Americans cannot live without television. We can even watch television on computers or vice versa. Our modern cell phones now act as tiny television screens with which we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want. All of this great technology had to start somewhere.
Once electricity was able to be controlled more efficiently with inventions from Thomas Edison, William Stanley and Nicola Tesla, human ingenuity into making new technological devices took off into new levels. First Edison perfected the light bulb and then the pivotal piece of equipment for a television in the vacuum tube was invented later by John Ambrose Fleming.
The First Television Sets
The very first television sets were mechanical in nature instead of electronic. As an invention the general idea was to send pictures through radio transmissions so that people could see events going on in another place. The first public demonstration happened in 1927 when a speech delivered by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover was transmitted from Washington to New York City and seen on a two inch by three inch screen.
Pictures were generated by a small motor and spinning disc with a neon lamp on a small screen that was a few inches across. Basically you could watch images move on a screen no bigger than today’s cell phone screens. Ironic how the progenitor of the television has now come full circle back to its original size as televisions got bigger and then smaller.
RCA mass marketed many of the first televisions. In 1939 a new set cost $600 and got five channels in addition to radio transmissions. The screen was a 12 inch round cathode ray tube. It was not until after World War II that television production really started taking off because most manufacturers were concentrating on the war effort.
Other companies started getting in on the act with Farnsworth, General Electric, Emerson, Motorola, and Zenith all producing televisions sets. By 1950 the number of televisions in households reached over ten million compared to just 190,000 in 1948. As the war was over and Americans settled down they began to indulge in more and more television programs.
Color Sets and Cable
Television finally got colorized in the 1964. Even so, sales of color sets didn’t overtake those of black and white versions until 1972 and 1973 when over 10 million color sets were sold. The early 1970s also saw the number of households with color televisions go over 50 percent for the first time.
More advances in the 1960s included cable television even though by 1999 only 68 percent of households had cable television. Once cable became the norm for television viewers then satellite channels began to take over.
Now flat panel televisions that are lightweight and in high definition dominate the television set market. You can even watch high definition television on your mobile phone on a screen no bigger than the first mechanical television in 1927. Luckily you can actually hold the phone in your hand unlike the huge box that the first television sat in.
The reason HDTV works so well with crisp pictures and sound is that the transmission is in digital formats instead of analog. Data is sent and received in better packets with digital information. LCD and LED television screens interpret the new information and turn the transmission into as many pixels as humanly possible for the best picture quality.
Now that 3-D television is upon us what is the next step? One theory is that holograms are the next logical step that can bring a television show directly into your living room. Imagine being in the middle of the huddle at an NFL game because the television camera broadcasts images looking up into the group of men and interprets the image in life-size detail in your living room.
Scientists are working on holographic televisions right now in Finland during a three year study. Don’t expect them in your house anytime soon. It took HD television ten years to get off the ground so probably around fifteen to twenty years from now we’ll see some vastly different television experiences according to CNN.
My sources for this article include Television History: The First 75 Years, New York University, and CNN.