Imagine being 100 years old today. You would have seen a lot in your life. Among the many, many different miracles, you would have seen the rise of television, all in your lifetime. Work on television broadcasting started in the 1920s, although few people were aware of it.
That’s Vladimir Zworykin demonstrating a very early television in the 1920s. The screen is that circular thing you can see in the middle.
Television before World War II
The biggest, splashiest demonstration of television took place in 1939 as part of the World’s Fair held in Queens, NY. People had been using radio for a generation by that time and were primed to get pictures with their sounds.
Television development was highly subsidized by the US Government. They used development of TV technology to hide their research on radar, which was a critical military asset. The same TV screen which showed pictures at the fair could also be used to show soldiers the location of planes.
By the time the war ended, the world was ready for television. It evolved rapidly throughout the next decade, and by 1955 television was everywhere. From there is was just a matter of refining the technology
Milestones in the evolution of television
Color came to television in 1954, but it wasn’t common until 1965, when all three major networks broadcast their fall schedules in color.
Television saw a few improvements after that. The Trinitron picture tube vastly decreased the amount of distortion in the image. The first wireless remote was released in 1956, but that technology didn’t get popular until the 1970s. The 1970s also saw the requirement for closed captioning, while the 1980s brought stereo and MTS (multichannel television sound) which allowed for audio tracks in other languages.
The 1990s saw cable-ready TVs and, toward the end of the decade, the first flat TVs.
The biggest change in television technology happened in the mid-2000s as the United States moved to a digital broadcasting model. This move was intended to allow for high-definition programs using the same broadcast channels then in use. It also spurred a massive move toward flat TVs as consumers upgraded their technology to make sure they didn’t lose broadcasts
Digital television continues to evolve, with the next generation of TV broadcasts coming sometime in the next decade. This next step will enable on-demand programming and 4K.
Pictures speak louder than words
If you want to learn more and prefer a more… audiovisual … approach, here’s a video which shows you even more detail. I didn’t make it so I don’t have any responsibility for the robot voice. Even with that voice, though, it’s pretty good.