunlap, p31). The FCC saw television ready for commercial licensing, and the first such licenses were issued to NBC- and CBS-owned stations in New York on July 1, 1941, followed by Philco's station WPTZ in Philadelphia.
The first official, paid advertising to appear on American commercial television occurred on the afternoon of July 1, 1941 over New York station WNBT (now WNBC) before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. The announcement for Bulova watches, for which the company paid anywhere from $4.00 to $9.00 (reports vary), displayed a WNBT test pattern modified to look like a clock with the hands showing the time. The Bulova logo, with the phrase "Bulova Watch Time", was shown in the lower right-hand quadrant of the test pattern while the second hand swept around the dial for one minute.
After the U.S. entry into World War II, the FCC reduced the required minimum air time for commercial television stations from 15 hours per week to 4 hours. Most TV stations suspended broadcasting; of the ten original television stations only six continued through the war. On the few that remained, programs included entertainment such as boxing and plays, events at Madison Square Garden, and illustrated war news as well as training for air raid wardens and first aid providers. In 1942, there were 5,000 sets in operation, but production of new TVs, radios, and other broadcasting equipment for civilian purposes was suspended from April 1942 to August 1945 (Dunlap).
By 1947, when there were 40 million radios in the U.S., there were about 44,000 television sets (with probably 30,000 in the New York area). Regular network television broadcasts began on NBC on a three-station network linking New York with the Capital District and Philadelphia in 1944; on the DuMont Television Network in 1946, and on CBS and ABC in 1948.
Following the rapid rise of television after the war, the Federal Communications Commission was flooded with applications for television station licenses. With more applications than available television channels, the FCC ordered a freeze on processing station applications in 1948 that remained in effect until April 14, 1952.
By 1949, the networks stretched from New York to the Mississippi River, and by 1951 to the West Coast. Commercial color television broadcasts began on CBS in 1951 with a field-sequential color system that was suspended four months later for technical and economic reasons. The television industry's National Television System Committee (NTSC) developed a color television system based on RCA technology that was compatible with existing black and white receivers, and commercial color broadcasts reappeared in 1953.
The first testing television station in Mexico signed on in 1935. When KFMB-TV in San Diego signed on in 1949, Baja California became the first state to receive a commercial television station over the air. Within a year, the Mexican government would adopt the U.S. NTSC 525-line B/W 60-field-per-second system as the country's broadcast standard. In 1950, the first commercial television station within Mexico, XHTV in Mexico City, signed on the air, followed by XEW-TV in 1951 and XHGC in 1952. Those three were not only the first television stations in the country, but also the flagship stations of Telesistema Mexicano which was formed in 1955. That year, Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta, who had signed on XEW-TV, entered into a partnership with Rómulo O'Farrill who had signed on XHTV, and Guillermo González Camarena, who had signed on XHGC. The earliest 3D television broadcasts in the world were broadcast over XHGC in 1954. Color television was introduced in 1962, also over XHGC-TV. One of Telesistema Mexicano's earliest broadcasts as a network, over XEW-TV, on June 25, 1955, was the first international North American broadcast in the medium's history, and was jointly aired with NBC in the United States, where it aired as the premiere episode of Wide Wide World, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Except for a break between 1969–1973, every commercial television station in Mexico, with exceptions in the border cities, was expected to affiliate with a subnetwork of Telesistema Mexicano or its successor, Televisa (formed by the 1973 merger of Telesistema Mexicano and Television Independiente de Mexico). This condition would not be relaxed for good until 1993, when Imevision was privatized to become TV Azteca (now known simply as Azteca).
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) adopted the American NTSC 525-line B/W 60 field per second system as its broadcast standard. It began television broadcasting in Canada in September 1952. The first broadcast was on September 6, 1952 from its Montreal station CBFT. The premiere broadcast was bilingual, spoken in English and French. Two days later, on September 8, 1952, the Toronto station CBLT went on the air. This became the English-speaking flagship station for the country, while CBFT became the French-language flagship after a second English-language station was licensed to CBC in Montreal later in the decade. The CBC's first privately owned affiliate television station, CKSO in Sudbury, Ontario, launched in October 1953 (at the time, all private stations were expected to affiliate with the CBC, a condition that was relaxed in 1960–61 when CTV, Canada's second national English-language network, was formed).
In former Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia and Czech Republic) the first experimental television sets were produced in 1948. In the same year the first TV- transmission was performed. The first regular TV public transmission started on 1 May 1953. The state-owned TV-centers were in Prague, Bratislava, Brno and Ostrava. In 1961 more than a million citizens had a television set. In 1970, The Czechoslovak television had three channels: Czech, Slovak and a bilingual Federal Channel. In 1973, color broadcasting started.
The first experiments in television broadcasting began in France in the 1930s, although the French did not immediately employ the new technology.
In November 1929, Bernard Natan established France's first television company, Télévision-Baird-Natan. On April 14, 1931, there took place the first transmission with a thirty-line standard by René Barthélemy. On December 6, 1931, Henri de France created the Compagnie Générale de Télévision (CGT). In December 1932, Barthélemy carried out an experimental program in black and white (definition: 60 lines) one hour per week, "Paris Télévision", which gradually became daily from early 1933.
The first official channel of French television appeared on February 13, 1935, the date of the official inauguration of television in France, which was broadcast in 60 lines from 8:15 to 8:30 pm. The program showed the actress Béatrice Bretty in the studio of Radio-PTT Vision at 103 rue de Grenelle in Paris. The broadcast had a range of 100 km (62 mi). On November 10, George Mandel, Minister of Posts, inaugurated the first broadcast in 180 lines from the transmitter of the Eiffel Tower. On the 18th, Susy Wincker, the first announcer since the previous June, carried out a demonstration for the press from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Broadcasts became regular from January 4, 1937 from 11:00 to 11:30 am and 8:00 to 8:30 pm during the week, and from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on Sundays. In July 1938, a decree defined for three years a standard of 455 lines VHF (whereas three standards were used for the experiments: 441 lines for Gramont, 450 lines for the Compagnie des Compteurs and 455 for Thomson). In 1939, there were about only 200 to 300 individual television sets, some of which were also available in a few public places.
With the entry of France into World War II the same year, broadcasts ceased and the transmitter of the Eiffel Tower was sabotaged. On September 3, 1940, French television was seized by the German occupation forces. A technical agreement was signed by the Compagnie des Compteurs and Telefunken, and a financing agreement for the resuming of the service is signed by German Ministry of Post and Radiodiffusion Nationale (Vichy's radio). On May 7, 1943 at 3:00 evening broadcasts. The first broadcast of Fernsehsender Paris (Paris Télévision) was transmitted from rue Cognac-Jay. These regular broadcasts (51⁄4 hours a day) lasted until August 16, 1944. One thousand 441-line sets, most of which were installed in soldiers' hospitals, picked up the broadcasts. These Nazi-controlled television broadcasts from the Eiffel Tower in Paris were able to be received on the south coast of England by R.A.F. and BBC engineers, who photographed the station identification image direct from the screen.
In 1944, René Barthélemy developed an 819-line television standard. During the years of occupation, Barthélemy reached 1015 and even 1042 lines. On October 1, 1944, television service resumed after the liberation of Paris. The broadcasts were transmitted from the Cognacq-Jay studios. In October 1945, after repairs, the transmitter of the Eiffel Tower was back in service. On November 20, 1948, François Mitterrand decreed a broadcast standard of 819 lines; broadcasting began at the end of 1949 in this definition. France was the only European country to adopt it (others were to choose 625 lines).
Electromechanical broadcasts began in Germany in 1929, but were without sound until 1934. Network electronic service started on March 22, 1935, on 180 lines using telecine transmission of film, intermediate film system, or cameras using the Nipkow Disk. Transmissions using cameras based on the iconoscope began on January 15, 1936. The Berlin Summer Olympic Games were televised, using both all-electronic iconoscope-based cameras and intermediate film cameras, to Berlin and Hamburg in August 1936. Twenty-eight public television rooms were opened for anybody who did not own a television set. The Germans had a 441-line system on the air in February 1937, and during World War II brought it to France, where they broadcast from the Eiffel Tower.
After the end of World War II, the American Armed Forces Radio Network provided US TV programming to the occupation forces in Germany via US TV receivers originally designed to operate at 525 lines and 60 fields. For operation in Germany, the vertical frequency was changed to the European mains frequency standard of 50 Hz to avoid power line wiggles. The horizontal frequency moved from 15,750 Hz to 15,625 Hz a 0.5 microsecond change in the length of a line. US TV receivers thus modified needed only an adjustment to the vertical hold control to display a 625 line (= 576 visual lines + 49 lines of non-visual synch and burst data), 50 field scan, which became the German standard. This AFN system, however, was not identical to Germany's later PAL standard. PAL, invented by Walter Bruch, operated at 576 lines while the modified American sets displayed only the standard NTSC 486 visual lines. Effectively, the sets displayed even less, namely 243 visible lines due to display-internal deinterlacing. This involved alternately discarding one field and applying line doubling on the result. Also, the PAL-specific YUV color system was not invented until the 1960s.
In Italy, the first experimental tests on television broadcasts were made in Turin since 1934. The city already hosted the Center for Management of the EIAR (lately renamed as RAI) at the premises of the Theatre of Turin. Subsequently, the EAIR established offices in Rome and Milan. On July 22, 1939 comes into operation in Rome the first television transmitter at the EIAR station, which performed a regular broadcast for about a year using a 441-line system which was developed in Germany. In September of the same year, a second television transmitter was installed in Milan, making experimental broadcasts during major events in the city.
The broadcasts were suddenly ended on May 31, 1940, by order of the government, allegedly because of interferences encountered in the first air navigation systems. Also, the imminent participation in the war is believed to have played a role in this decision. EIAR transmitting equipment was relocated to Germany by the German troops. Lately, it was returned to Italy.
The first official television broadcast began on January 3, 1954 by the RAI.
The Soviet Union began offering 30-line electromechanical test broadcasts in Moscow on October 31, 1931, and a commercially manufactured television set in 1932.
The first experimental transmissions of electronic television took place in Moscow on March 9, 1937, using equipment manufactured and installed by RCA. Regular broadcasting began on December 31, 1938. It was quickly realized that 343 lines of resolution offered by this format would have become insufficient in the long run, thus a specification for 441-line format was developed in 1940, superseded by a 625-line standard in 1944. This format was ultimately accepted as a national standard.
The experimental transmissions in 625-line format started in Moscow from November 4, 1948. Regular broadcasting began on June 16, 1949. Details for this standard were formalized in 1955 specification called GOST 7845-55, basic parameters for black-and-white television broadcast. In particular, frame size was set to 625 lines, frame rate to 25 frames/s interlaced, and video bandwidth to 6 MHz. These basic parameters were accepted by most countries having 50 Hz mains frequency and became the foundation of television systems presently known as PAL and SECAM.
Starting in 1951, broadcasting in the 625-line standard was introduced in other major cities of the Soviet Union.
Color television broadcast started in 1974, using SECAM color system.
In 1979, the Japanese state broadcaster NHK first developed consumer high-definition television with a 5:3 display aspect ratio. The system, known as Hi-Vision or MUSE after its Multiple sub-Nyquist sampling encoding for encoding the signal, required about twice the bandwidth of the existing NTSC system but provided about four times the resolution (1080i/1125 lines). Satellite test broadcasts started in 1989, with regular testing starting in 1991 and regular broadcasting of BS-9ch commenced on November 25, 1994, which featured commercial and NHK television programming.
Sony first demonstrated a wideband analog high-definition television system HDTV capable video camera, monitor and video tape recorder (VTR) in April 1981 at an international meeting of television engineers in Algiers. The HDVS range was launched in April 1984, with the HDC-100 camera, HDV-100 video recorder and HDS-100 video switcher all working in the 1125-line component video format with interlaced video and a 5:3 aspect ratio.
The first national live television broadcast in the U.S. took place on September 4, 1951 when President Harry Truman's speech at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco was transmitted over AT&T's transcontinental cable and microwave radio relay system to broadcast stations in local markets.
The first live coast-to-coast commercial television broadcast in the U.S. took place on November 18, 1951 during the premiere of CBS's See It Now, which showed a split-screen view of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In 1958, the CBC completed the longest television network in the world, from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia. Reportedly, the first continuous live broadcast of a "breaking" news story in the world was conducted by the CBC during the Springhill mining disaster, which began on October 23 of that year.
The development of cable and satellite television in the 1970s allowed for more channels and encouraged businessmen to target programming toward specific audiences. It also enabled the rise of subscription television channels, such as Home Box Office (HBO) and Showtime in the U.S., and Sky Television in the U.K.
In television's electromechanical era, commercially made television sets were sold from 1928 to 1934 in the United Kingdom, United States, and the Soviet Union. The earliest commercially made sets sold by Baird in the UK in 1928 were radios with the addition of a television device consisting of a neon tube behind a mechanically spinning disk (the Nipkow disk) with a spiral of apertures that produced a red postage-stamp size image, enlarged to twice that size by a magnifying glass. The Baird "Televisor" was also available without the radio. The Televisor sold in 1930–1933 is considered the first mass-produced set, selling about a thousand units.
The first commercially made electronic television sets with cathode ray tubes were manufactured by Telefunken in Germany in 1934, followed by other makers in France (1936), Britain (1936), and America (1938). The cheapest of the pre-World War II factory-made American sets, a 1938 image-only model with a 3-inch (8 cm) screen, cost US$125, the equivalent of US$2,020 in 2013. The cheapest model with a 12-inch (30 cm) screen was $445 ($7,200).
An estimated 19,000 electronic television sets were manufactured in Britain, and about 1,600 in Germany, before World War II. About 7,000–8,000 electronic sets were made in the U.S. before the War Production Board halted manufacture in April 1942, production resuming in August 1945.
Television usage in the United States skyrocketed after World War II with the lifting of the manufacturing freeze, war-related technological advances, the gradual expansion of the television networks westward, the drop in set prices caused by mass production, increased leisure time, and additional disposable income. In 1947, Motorola introduced the VT-71 television for $189.95, the first television set to be sold for under $200, finally making television affordable for millions of Americans. While only 0.5% of U.S. households had a television set in 1946, 55.7% had one in 1954, and 90% by 1962. In Britain, there were 15,000 television households in 1947, 1.4 million in 1952, and 15.1 million by 1968.
For many years different countries used different technical standards. France initially adopted the German 441-line standard but later upgraded to 819 lines, which gave the highest picture definition of any analogue TV system, approximately double the resolution of the British 405-line system. However this is not without a cost, in that the cameras need to produce four times the pixel rate (thus quadrupling the bandwidth), from pixels one-quarter the size, reducing the sensitivity by an equal amount. In practice the 819-line cameras never achieved anything like the resolution that could theoretically be transmitted by the 819 line system, and for color, France reverted to the 625-line CCIR system used by most European countries.
With advent of color television most Western European countries adopted PAL standard. France, Soviet Union and most Eastern European countries adopted SECAM. In North America the original NTSC 525-line standard was augmented to include color transmission with slight slowing down of frame rate.
Throughout the 1960s, television sets used exclusively vacuum tube electronics. This resulted in relatively heavy and unreliable TVs. In addition, vacuum tubes were poorly suited to color television, as it required a large amount of tubes which caused further reliability problems. Because vacuum tubes only allowed for very simple NTSC/PAL filtering, the picture quality of early color sets was rather poor. The tint control that is still found on NTSC televisions originally was meant to correct the color burst phase's drifting when channels were changed. In addition, the large number of vacuum tubes required for color prevented the use of it in portable TVs.
By the early 1970s, solid-state electronics appeared and quickly displaced vacuum tubes in color TVs (black and white sets generally continued to be tube-based). This allowed for significantly more reliable TVs and better picture quality. 1971 was the first year that sales of color TVs in the US exceeded B&W ones. In other countries, color was slower to arrive and did not become common in Western Europe until the 1980s.
By 1965, the FCC began requiring UHF tuners in all TVs sold in the United States. In 1971, there were 170 UHF stations in the country, mostly low-power ones that carried local programming. Previously, UHF support from TV manufacturers was sporadic. Most sets did not come factory-equipped with them, and often merely included an empty slot in the cabinet where an optional UHF tuner could be installed.
During the 1970s, electronic tuners began appearing in high-end TVs in place of traditional dials, and they would gradually become standard along with remote controls. Remotes had first appeared in the 1950s with Zenith's Space Command Control, but these were mechanical devices that emitted a high-pitched audio frequency that the TV detected. The first electronic remote controls did not appear until the 1980s.
1980s TV developments mainly centered on the above-mentioned features. Electronic television tuners also went hand-in-hand with the rise of cable television. Analog comb filters, first introduced in the '70s on high-end sets, gradually became more common. Black-and-white TVs virtually disappeared from the American market except for 5-inch, battery-powered models.
1983 marked the widespread commercial availability of the first LCD TV sets: the Seiko wristwatch TV (the receiver was in a separate unit, connected by a thin cable that ran down the wearer's sleeve) and the pocket-size Casio TV-10. Both were black-and-white receivers with low-resolution displays that suffered from poor contrast and serious pixel lag problems. Improved pocket-size units, including the first color sets, soon followed. Hitachi has been credited with the first trade-shown prototype, exhibited in Berlin in 1977.
Important people in the development of TV technology in the 19th or 20th centuries.
Links related to the development or history of television