We all love the telly, and it’s come a long way since its first practical demonstration in 1926. With new technologies like smart TVs, 4K Ultra High Definition and 3D movies, we’ve got more choice and quality than ever. So how did we get here?
The first proper television was demonstrated by John Logie Baird in 1926. It was a pretty basic affair – just a black and white moving image – but there was enough detail to be able to make out a human face. Baird went on to be involved in a wide range of TV related projects, including the eventual launch of public TV in the UK in November 1936. These signals were transmitted from Alexandra Palace in London and marked the birth of BBC television.
Baird’s early TV had a picture made up of just 30 lines and the first BBC broadcasts 240. Modern HD TVs have 1080 lines (hence the term 1080p), so you can imagine the quality of those early images.
The earliest TVs were mechanical, scanning the images using a spinning disc with holes in. For television to really catch on, it had to go electronic. An all electric TV was first demonstrated in 1934, using a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) which uses a vacuum tube and electron emitter to project the image. This type of television set lasted for ages, and was only recently superseded by flat screen technologies.
However, early versions were still black and white.
More Channels and Colour
Today, there are hundreds of TV channels thanks to satellite, Freeview, cable and on demand services. It’s hard to imagine a time when TV was only one station, but we didn’t get a second until ITV launched in 1955. BBC Two appeared in 1964 with some extra niche programming, and it was this that went on to become Europe’s first all colour channel in 1967.
As you’re probably aware, colour images were made up of combinations of red, green and blue light. Resolutions had also improved, and by this stage, TV pictures had 625 lines – around half what your HD TV can deliver.
VHS and Betamax
Although we’re all familiar with the recent format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD, the original was the battle of the video tapes. These brought recorded TV and movies to the masses for the first time. VHS won, but the war with Betamax lasted through the late 1970s into the 1980s. Betamax had a smaller tape and higher quality images, but ultimately the longer recording time of VHS won out.
Flat Screens, Digital and HD
A lot of us had chunky CRT TVs until pretty recently, so it may surprise you to know flat screens have been around since 1964. LED TVs, plasma screens and LCDs are everywhere these days, and the arrival of HD, digital signals and the 16:9 aspect ratio means we have better quality images than ever before.
LED, plasma and LCD all have their advantages and disadvantages. LED TVs are very thin, use less energy than other types, and good quality versions can produce a higher contrast picture than LCD screens. LCD TVs are best if you’re on a budget, while plasma is useful if you want an image with deep blacks and wide viewing angles. Plasma screens use a lot more energy than other versions though.
4K, 3D and the Future of TV
The very latest models of TV are more than just a screen you can watch programmes on. Smart TVs have internet connections built in so you can surf the net or watch on-demand services like iPlayer and Netflix, and 3D television is becoming increasingly popular. Technologies are emerging that don’t even need glasses to produce a 3D effect.
There are also mind blowing resolutions on the horizon. Standard HD TVs offer images with 1080 lines, but there is now a resolution known as 4K Ultra High Definition, which has 2160. It will be interesting to see what the future holds. Holographic TV is a possible future development. Instead of being viewed on a flat screen, images will be projected into the air in three dimensions.
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