Guest post: From Black and White to Digital


The modern television is the product of many decades of innovations contributed by a plethora of engineers.

In 1884 a German student named Paul Nipkow patented the first television system, and although a working model was never produced it included technology that would remain a standard in the industry for over half a century. It would be another twenty three years from the point Nipkow patented his design until technology had advanced sufficiently to render the design practical.
On 25th March 1925 John Logie Baird publicly repeated his experiment, a live transmission of a ventriloquist’s dummy, to an audience of Royal Institution members and a reporter from The Times. This was the first ever demonstration of televised images in motion. Baird’s design used a spinning disk with a double spiral of lenses, it produced a resolution of around 30 lines, compared to the several hundred line resolution of a modern television. Even though the produced image was not crystal clear it was recognisable as a human face.

Even though the sophistication of electromechanical systems continued to evolve up until the end of World War II the electronic television, which had been in development since 1908, was about to surpass the technical limitations of the older designs. The new designs used on the cathode ray tube (CRT), a device that emits a stream of electrons towards the screen which cause pixels to become bright and through an intricate manipulation of this create a picture which could produce a much faster frame rate and a much higher resolution.

Until the post-war period all broadcasts had transmitted in black and white, but during the 1940s and 1950s technology rapidly evolved with colour broadcasting being adopted in North America by 1966 and Europe by 1967. With colour pictures came a steady stream of broadcasters, early television stations include the BBC in the United Kingdom, CBC in Canada and CBS in the United States.

Production of commercially made electronic television sets, which had been halted during the war period, resumed in 1945 and the world experienced a proliferation of the televisual media. Until the 1970s televisions used exclusively CRT technology but from this point on solid state electronics, such as LCD and TFT began to achieve commercial viability and gradually displaced the bulky vacuum tube designs.

Until the latter part of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st all broadcasting had used analogue signals, during this time states made concerted efforts to move to digital only broadcasting with the US ending analogue broadcast television on 12th June 2009 and the UK due to stop non-digital signals in October 2012.