Top 12 Technology Trends: The Evolution of Television Delivery
From rabbit ears to streaming sticks and smart TVs, the technologies that bring us broadcast programming expand our access to everything all of the time.
This is the 12th and last installment of the Technology Trends series by Bob Hult, a series of articles that review leading technology trends that have had a significant impact on the electronic connector industry. Here we review the evolution of television program delivery.
Although the earliest origins of television technology go back to the late 1800s, the first fully electronic TV appeared around 1936. When TVs entered the mass consumer market in the early 1950s, they created an entirely new home entertainment segment.
I remember my excitement when my father brought home a 12” Capehart black and white television. The fact that there were few programs available did not discourage me from watching it for hours. We installed a large Amphenol antenna on our roof, while others were able to get decent reception using a set-top “rabbit ears” antenna. The TV and antenna were connected with a 300-ohm twin lead flat cable. As national broadcast networks came into existence and program content increased, Very High Frequency (VHF) delivered channels 2 through 13, while Ultra High Frequency (UHF) broadcast channels 14 through 83.
In 1954, the first color TV sets broadcast the Tournament of Roses Parade, introducing color programming to a few thousand viewers in a network of 22 cities. However, limited local programming and high costs delayed broad adoption of color TV until the late 1960s. Television sets in this era were a collection of chassis mounted circuit boards hosting up to two dozen vacuum tubes, a high-voltage power supply, and a large cathode ray picture tube. The most common connector used for these TVs were multiple sizes of vacuum tube sockets. Most hardware and drug stores featured a tube tester kiosk that allowed consumers to test and replace these notoriously unreliable components.
Broadcast TV via radio waves worked well in urban areas, but poor reception was a problem with over-the-air signals in rural and mountainous locations. The solution was the distribution of video using RF frequencies via coaxial copper cables. Standard 75-ohm RG-6/U coax was terminated with an extremely simple and low cost “F” connector that uses the solid center conductor of the cable as the center contact in the connector.
In the decades that followed, cable systems became the top broadcast distribution choice for most consumers, as the broadband capacity of coax cable can provide hundreds of video channels as well as deliver high-speed internet, telephone, and security monitoring services. Local TV channels are available from cable operators at a reduced cost and are also available for free via over-the-air broadcast.
As the amount of video programming increased, demand for higher resolution images resulted in the development of high-definition TV (HDTV). The transition from analog to digital began in Europe, with the city of Berlin making the transition in 2003. Luxembourg became the first country to switch over in 2006. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated the transition from analog to digital broadcast by June 2009, ending the reign of the CRT in favor of flat panel liquid crystal (LCD) and light-emitting diode (LED) displays. Several countries and regions have yet to fully transition, including former Soviet Union countries, and parts of the Middle East, Asia, Central America, and Africa.
The aspect ratio also changed from 4:3 to 16:9 to support the wider format of motion pictures. HDTV’s greatly increased image quality, long service life, and ability to economically build much larger screens using a smaller footprint quickly overshadowed early projection and plasma display alternatives. The introduction of 4K video in 2005 further improved the resolution of video, especially as flat panel display sizes reached 60+ inches. New 8K Ultra HD televisions are now available and offer a superior image in very large screen sizes.
The integration of internet technology resulted in the rise of the smart TV. This generation of TV utilizes the web to extend the entertainment function of the TV, making it a convenient and interactive information and gaming appliance.
The connectivity I/O panel on the back of a modern digital TV includes multiple interconnects such as RCA audio jacks, RJ45 Ethernet, D-Sub PC connectors, USB ports, a 21-pin SCART connector, and several HDMI connectors. A USB port may be used to connect an external flash drive. HDTVs may also include an optical audio out connector to a sound bar. Smart TVs can be linked to the internet via an RJ45 Ethernet cable or a wireless local area network.
The introduction of external streaming devices such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV sticks, which plug into a USB port, enabled users with or without cable to efficiently stream video content from the many subscription sources that are springing up. Instantaneous access to huge libraries of movies torpedoed the business model of Blockbuster and other DVD rental stores. Streaming video has been identified as one of the fastest growing sources of internet bandwidth demand.
Consumers now can view their favorite programs and play games on their HDTV, PC, laptop, tablet, or smart phone whenever and wherever they want. The necessary expansion of the broadcast, cable, and internet infrastructure that supports the delivery of this capability continues to provide a rich market for connectors of all types. This continuing evolution of information and entertainment delivery that may utilize artificial or augmented reality and even holographic imaging will demand development of ever faster, smaller, and lower cost connectors.