History of television technology

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This article discusses the history of television's technical development, and television as an industry; for an account of the history of Television content, see Television.

The history of television technology can be divided along two lines: those developments that depended upon both mechanical and electronic principles, and those which are purely electronic. From the latter descended all modern televisions, but these would not have been possible without discoveries and insights from the mechanical systems.

The word television is a hybrid word, created from both Greek and Latin. Tele- is Greek for "far", while -vision is from the Latin visio, meaning "vision" or "sight". It is often abbreviated as TV or the telly.

Electromechanical television

The origins of what would become today's television system can be traced back to the discovery of the photoconductivity of the element selenium by Willoughby Smith in 1873, and the invention of a scanning disk by Paul Nipkow in 1884.

Paul Nipkow's original 1884 patent

The German student Paul Nipkow proposed and patented the central elements of electromechanical television systems in 1884. Nipkow's spinning disk design is credited with being the first essential step towards practical television. However, it wasn't until 1907 that developments in light-sensitive cellas and amplification tube technology made his system practicable. Meanwhile, 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.

In 1911, Boris Rosing and his student Vladimir Kosma 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 electronic Braun tube (cathode ray tube) in the receiver. Moving images were not possible because, in the scanner, "the sensitivity was not enough and the selenium cell was very laggy." Zworykin later went to work for RCA to build a purely electronic television, the design of which was eventually found to violate patents by Philo Taylor Farnsworth. The decisive solution — television operating on the basis of continuous electron emission with accumulation and storage of released secondary electrons during the entire scansion cycle — was first described by the Hungarian inventor Kálmán Tihanyi in 1926, with further refined versions patented by him in 1928. Tihanyi, however, never produced a working system.

Baird demonstrating television at Selfridge's, 1925

On March 25, 1925, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird gave a demonstration of televised silhouette images at Selfridge's Department Store in London. But if television is defined as the transmission of live, moving, grayscale images, and not silhouette or still images, Baird did not achieve this standard until October 2, 1925. Then he gave the world's first public demonstration of a working television system to members of the Royal Institution and a newspaper reporter on January 26, 1926 at his laboratory in 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. Baird continued to refine this system over the next few years, and despite the low number of scan-lines, improved his system to the point where it produced clear and distinct images of various performers, such that by 1930 it could be used to transmit the first television drama, The Man With a Flower in his Mouth, by the BBC.

In 1927 Baird transmitted a signal over 438 miles 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 he developed a video disk recording system dubbed "Phonovision"; a number of the Phonovision[1] recordings, dating back to 1927, still exist. In 1929 he became involved in the first experimental electromechanical television service in Germany. In 1931 he made the first live transmission, of the Epsom Derby. In 1932 he demonstrated ultra-short wave television. The Baird company eventually moved beyond its original electromechanical system, switching to an "intermediate film" process in which cinefilm was scanned electronically, and achieved a peak of 240 lines of resolution on BBC television broadcasts in 1936 before being discontinued in favor of EMI's 405 line all-electronic system.

Charles Francis Jenkins's "Radiovisor."
Used with permission from tvhistory.tv.

In the U.S., Charles Francis Jenkins was able to demonstrate on June 13, 1925, the transmission of the silhouette image of a toy windmill in motion from a naval radio station to his laboratory in Washington, using a lensed disk scanner with 48 lines per picture, 16 pictures per second. The low definition silhouettes were the best Jenkins could do, since his bandwidth was limited to 10kHz, but he later obtained permission to move to a carrier frequency to 4.95 MHz with a bandwidth of 100 kHz. Jenkins employed a rotating mirror drum rather than a Nipkow disc, in his receivers (drum receivers had also been used by Baird as well. The sets were only able to pick up Jenkins's own experimental signal, transmitted from his station W3XK in Wheaton, Maryland; the demand for receivers never reached a profitable level.

AT&T's Bell Telephone Laboratories transmitted grayscale images of transparencies in May 1925. But Bell Labs gave the most dramatic demonstration of television yet on April 7, 1927, when it field tested reflected-light television systems using small-scale (2 by 2.5 inches) and large-scale (24 by 30 inches) viewing screens over a wire link from Washington to New York City, and over-the-air broadcast from Whippany, New Jersey. The subjects, which included Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, were illuminated by a flying spot beam and scanned by a 50-aperture disk at 16 pictures per second.

Electronic television

Philo T. Farnsworth with a prototype in 1934.
Used with permission from tvhistory.tv.

On September 7, 1927, Philo Farnsworth's Image Dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, at his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco, California. By 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 moving parts. That year, Farnsworth transmitted the first human images by television system, including a three and a half-inch image of his wife Pem with her eyes closed (possibly due to the bright lighting required).

Farnsworth gave the world's first public demonstration of a complete all-electronic television system in August 1934, at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Other inventors had previously demonstrated components of such a system, or had shown an electronic system using still images or motion picture film. But Farnsworth was the first to coordinate both electronically scanned television cameras and electronically scanned television receivers, and present live, moving, grayscale images with them. Unfortunately, his cameras needed too much light, so his work came to a stop.

Another engineer in Europe, Russian Vladimir Zworykin, was experimenting with the cathode ray tube to create and show images. In 1931 he and his team at RCA created the first successful electronic camera tube, dubbed the Iconoscope.

Later Isaac Shoenburg used Zworykin's idea to develop the Emitron tube, which formed the heart of the cameras they later designed for the BBC (the exact relationship between the Emitron and the Iconoscope is disputed; certainly there are remarkable parallels).

Broadcast television

United States

The first regularly scheduled television service in the United States began on July 2, 1928. The Federal Radio Commission authorized C.F. Jenkins to broadcast from experimental station W3XK in a suburb of Washington, D.C. But for at least the first eighteen months, only silhouette images from motion picture film were broadcast.

Hugo Gernsback's New York City radio station WRNY began a regular, if limited, schedule of live television broadcasts on August 14, 1928, using 48-line images. Simultaneously, Gernsback 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.

CBS's New York City station W2XAB began broadcasting the first regular seven days a week television schedule in the United States 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 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 not commercial licenses, hampering television's economic development. Just as importantly, Philo Farnsworth's 1934 demonstration of an all-electronic system pointed the direction of television's future.

On June 15, 1936, Don Lee Broadcasting began a month-long demonstration of high definition (240+ line) television in Los Angeles on W6XAO (later KTSL) with a 300-line image scanned from motion picture film. By October, W6XAO was making daily television broadcasts of films. RCA 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. NBC began regularly scheduled broadcasts in New York in April 1939. 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 General Electric 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 away from the transmitter, which was located atop the Empire State Building.

The FCC adopted NTSC television engineering standards on May 2, 1941, calling for 525 lines, 30 frames. 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 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many of these stations continued to broadcast a schedule of a few hours per week during World War II. 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 as well as radios was suspended in March 1942 (Dunlap).

A rather racy advertisement for Dumont Television from 1946

The post-World War II era was a time of tremendous growth in broadcasting. DuMont Television Laboratories, an early television manufacturer, launched the DuMont Network, a the world's first commercial television network, in the United States in 1946.[1] Despite no history of radio programming to draw on and perennial cash shortages, DuMont was an innovative and creative network.[2] Without the radio revenues that supported mighty NBC and CBS, DuMont programmers had to rely on their wits and on connections in Broadway to provide original programs still remembered fifty-plus years later.[3]

A 1951 DuMont console television.
Used with permission from tvhistory.tv.

The network also largely ignored the standard business model of 1950s television, in which one advertiser sponsored an entire show, enabling it to have complete control over its content. Instead, DuMont sold commercials to many different advertisers, freeing producers of its shows from the veto power held by sole sponsors. This eventually became the standard model for U.S. television. Despite its innovations, the Dumont Network was hindered by the prohibitive cost of broadcasting, by Federal Communications Commission regulations which restricted the company's growth, and even by the company's partner, Paramount Pictures. Despite several innovations in broadcasting and the creation of one of television's biggest stars of the 1950s, the network never found itself on solid financial ground. Forced to expand on UHF channels during an era when UHF was not profitable, DuMont ceased broadcasting in 1956.


Electromechanical broadcasts began in Germany in 1929, but were without sound until 1934. The technology was initially developed by Fernseh AG, an affiliate of Baird's, but the business was nationalized in 1935 and placed under the control of Hermann Goering, the Nazi minister of propaganda. Network electronic service started on March 22, 1935, on 180 lines using only telecine transmission of film or an intermediate film system. Live transmissions began on January 15, 1936. The Berlin Summer Olympic Games were televised, using both direct television and intermediate film cameras, to 27 television parlors ((Fernsehstuben) in Berlin and Hamburg in August 1936. The Germans employed a 441-line system on the air in 1936, broadcasting from Television Station Paul Nipkow, and during World War II brought it to France, where they broadcast from the Eiffel Tower.

Great Britain

Television rehearsal at Alexandra Palace, 1936. Used with permission from tvhistory.tv

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. On August 22, 1932, BBC launched its own regular service using Baird's 30-line electromechanical system, continuing until September 11, 1935. Considerable evidence survives from this era, including amateur off-air recordings, which shows that, within the limits of the 30-line image, a wide variety of programming was broadcast, including both live entertainment and films.

On November 2, 1936 the BBC began broadcasting a dual-system service, alternating on a weekly basis 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 world's first regular high-definition television service. The first broadcasts included announcers, a live orchestra conducted by Hyam Greenbaum, and variety acts ranging from a horse who could count to Harlem stage veterans Buck and Bubbles. Films were also shown, some for the first time, among them Paul Rotha's documentary "Cover to Cover," which showed how books were manufactured and featured guests such as Rebecca West and T.S. Eliot. The corporation eventually decided that Marconi-EMI's electronic picture 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 pubs might have had as many as 100 viewers for sport events. The outbreak of the Second World War caused the BBC service to be suspended on September 1, 1939, resuming from Alexandra Palace on June 7, 1946.

Soviet Union

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.

Later development

The first regular television transmissions in Canada began in 1952 when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) put two stations on the air, CBMT in Montreal, Quebec, on September 6, and CBLT in Toronto, Ontario, two days later.

The first live transcontinental television broadcast took place in San Francisco, California from the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference on September 4, 1951. 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.

Programming is broadcast on television stations (sometimes called channels). At first, terrestrial broadcasting was the only way television could be distributed. Because bandwidth was limited, government regulation was normal. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission in 1941 allowed stations to broadcast advertisements, but insisted on public service programming commitments as a requirement for a license. By contrast, the United Kingdom chose a different route, imposing a television licence fee on owners of television reception equipment, to fund the BBC, which had public service as part of its Royal Charter. Development of cable and satellite means of distribution in the 1970s pushed businessmen to target channels towards a certain audience, and enabled the rise of subscription-based television channels, such as HBO and Sky. Practically every country in the world now has developed at least one television channel. Television has grown up all over the world, enabling every country to share aspects of their culture and society with others.

By the late 1980s, 98% of all homes in the U.S. had at least one TV set. On average, Americans watch four hours of television per day. An estimated two-thirds of Americans got most of their news about the world from TV, and nearly half got all of their news from TV. These figures are now estimated to be significantly higher.

Color television

Most television researchers appreciated the value of color image transmission, with an early patent application in Russia in 1889 for a mechanically-scanned color system showing how early the importance of color was realized. John Logie Baird demonstrated the world's first color transmission on July 3, 1928, using scanning discs at the transmitting and receiving ends with three spirals of apertures, each spiral with filters of a different primary color; and three light sources at the receiving end, with a commutator to alternate their illumination.

Color television in North America

Color television in the United States had a protracted history due to conflicting technical systems vying for approval by the Federal Communications Commission for commercial use. Mechanically scanned color television was demonstrated by Bell Laboratories in June 1929 using three complete systems of photoelectric cells, amplifiers, glow-tubes, and color filters, with a series of mirrors to superimpose the red, green, and blue images into one full color image.

In the electronically scanned era, the first color television demonstration was on February 5, 1940, when RCA privately showed to members of the FCC at the RCA plant in Camden, New Jersey, a television receiver producing images in color by a field sequential color system. CBS began non-broadcast color experiments using film as early as August 28, 1940, and live cameras by November 12. The CBS "field sequential" color system was partly mechanical, with a disc made of red, blue, and green filters spinning inside the television camera at 1,200 rpm, and a similar disc spinning in synchronization in front of the cathode ray tube inside the receiver set. RCA's later "dot sequential" color system had no moving parts, using a series of dichroic mirrors to separate and direct red, green, and blue light from the subject through three separate lenses into three scanning tubes, and electronic switching that allowed the tubes to send their signals in rotation, dot by dot. These signals were sorted by a second switching device in the receiver set and sent to red, green, and blue picture tubes, and combined by a second set of dichroic mirrors into a full color image.

CBS Columbia Color TV Receiver, circa 1951. Used by permission from tvhistory.tv

The first field test (i.e., broadcast) of color television was by NBC (owned by RCA) on February 20, 1941. CBS began daily color field tests on June 1, 1941. These color systems were not compatible with existing black and white television sets, and as no color television sets were available to the public at this time, viewership of the color field tests was limited to RCA and CBS engineers and the invited press. The War Production Board halted the manufacture of television and radio equipment for civilian use from April 1, 1942 to October 1, 1945, limiting any opportunity to introduce color television to the general public.

The post-war development of color television was dominated by three systems competing for approval by the FCC as the U.S. color broadcasting standard: CBS's field sequential system, which was incompatible with existing black and white sets without an adaptor; RCA's dot sequential system, which in 1949 became compatible with existing black and white sets; and CTI's system (also incompatible with existing black and white sets), which used three camera lenses, behind which were color filters that produced red, green, and blue images side by side on a single scanning tube, and a receiver set that used lenses in front of the picture tube (which had sectors treated with different phosphorescent compounds to glow in red, green, or blue) to project these three side by side images into one combined picture on the viewing screen.

After a series of hearings beginning in September 1949, the FCC found the RCA and CTI systems fraught with technical problems, inaccurate color reproduction, and expensive equipment, and so formally approved the CBS system as the U.S. color broadcasting standard on October 11, 1950. An unsuccessful lawsuit by RCA delayed the world's first network color broadcast until June 25, 1951, when a musical variety special titled simply Premiere was shown over a network of five east coast CBS affiliates. Viewership was again extremely limited: the program could not be seen on black and white sets, and Variety estimated that only thirty prototype color receivers were available in the New York area. Regular color broadcasts began that same week with the daytime series The World Is Yours and Modern Homemakers.

While the CBS color broadcasting schedule gradually expanded to twelve hours per week (but never into prime time), and the color network expanded to eleven affiliates as far west as Chicago, its commercial success was doomed by the lack of color receivers necessary to watch the programs, the refusal of television manufacturers to create adaptor mechanisms for their existing black and white sets, and the unwillingness of advertisers to sponsor broadcasts seen by almost no one. In desperation, CBS bought a television manufacturer, and on September 20, 1951, production began on the first and only CBS color television model. But it was too little, too late. Only 200 sets had been shipped, and only 100 sold, when CBS pulled the plug on its color television system on October 20, 1951, and bought back all the CBS color sets it could to prevent law suits by disappointed customers.

Starting before CBS color even got on the air, the U.S. television industry, represented by the National Television System Committee, worked in 1950-1953 to develop a color system that was compatible with existing black and white sets and would pass FCC quality standards, with RCA developing the hardware elements. When CBS testified before Congress in March 1953 that it had no further plans for its own color system, the path was open for the NTSC to submit its petition for FCC approval in July 1953, which was granted in December. The first publicly announced experimental TV broadcast of a program using the NTSC-RCA "compatible color" system was an episode of NBC's Kukla, Fran and Ollie on August 30, 1953.

NBC made the first coast-to-coast color broadcast when it covered the Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1 1954, with public demonstrations given across the United States on prototype color receivers. A few days later Admiral brought out the first commercially made color television set using the RCA standards, followed in March by RCA's own model. Television's first prime time network color series was The Marriage, a situation comedy broadcast live by NBC in the summer of 1954. NBC's anthology series Ford Theatre became the first color filmed series that October.

NBC was naturally at the forefront of color programming because its parent company RCA manufactured the most successful line of color sets in the 1950s, and by 1959 RCA was the only remaining major manufacturer of color sets. CBS and ABC, which were not affiliated with set manufacturers, and were not eager to promote their competitor's product, dragged their feet into color, with ABC delaying its first color series (The Flintstones and The Jetsons) until 1962. The DuMont network, although it did have a television-manufacturing parent company, was in financial decline by 1954 and was dissolved two years later. Thus the relatively small amount of network color programming, combined with the high cost of color television sets, meant that as late as 1964 only 3.1 percent of television households in the U.S. had a color set. NBC provided the catalyst for rapid color expansion by announcing that its prime time schedule for fall 1965 would be almost entirely in color (the exception being I Dream of Jeannie). All three broadcast networks were airing full color prime time schedules by the 1966–67 broadcast season.[4] But the number of color television sets sold in the U.S. did not exceed black and white sales until 1972, which was also the first year that more than fifty percent of television households in the U.S. had a color set.

Cuba in 1958 became the second country in the world to introduce color television broadcasting, with Havana's Channel 12 using the NTSC standard and RCA equipment. But the color transmissions ended when broadcasting stations were seized in the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and did not return until 1975, using equipment acquired from Japan's NEC Corporation, and SECAM equipment from the Soviet Union, adapted for the NTSC standard.

In Mexico, Guillermo González Camarena (1917–1965), invented an early color television transmission system. He received patents for color television systems in 1942 (U.S. Patent 2,296,019), 1960 and 1962. The 1942 patent (filed in Mexico on August 19, 1940) was for a mechanically scanned color filter adapter for monochrome television, similar to field sequential color systems already employed at the time by RCA and CBS in the United States.

In August 31, 1946 González Camarena sent his first color transmission from his lab in the offices of The Mexican League of Radio Experiments in Lucerna St. #1, in Mexico City. The video signal was transmitted at a frequency of 115 MHz. and the audio in the 40 metre band. He obtained authorization to make the first publicly announced color broadcast in Mexico, on February 8, 1963, of the program Paraíso Infantil on Mexico City's Canal 5.

Color television became available in Canada soon after regular color broadcasting began in the neighbouring United States. Canadian stations began their own color broadcasts in 1966.

European color television

European color television was developed somewhat later and was hindered by a continuing division on technical standards. Having decided to adopt a higher-definition 625-line system for monochrome transmissions, with a lower frame rate but with a higher overall bandwidth, Europeans could not directly adopt the U.S. color standard, which was widely perceived as inadequate anyway, because of its tint control problems. There was also less urgency, since there were fewer commercial motivations, European television broadcasters being predominantly state-owned at the time.

As a consequence, although work on various color encoding systems started already in the 1950s, with the first SECAM patent being registered in 1956, many years had passed when the first broadcasts actually started in 1967. Unsatisfied with the performance of NTSC and of initial SECAM implementations, the Germans unveiled PAL (phase alternating line) in 1963, staying closer to NTSC but borrowing some ideas from SECAM. An important advantage of PAL was the automatic color correction which partially relied on the imperfections of the human eye. The French continued with SECAM, notably involving Russians in the development.

The first regular color broadcasts in Europe were by BBC2 beginning on July 1, 1967, using PAL. Germany did their first broadcast in September (PAL), while the French in October (SECAM). PAL was eventually adopted by West Germany (1967), the UK (1967) and most Western European countries except France.

In addition to France and Luxembourg, SECAM was adopted by Soviet Union, much of Eastern Europe, much of Africa and of the Middle East. Both systems broadcast on UHF frequencies, the VHF being used for legacy black and white, 405 lines in UK or 819 lines in France, till the beginning of the eighties.

It should be noted that some British television programmes, particularly those made by or for ITC Entertainment, were made in color before the introduction of color television to the UK, for the purpose of sales to US networks. The first British show to be made in color was the drama series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956-57), which was initially made in black and white but later shot in color for sale to the NBC network in the United States.

Global television standards

In Japan, NHK introduced color television, using a variation of the NTSC system (called NTSC-J), on September 10, 1960. However, other countries in the region did not follow suit until much later, and instead used the PAL system, such as New Zealand (1973), Singapore (1974), and Australia (1975), with India not introducing it until 1984. South Korea did not introduce color (using NTSC) until 1980, although it was already manufacturing color television sets for export.

The first color television service in Africa was introduced on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, in 1973, using PAL. At the time, South Africa did not have a television service at all, owing to opposition from the apartheid regime, but in 1976, one was finally launched. Nigeria adopted PAL for color transmissions in the mid-1970s, but countries such as Ghana and Zimbabwe continued with black and white until the late 1980s.

In the early 1970s, Brazil became the first South American country to receive color TV, using a specially-modified version of PAL called PAL-M, combining both NTSC and PAL, which was different from most other countries in the Americas, which had been sticking with NTSC. Its first transmission was in February 19, 1972.

Television sets

A Baird "Model C" receiver from 1928; only a few dozen were ever made.
Photo courtesy of tvhistory.tv.

In television's electromechanical era, commercially made television sets were sold from 1928 to 1934 in the United Kingdom, United States, and Russia. The earliest commercially made sets sold by Baird in the U.K. and the U.S. 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 an orange 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 Jenkins Radiovisor Model 202 of 1929 was hand-built, and contained a motor-driver mirror drum employing quartz rods.

The first commercially made electronic television sets with cathode ray tubes were manufactured by Telefunken in Germany in 1934, followed by other makers in Britain (1936) and America (1938). The cheapest of the pre-War World II factory-made American sets, a 1938 image-only model with a 3-inch (8 cm) screen, cost US$125, the equivalent of US$1,732 in 2005. The cheapest model with a 12-inch (30 cm) screen was $445 ($6,256). Even these expensive sets usually had quite a small screen by modern standards; their picture tubes were often mounted vertically, with a cabinet-top mirror designed to reflect the image to the viewer. The sets had to have multiple electronic components, as they had to be able to receive images on several different bandwidths and with different standards for scanning lines, refresh rates, and aspect ratios.

1959-60 Philco Predicta Model UG-3410 "Princess", featuring a swivel screen.
Used with permission from tvhistory.tv.

An estimated 19,000 electronic television sets were manufactured in Britain, and about 1,600 in Germany prior to 1940. About 7,000-8,000 electronic sets were made in the U.S. before the War Production Board halted manufacture in April 1942, which resumed in October 1945.

After World War II, with national broadcast standards in place such as NTSC and PAL, the sets' electronic components could also be standardized, though quality varied widely. Their picture tubes, initially as small as pre-war sets, soon grew to enormous size, with companies vying with one another for the largest sets. Consumer interest was spurred by a rapid growth in television stations and the length and variety of programming offered. 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. 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 four times the resolution of the British 405-line system. Eventually the whole of Europe switched to the 625-line PAL standard, once more following Germany's example. Meanwhile in North America the original NTSC 525-line standard from 1941 was retained.

Television inventors/pioneers

Television museums

See also


  1. Bergmann, Ted; Skutch, Ira (2002). The DuMont Television Network: What Happened?, pp. 17-18. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4270-X.
  2. Auter, P. (2005)DuMont, Allen B. The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved on December 28, 2006.
  3. Weinstein, D. The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television. Temple University Press. Retrieved on December 28, 2006.
  4. While at least one show, CBS' The Lucy Show, did not broadcast its episodes in color until the start of the 1965-66 broadcast season, that show's producers began filming in color in 1963, with the thought that they would command more money when sold into syndication.