The evolution of TV – from black and white to HDR
The way we watch TV has completely transformed in the last century. We look back at the biggest developments in TV tech…
26 Jan 2016
TV technology has come a long way in the last century. We’ve gone from tiny, flickering black-and-white sets in big square boxes to pencil-thin screens packing millions of pixels.
Here we look at how the tech you use to watch television has evolved over the years.
The first mechanical TV
Nowadays the first TV set would be almost unrecognisable. Known as the ‘televisor’, it looked like a wireless radio but the tech behind it – a process that generated video to accompany sound – was pretty revolutionary.
In 1916 Scottish inventor John Logie Baird was able to use it to transmit a moving image of his assistant’s face in the first public demo of live TV, although at the time no one was sure if it would catch on.
Black and white sets enter the home
Typically when you think of old TVs, you picture a fuzzy black and white image on screen. The tech might not seem sophisticated now, but black and white TVs were the first sets to become popular.
They worked by creating a moving image dubbed ‘monochrome’, transmitted via Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) using a single beam. CRT TVs had to be big and boxy to allow for the tube – a world away from the flat screens we’re used to now.
In 1954 some 3.2 million UK homes had a black and white television (source: BBC).
Colour broadcasts begin
It wasn’t until 1967 that the BBC began broadcasting colour programmes.
Instead of the single beam you got on black and white TVs, the picture was transmitted using three beams to create a colour image.
The idea of watching TV in colour caught on fast, and by the early 1970s some 12 million people owned a colour TV licence (source: BBC).
LCD/LED flat screens
After decades of CRT sets that were bulky, square and took up loads of space in your living room, the flat screen arrived in the late 90s and changed the look of home entertainment.
It’s all thanks to LCD, which stands for liquid crystal display. Controlled amounts of light are allowed to shine through individual cells behind the screen to create a picture. This means the screens can be much slimmer and are ideal for wall mounting or simply taking up less floor space.
In recent years LCD has been replaced by LED, which stands for light-emitting diode. This works like LCD but instead of several lamps sitting behind the screen there’s a large collection of small LEDs instead.
High definition (HD) arrives
The flat screen TVs with HD picture quality that came out in the last 10 years were a serious improvement on those with standard definition (SD), making our favourite TV shows and movies look much sharper and more realistic.
An HD TV has a much higher screen resolution (1920 x 1080) than SD TVs (typically 720 x 576). So you get a much sharper, clearer and more detailed picture on HD.
4K does ultra high-def
One of the biggest TV advancements in recent years, 4K Ultra HD gives you a picture 4 times sharper than full HD.
Sony, Samsung and LG are all firmly behind this technology, and the sets are becoming more affordable and increasingly living room friendly. You can now buy 55 and 65-inch screen models.
You need to watch special 4K content to get the full experience – and with the rise of Smart TVs that let you connect to the web, there’s more of this than ever before. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video are among those creating content in the resolution.
Cinema-style curved screens
For immersive viewing, ultra-modern curved screens are designed to give you a more cinematic experience in your home.
Curved screens work by responding to your peripheral vision, giving you a much wider field of view. So you’ll get the same picture quality wherever you’re sitting in the room.
Another TV buzzword, OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs create pictures with amazing contrast. The technology works like LED, but as they don’t need a backlight to illuminate the LEDs, the sets can be as thin as a pencil.
Because the LEDs switch themselves on and off, you get deeper blacks and whiter whites.
Currently the next big thing in TV, HDR stands for high dynamic range.
While 4K increases the number of pixels on your screen, HDR works with 4K to make the existing pictures better. You’ll get to experience deeper blacks, brighter whites and a much broader range of colours on your screen.
Like 4K, you need to have HDR content available to get the most of your HDR enabled TV. Again, Netflix and Amazon have stepped up with an HDR offering, and all new UHD Blu-ray players are HDR-compatible.