TV History 8: High Definition Television

 

Ask any critic: We’re living in the era of Peak TV, when major cable and streaming projects have become as important and glamorous in our world as theatrical films are, sometimes even more so. Television’s been an important part of our lives for seventy years, but other than for live events, it’s always been the (relatively) family-friendly, 21 inch-wide, generally low prestige cousin of the movies. That all changed in this century, and this post will claim it’s partly due to a non-artistic advance that’s supposedly “merely” technical, as if anything is “merely” technical: The stunning quality, size, and affordability of today’s high definition home screen.

The traditional movie theater is increasingly reserved for spectacle; your living room flatscreen is now your movie screen, just as your laptop or tablet has become your kitchen table TV, and your mobile phone became your daily, carry around computer message center. Just considering sheer cultural impact, “The Sopranos”, became “The Godfather” of our era, and “Game of Thrones” has been “The Lord of the Rings” of the past decade. It’s hard to recall how recent this all is. Even a quarter century ago, you’d have to have been a Hollywood millionaire with a 35mm home theater to see a picture anywhere nearly this good in your living room. Now you only need $500, and 55 inches (diagonal) of wall space. The story of how video reached film quality, and is now approaching the limits of human eyesight, involves enterprise, decades of backdoor deals, art, science, the politics of the Sixties through the Eighties, and a high money stakes engineering fight with Japan; which we won. Here’s how it happened.

The first working televisions of the 1920s had a vertical screen shape, or aspect ratio, chosen to match the human face. The pink-and-black picture was the size of a business card, made up of 60 thin vertical lines side by side. Like steam automobiles, this was only a brief pioneering phase of a new business. It was quickly superseded by a much more successful TV technology, cathode ray picture tubes, big flat-bottomed vacuum bottles on their sides. Picture quality and detail improved rapidly throughout the Thirties, putting home television within reach of being practical. Tests of eyesight and visual detail showed that the up-and-down resolution of horizontal lines were more important to sharpness than the side-to-side scan, which could vary in quality.

By 1941, a set of Depression-era business, technical and New Deal political compromises worked out the technical “Bible” of American television. How good were those rules? They would remain set in stone (sort of) for the next 60-plus years, here as well as in Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and after the war, Japan. It was an enduring standard for a reason: It was a decent, not perfect, compromise between picture quality people would accept, and TV they could afford.

If we had really wanted even sharper pictures, we could have done it. In the Fifties, France had 819 line TV, the sharpest black and white ever broadcast, because their PBS-like cultural content lent itself to it, even at higher expense to every set owner.

But why? The engineering of cathode ray picture tubes effectively limited their maximum size to roughly 30 inches. Anything much beyond that width that was stretching it considerably, with the lo-o-o-ng neck of the tube requiring a TV set that would have been roughly four feet deep. If you can’t make a really big picture practical, normal living room seating distances made a less detailed picture more than acceptable.

From 1951 on, American TVs were usually 21 to 27 inches, measured diagonally. This varied remarkably little through the next half century. TV became color, and started broadcasting in stereo sound. Sony Trinitron and Panasonic replaced RCA and Philco in the nation’s color TV buying habits. But right up through the end of the 20th century, “TV” usually meant a big square box, with a 525 line picture the shape and roughly the size it had been in the “Leave it to Beaver” era. You don’t have to be very old to remember the rounded-off, slightly oval rectangular logo that meant TV in every language in the world.

Europe entered the Fifties with a jumble of TV standards, some of which were easily convertible, and some weren’t. By the beginning of the Sixties, everyone from the British to the Sicilians made plans to move to 625 line picture detail continent-wide, phasing out all of the old national TV systems. This would be Europe’s enduring standard for the rest of the century, and any American traveling abroad has to admit we were impressed with the beauty and proto-HD-like sharpness of European hotel TVs, even in Communist countries. For a long time that high picture quality forestalled much European interest in improving it further.

As elsewhere, in America there were some unusual uses of television that pushed its limits. For decades before there was pay-per-view, there was theater television. As a union projectionist, I saw some of the technology of the waning era of boxing matches (“The Thrilla From Manila! No Home TV!”) and other special events (“Minister Louis Farrakhan Speaks Live Via Satellite!”) shown with specially leased and temporarily installed TV projection equipment. On a big movie screen, the image was usually dim and ghostly, resembling live broadcasts from the Moon. Old projectionists said that the fighters wore contrasting black and white trunks because otherwise nobody could tell who was who.

Projection TV was possible in the home from the beginning, but it didn’t catch on because it didn’t work very well under normal room lighting. Then in the early Seventies Advent, a stereophonic sound manufacturer, surprised the industry by having a cult hit with its big screen home theater system, a video projector precisely lined up with a curved, highly reflective screen whose image was still bright in moderate lighting. It became a status symbol of the wealthy, seen in movies like “Semi-Tough” (1977) and “Superman” (1978). Front projection had a niche market with early adopters and the well-to-do for a generation.

Bars took notice. After all, they were the original hosts and introducers of American television to the masses. They’d featured live sports from 1939 on. But the phrase “Sports bars” describes a jump forward, made possible in the late Seventies and turn of the Eighties by a combination of adapting this new home video projection technology with another development whose commercialization time had come, satellite TV. The rooftop dishes were big by today’s standards, four to six feet. Front projection still required some dimming of the room lights, but in bars that was seldom a problem.

There were press reports in the early Eighties that the Japanese had solved the problem of providing a vastly superior television picture and were ready to unveil the solution. These reports were substantially correct. Known but to a few, Sony Corporation videotaped some of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in HDTV, although it could not then be broadcast or viewed anywhere. It was for posterity’s sake, a mark of pride: here’s the proof that we got here first. Sony, and Japan’s national broadcaster NHK, the counterpart to the BBC, had a complete working system built around a next generation high definition image, 1125 lines high. You couldn’t even see the TV scan lines in the picture anymore; it was so clear and sharp it was like looking out a widescreen window. In 1987, the American Film Institute hosted the first domestic screenings of the revolutionary new technology, introducing it to Hollywood. Sony returned the favor with a multimillion-dollar gift and a new building for AFI.

Sony’s Hi-Vision was incompatible with existing television and would require a complete replacement of every single transmitter, receiver, and recorder all over the world. As you might imagine, that prospect did not faze Sony one little bit. Promoting this system was a major reason why Sony bought Columbia and TriStar Pictures and became a force in Hollywood. American and European electronics manufacturers belatedly came up with other solutions, but most of the U.S. media industry quietly prepared to adopt Sony Hi-Vision as the nation’s sole television system. By the late Eighties, America was convinced that Japan could win just about any technical battle it chose to. But there were some snags.

The HDTV cameras worked, the HDTV sets worked, but Sony’s impressive demonstrations ignored one stubborn problem: Bandwidth, the vast amount of room that their Hi-Vision channels took up in the radio spectrum. The challenge was comparable to having to retrofit the entire Interstate Highway system to be 28 lanes wide. In Japan, NHK and Sony had a unique solution: HDTV would be delivered via satellite or cable, not interfering with conventional broadcasting. But America didn’t go for that. We didn’t want a gold-plated system that only 3% of the country could afford to watch.

The FCC hosted a bake-off of high definition TV systems, a series of objective, side by side viewing tests. The winner had appeared out of nowhere: a wholly digital proposal by a mid-sized San Diego laboratory, General Instruments, not any of the electronics or media giants. This was, as you’d expect, a colossal shock and a comedown for Sony, who’d invested billions in a successful attempt to get the world thinking about HDTV. Sony’s analog Hi-Vision had terrific pictures, but so did the digital system, with the promise of even better ones.

The main reason for the choice: Digital allowed a radical degree of signal compression, keeping terrestrial broadcasting as an option. You didn’t need those metaphorical 28 lanes of broadcast spectrum to carry this signal; you could carry all 28 lanes and more in the existing space. In fact, you could compress several high definition pictures and a half-dozen “old” definition ones into the space of one existing analog channel. This also allowed auctioning off existing bandwidth, creating immense profits as well as the opportunity to build innumerable new wireless services for the Internet of Things.

There was big money to be made in remaking television, almost as radically as Hollywood remade itself when sound came in. The home electronics industry loves new developments attractive enough to tempt consumers into scrapping perfectly workable equipment—vinyl records, black and white TV, open reel tape, VHS, wireline phones, fax machines, modems—and now, all of existing TV, as the end of the 20th century loomed. Surely, they thought, the public will jump at this as soon as they see the pictures. It would take ten years (1998-2008), though, not much different than the sluggish adoption of color television (1954-1965).

Sharper pictures, a workable way to distribute them, and a national analog-to-digital transition that would make buckets of money for all sides. Now there was just one bottleneck remaining on the road to high def in your living room: waiting for the flatscreen. The picture display of the early HDTV sets was a heavy picture tube, not all that much larger than the end-of-old-TV sets of the Nineties, or at best it was a monstrously large rear projection TV set, about the size of a player piano.

Any electronics-minded boy of the Sixties read endless predictions about future TV sets you could hang on a wall. Science fiction, like “Fahrenheit 451” often refers to it. But there was no practical way to actually do it until plasma sets came along, about twenty years ago. They were immensely expensive, were only 40 inches at first, and it took time for them to come up to HDTV levels of detail. But once they did, there was no looking back. Plasma paved the way for the cheaper LCD and LED technologies of today. There are still some older TVs in use with inexpensive digital converter boxes; in fact, I have a few. But effectively, the high definition television revolution is over.

Seeing reruns of comedies and other taped programs from even the most recent years of low def look a little strange to us now, with their boxy shape and crude “TV look”. We no longer remember how Jetson-y the new HD sets looked when we first encountered them. Soon it’ll be hard for our kids and grandkids to imagine anything else.

One crucial side benefit to digital high definition television: virtually the same technology, at least on the camera and editing side, became the basis for the standard for theatrical motion pictures as well, unifying two separate-but-equal branches of the moving image for the first time. The same camera, using different settings and accessories, could “film” (yes, we are still in habit of using the word) a feature film, a documentary, or a TV show.

The movie studios desperately wanted to get out from under their lifetime bondage to Eastman Kodak, but movie theaters were a trickier problem for digital conversion. They couldn’t use big flat screens; the screens still aren’t nearly big enough. At last, projection TV technology advanced greatly since the ancient days when I used an Eidophor, a bottle full of a shimmering, micron-thick layer of tinctured mercury floating on liquid, scanned by intense electron beams, sitting on top of a souped-up version of a classroom’s opaque projector. One of the most widely used theater projection systems uses a digital reflector with hundreds of thousands of microscopic mirrors that move many thousands of times per second. It also uses a spinning color wheel, straight out of the abandoned and forgotten color TV system that once had a legal monopoly in the United States. Not everything old is new again, but a few things are, from time to time.

 

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  1. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Wow – Great article Gary!

    • #1
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Many thanks, Tigerlily! I turn ’em out because Ricochet has readers like you!

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Sony zigged when  it should have zagged. In retrospect, it was  pretty  apparent that they were never going to get their analog system to fly.

    • #3
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    If real estate is location, location, location then modern communications is spectrum, spectrum, spectrum. 

    We lived and died by channel allocation, tight engineering and the station identification. The latter was important because analog broadcasting is prone to interference. Broadcasters learned the hard way in the earliest days of radio that atmospherics and conflicts in international frequency allocation and transmitter power could turn their investment into dust. If someone was stepping on your signal you had to know exactly who was doing it.

    In 1938 the countries of the USA, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti gathered in Convention in Havana to straighten things out. On March 29, 1941 over a thousand stations changed frequencies and power allocation.

    Despite what they thought they knew about broadcasting, the FCC found themselves in the same boat with television. Early interference problems forced a freeze in construction permits in September of 1948. With the usual government hubris it was announced that this would only last six months. By the time they were finished it was 3 years and 7 months later.

    The rules were simple: Aural and visual identification at the top of each hour with call letters, channel number and city of license. (“This is WNBK, Channel 3 in Cleveland!) At sign-on and sign-off you had to give ownership information, studio address, full frequency and power numbers, transmitter location and antenna height. As stations went 24 hours a day this was reduced to a one-time reading at 4am.

    Now, in digi-land, this means absolutely nothing. Channel numbers don’t even correspond to any particular frequency. The aforementioned Channel 3 in Cleveland (now WKYC) operates on UHF Channel 17, and with the coming frequency “repack” will soon move to Channel 19. And the station that calls itself “Channel 19” actually broadcasts on VHF Channel 10.

    Virtual numbers were a trade off between the FCC and the broadcasters in the transition from analog to digital. Station owners were loathe to abandon channel numbers they had spent close to 60 years in building a brand in their communities with.

    These days some stations don’t even exist. Because of these virtual channel numbers, some longtime broadcasters are now just piggybacking on another station’s frequency as a full HD sub channel, but retaining their call letters and the old analog channel number. 

    And the “repack” I mentioned? That’s a plan by the FCC to pay broadcasters to either go away, piggyback or move frequency in order to auction that spectrum to cell phone companies. So far, 175 stations have taken $10B taxpayer dollars to accommodate cellphones. (41 went off the air, 30 went from UHF to VHF and 104 stations negotiated deals with their competitors to piggyback.)

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Percival (View Comment):

    Sony zigged when it should have zagged. In retrospect, it was pretty apparent that they were never going to get their analog system to fly.

    There are a couple of consumer technologies that (I’d argue) would have been successful if they’d managed to launch a crucial few years earlier.

    –Super 8 sound movies, with low light cameras and “low profile” sound projectors that were styled to look like stereo equipment and blend into modern living room decor. Had a few good years while home video was still even more expensive, but the re-usability of tape and not having to wait to have the image developed was hanging over it.

    –Polavision, Polaroid’s instant movie cartridge system. Same deal as above, even more so. At the time Polaroid, like Xerox and IBM was one of the runaway tech success stories of modern times. If by some unlikely miracle of industrial chemical history they’d been able to launch Polaroid movies in, say, 1968, they’d have built a substantial user base that might not have been too quick to buy video gear that initially was expensive. But like super 8 sound, Polavision finally appeared only briefly before videotape could do the job better and cheaper.

    –Could analog HDTV have won out? Only if Japanese companies had had the influence they’d come to have in the late Eighties, but ten years earlier. Hypothetically, Sony could have sought FCC approval circa 1981 for a Japan-style integrated satellite/cable package, no broadcast frequencies, with direct broadcast satellite to home dish. Instead of some historic videotape of the ’84 Olympics that can no longer be played, Hi-Vision would be remembered for being carried to millions of high definition TV viewers worldwide in 1984.

    • #5
  6. Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power
    @HankRhody

    Gary McVey: One of the most widely used theater projection systems uses a digital reflector with hundreds of thousands of microscopic mirrors that move many thousands of times per second.

    This is about what one of those things looks like under the microscope. The tiles are made of silicon, nothing fancy about ’em. You move ’em around by applying electric charges to the little pillars underneath ’em. Twist it back and forth to either reflect that given pixel or not.

     

    • #6
  7. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    @ejhill‘s comment, carrying a great deal of historical and technical heft, reminds us that bandwidth is precious, as precious to radio spectrum users as water is to desert towns.

    Periodically, developments come along to reduce the pressure of bandwidth hunger. The digital revolution was the most dramatic. Some parts of it that are common abroad are still not implemented here, such as a subset of free over the air local TV channel signals tailored for mobile devices.

    It’s one of those things that only seemed “funny”, or quixotic in retrospect: how come telephones, which people would take anywhere as soon as it was possible, were wired, but television, for half a century a heavy box that didn’t go anywhere, was pampered with generously wide broadcast channels that went everywhere?

    The spectrum shuffle allowed many “Mom and Pop” station operators in smaller markets to cash out handsomely. Efficient, from the capitalist point of view, no, but it’s hard not to empathize with the several hundred or so American Gothic sellers, getting out before the impending collapse of local station advertising.

    • #7
  8. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: One of the most widely used theater projection systems uses a digital reflector with hundreds of thousands of microscopic mirrors that move many thousands of times per second.

    This is about what one of those things looks like under the microscope. The tiles are made of silicon, nothing fancy about ’em. You move ’em around by applying electric charges to the little pillars underneath ’em. Twist it back and forth to either reflect that given pixel or not.

     

    This is one of those weird intersections where microelectronics meets big time show business at the local mall, running “Endgame”, each screen with more silicon power at its command than the Pentagon’s main computers had at the height of the Vietnam war. 

    • #8
  9. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: One of the most widely used theater projection systems uses a digital reflector with hundreds of thousands of microscopic mirrors that move many thousands of times per second.

    This is about what one of those things looks like under the microscope. The tiles are made of silicon, nothing fancy about ’em. You move ’em around by applying electric charges to the little pillars underneath ’em. Twist it back and forth to either reflect that given pixel or not.

     

    I bought a 720p rear-projection set soon after we moved into our house in 2005. When it shattered its third color wheel before I had paid it off, I ate the loss, put it out on the curb, and bought a 1080p LCD flatscreen that I just replaces a month ago because its HDMI ports finally blew their capacitors.

    Neat technology, but too fragile for home use in my opinion.

    I know 4K is the “next big thing”, but it’s just not as compelling as the jump from analog to 1080p.

    • #9
  10. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    and bought a 1080p LCD flatscreen that I just replaces a month ago because its HDMI ports finally blew their capacitors.

    That sounds strange to me. Can you elaborate?

    • #10
  11. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    dnewlander (View Comment):
    and bought a 1080p LCD flatscreen that I just replaces a month ago because its HDMI ports finally blew their capacitors.

    That sounds strange to me. Can you elaborate?

    They use a single capacitor on each HDMI port to level out the voltage levels, and when you unplug and plug live signals in over a decade as my kids do, switching between video game consoles, eventually the cheap Chinese capacitors blow, rendering the port unusable. I don’t care to open the thing up and solder new capacitors, so I gave it to my son. If he wants a TV, he can make it work.

    • #11
  12. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I play ping pong with a former Sony executive. We may have won the engineering battle with Japan but we lost the war. Not a single TV is manufactured in the US. Ironically not many in Japan either.

    • #12
  13. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Marshall McLuhan asserted, back in the 1960s, that the low-definition nature of a TV image made it psychologically very different from the high-definition image of movies…and that the TV image was ‘cool’ whereas the movie image was ‘hot’.  JFK was able to defeat Nixon, in part (according to McLuhan), because his personality better fit the ‘cool’ nature of television.

    To the extent there is any truth in this, it would change with HDTV.  Although the movie experience is still different because it is a *group* experience.

    • #13
  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Netfix and other streaming services now dominate bandwidth usage. Not only are more consumers dropping or supplementing cable and satellite TV services with online streaming, but picture quality — and so content file sizes — continue to increase.

    We had just gotten used to 1080p (HD) when content producers and TV manufacturers upgraded to 4K (UHD). No sooner did 4K TVs become common than 8K arrived.

    Then there is color gradient expansion. Among 4K televisions offering High Dynamic Range (HDR) pictures, there remain great differences in color range and spectrum focus. The human eye can detect more shades of green than any other color, yet that part of the visual spectrum is the least represented by many TVs.

    I wonder for how long Internet bandwidth will keep up with ever escalating demands of TV content.

    And don’t forget video games, which are now a larger industry than films. Game resolutions and file sizes are increasing. A growing portion of sales are discless, relying totally on downloads.

    The next few years will see the advent of game streaming. Google has already announced its Stadia service. Microsoft is expected to announce its own game streaming service at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) next week. Amazon and others will likely join the mix soon.

    Incidentally, console rivals Microsoft and Sony announced a surprise partnership for cloud services, AI, and hardware development. That will probably have TV implications.

    • #14
  15. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    @garymcvey –  Thank you so much for taking the time to write this most fascinating article. Not long ago I was talking to a neighbor’s young child about the days when we  thought a 21″ screen was the cat’s meow and could only change the channel by actually walking over to the tv. She was astounded.

    • #15
  16. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):
    […] and could only change the channel by actually walking over to the tv. 

    It’s amazing everyone didn’t have a trained monkey just for this purpose. A monkey would probably complain less and move quicker than a child. And it could check your children for lice during the show.

    • #16
  17. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Netfix and other streaming services now dominate bandwidth usage. Not only are more consumers dropping or supplementing cable and satellite TV services with online streaming, but picture quality — and so content file sizes — continue to increase.

    We had just gotten used to 1080p (HD) when content producers and TV manufacturers upgraded to 4K (UHD). No sooner did 4K TVs become common than 8K arrived.

    Then there is color gradient expansion. Among 4K televisions offering High Dynamic Range (HDR) pictures, there remain great differences in color range and spectrum focus. The human eye can detect more shades of green than any other color, yet that part of the visual spectrum is the least represented by many TVs.

    I wonder for how long Internet bandwidth will keep up with ever escalating demands of TV content.

    And don’t forget video games, which are now a larger industry than films. Game resolutions and file sizes are increasing. A growing portion of sales are discless, relying totally on downloads.

    The next few years will see the advent of game streaming. Google has already announced its Stadia service. Microsoft is expected to announce its own game streaming service at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) next week. Amazon and others will likely join the mix soon.

    Incidentally, console rivals Microsoft and Sony announced a surprise partnership for cloud services, AI, and hardware development. That will probably have TV implications.

    We’re starting to approach the technical limits of human vision at 8K. As with high fidelity audio, once you hit the theoretical limits of what people can hear, that quest is over. After that, it’s a question of making the screens even larger and cheaper. One development that exists today, but is still too expensive to scale up to big screen size is auto-stereoscopic displays: 3D without glasses.  

    • #17
  18. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I play ping pong with a former Sony executive. We may have won the engineering battle with Japan but we lost the war. Not a single TV is manufactured in the US. Ironically not many in Japan either.

    To be a bit cynical, the US-based consumer electronics companies knew, even back then (1989-93) that whatever standards were adopted, they weren’t going to bring TV set factories back to America. They’d manufacture in Mexico, Korea, Taiwan, anywhere but here. But you’d never have known it from the Pearl Harbor tone of their lobbyists in Washington. 

    • #18
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    @garymcvey – Thank you so much for taking the time to write this most fascinating article. Not long ago I was talking to a neighbor’s young child about the days when we thought a 21″ screen was the cat’s meow and could only change the channel by actually walking over to the tv. She was astounded.

    Goldwaterwoman, thank you for your thoughtful comment! Kids have no idea how few choices there were, that each city had only a handful of TV stations and most of them were off the air overnight. 

    • #19
  20. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    dnewlander (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: One of the most widely used theater projection systems uses a digital reflector with hundreds of thousands of microscopic mirrors that move many thousands of times per second.

    This is about what one of those things looks like under the microscope. The tiles are made of silicon, nothing fancy about ’em. You move ’em around by applying electric charges to the little pillars underneath ’em. Twist it back and forth to either reflect that given pixel or not.

     

    I bought a 720p rear-projection set soon after we moved into our house in 2005. When it shattered its third color wheel before I had paid it off, I ate the loss, put it out on the curb, and bought a 1080p LCD flatscreen that I just replaces a month ago because its HDMI ports finally blew their capacitors.

    Neat technology, but too fragile for home use in my opinion.

    I know 4K is the “next big thing”, but it’s just not as compelling as the jump from analog to 1080p.

    I agree that the leap from analog to HDTV was the big one. Like audio: there was a huge jump in quality from AM to FM stereo radio. I’ve never felt compelled to spend the money on digital radio because I don’t think the difference will be that great. It’s interesting when marketers run into the diminishing willingness to spend; Blu-ray is not a flop, but it was a fizzle. Consumers didn’t rush out and replace their whole Disney collection, and then streaming took the steam out of physical media. 

    • #20
  21. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Marshall McLuhan asserted, back in the 1960s, that the low-definition nature of a TV image made it psychologically very different from the high-definition image of movies…and that the TV image was ‘cool’ whereas the movie image was ‘hot’. JFK was able to defeat Nixon, in part (according to McLuhan), because his personality better fit the ‘cool’ nature of television.

    To the extent there is any truth in this, it would change with HDTV. Although the movie experience is still different because it is a *group* experience.

    This is very astute. I agree that it does change the perception. @jimkearney‘s one of the Ricochetti who knows a lot about McLuhan; I hope he weighs in. 

    One odd sidelight to this is the so-called “Soap Opera Effect”, where very high video frame rates plus motion smoothing software makes feature films look like live TV. The effect is hard for most people to identify, but they feel it. 

    When my wife and I were traveling last year, we had one hotel room with a particularly good HDTV picture. We were watching “Star Wars Part 4: A New Hope”, and agreed that it was weirdly less like watching a film, and more like watching a couple of costumed actors being filmed. It wasn’t the former TV experience of seeing “Star Wars”, but it wasn’t the theatrical experience either. 

    • #21
  22. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    We’re starting to approach the technical limits of human vision at 8K. As with high fidelity audio, once you hit the theoretical limits of what people can hear, that quest is over. After that, it’s a question of making the screens even larger and cheaper. One development that exists today, but is still too expensive to scale up to big screen size is auto-stereoscopic displays: 3D without glasses.

    High framerates and low input lag are significant features for players of “twitch-based” action games like war shooters requiring quick responses. 

    30 FPS (frames per second) seems sufficient for most gamers. But many tech-minded gamers swear 60 FPS is neccesary for competitive gaming. Beyond that, some games offer fixed framerates while others rely on variable framerates to improve image quality in slower moments. 

    I have read conflicting reports about how significant the difference is between 30 FPS and 60 FPS. I generally don’t notice a difference, but some friends swear it affects their experiences. 

    Whatever the standards, I expect there will always be differences between what common consumers are comfortable with and what professional reviewers demand. Producers must worry about both.

    • #22
  23. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Almost 40 years ago, special effects star Doug Trumbull pushed his Showscan process, basically film run at 60 frames per second. It looked remarkable, almost three dimensional when there was movement. As you can imagine, Eastman Kodak loved the idea. (sell two and a half times as much film? Neat! Nifty! Cool!) 

    • #23
  24. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Kids have no idea how few choices there were, that each city had only a handful of TV stations and most of them were off the air overnight. 

    My parents’ first tv was a small black and white inside a large cabinet. We watched the one channel available in our town until it signed off with the national anthem and a test pattern.  

    • #24
  25. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Excellent as usual, Gary.

    • #25
  26. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Keeping up with technology will make You go broke. As soon as You buy the latest and greatest, it’s out of date and obsolete.

    That’s why I’m waiting until They figure out the perfect television and cannot perfect it anymore before I purchase a new one. 

    For now, I’ll just live with My hand Me down ’52 DuMont Console with rabbit ears. Which reminds Me… I need some more tinfoil.

    • #26
  27. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Excellent as usual, Gary.

    Thank you for your kind patronage, Judge. 

    What do other websites offer the non-progressive historian? At best, patronizing kindness. 

    • #27
  28. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    Keeping up with technology will make You go broke. As soon as You buy the latest and greatest, it’s out of date and obsolete.

    That’s why I’m waiting until They figure out the perfect television and cannot perfect it anymore before I purchase a new one.

    For now, I’ll just live with My hand Me down ’52 DuMont Console with rabbit ears. Which reminds Me… I need some more tinfoil.

    We’re keeping the production lines running for you, J!

    • #28
  29. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Excellent as usual, Gary.

    Thank you for your kind patronage, Judge.

    What do other websites offer the non-progressive historian? At best, patronizing kindness.

    You know I’m an unabashed fan.  That’s why it’s tough to zing you in the PIT.  There are standards I have to meet.  Has to be classy.  Maybe throw in a little noir.

    • #29
  30. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    @garymcvey – Thank you so much for taking the time to write this most fascinating article. Not long ago I was talking to a neighbor’s young child about the days when we thought a 21″ screen was the cat’s meow and could only change the channel by actually walking over to the tv. She was astounded.

    In the late 50s and early 60s when I was a kid in Bazille Mills, Nebraska, we could get only one channel: Channel 11 from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. So we were ahead of the times. There was no walking over to the TV to change the channel.  

     

    • #30

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