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Thursday, July 10, 2008

80 years of television

The telly has come a long way since then, with high-definition LCD and
plasma screens now taking the place of more traditional, boxy sets.

The 1920s

The first commercially available TV sets went on sale in the United States
in 1928. Pictures were viewed on tiny screens, just a couple of inches in

The set pictured above was constructed from a plan published in the
December 1928 and January 1929 issues of Popular Mechanics.

The 1930s

Early television sets were mechanical, but by the 1930s TVs had become
entirely electronic.

During this decade, John Logie Baird made the first ever outside broadcast
from the 1931 Epsom Derby.

The BBC also began broadcasting - televising the FA Cup Final for the first
time in 1938. However, its operations ceased abruptly on the outbreak of
war in 1939, with the British government fearful that broadcasts could be
used by the enemy as homing signals.

The pictured television set, the Ecko TA-201, was made in 1939. It could
receive just one channel and was for pictures only (sound could be heard by
connecting it to a radio). It cost 22 guineas - or around £1000 in today's

Daven Corporation, which made the first TVs to be sold in shops, also made
all the components used to build this early set.

The 1940s

By the 1940s, television had really started to take off in America - aided
by the popularity of stars such as Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan.

In Britain, the BBC resumed broadcasting in 1946 following the end of World
War II. At the same time it also introduced the licence fee - £2 at the

The pictured set, the Bush TV-12, went on sale in 1948 and was pre-tuned to
receive one channel. Its successor, which followed two years later, could
be tuned to any of five channels

The 1950s

The TV boom truly hit Britain in the 1950s. The coronation of Queen
Elizabeth II attracted huge viewing figures, and was the first time a TV
audience had exceeded a radio audience.

By the end of the decade, more than 10 million TV licences had been issued
in the UK, and popular programmes such as Grandstand, Blue Peter and
Panorama had begun.

In the States, colour TV was introduced and innovations such as videotaping
and remote controls were demonstrated.

The image is of a popular American TV set made by a company called Muntz.
These were cheap and the 17 inch screen was big by the standards of the

The 1960s

Television technology developed rapidly during the 60s. By the end of the
decade, colour broadcasting had begun in the UK, while portable TVs went on
sale for those looking for a second set.

In America, TVs could now be found in 90% of homes. When Neil Armstrong
took his first steps on the Moon, a global audience of 600 million people
was watching.

The picture shows a stylish set manufactured by the West German KUBA
Corporation. Called the Komet, the set stood 5' 7" tall, with the upper
section rotating so the viewer could swing the 23" black and white
television and speaker system in the desired direction.

The system cost around $1250 at the time - around £6000 in today's money.

The 1970s

By the start of the 1970s, 16 million TV licences had been issued in the

TV sets were improved with the introduction of electronic channel tuning,
and the videotape wars began with the introduction of Sony's Betamax system
(1975) and JVC's VHS technology (1978).

The picture shows a 19-inch colour Portland TV set from 1979

The 1980s

By the 1980s, TV accessories such as video recorders and remote controls
had become commonplace.

Screen sizes were also becoming bigger, although the proportion remained
4:3 rather than the now-familiar widescreen 16:9.

In the UK, Channel 4 began broadcasting, as did Sky television towards the
end of the decade.

The image shows an 27-inch American set produced by Curtis Mathes

The 1990s

By the start of the decade, 900 million TV sets were in homes around the

Major advances in telly technology included the introduction of Nicam
stereo sound and the broadcast of programmes in widescreen.

Towards the end of the 90s, early adopters began buying the new, flat
plasma screens that were appearing at the top end of the market. Also, the
new DVD video format was launched in the UK.

The 1990s

By the start of the decade, 900 million TV sets were in homes around the

Major advances in telly technology included the introduction of Nicam
stereo sound and the broadcast of programmes in widescreen.

The 2000s

And so to today. Nowadays, bigger is better, with screen sizes of 37", 42"
and even larger becoming increasingly common. The screen pictured above is
a whopping 60" in size.

High-definition is the most recent technological advance, with digital
broadcasts and Blu-ray players making it possible to watch programmes in
pin-sharp detail.
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