Television is and has been one of the fastest moving areas in engineering. It is one of the most concrete examples of scientific progress applied to everyday use and is appreciated by billions worldwide. Even though some might be spending less time in front of their television sets and more in front of their computer screens, the fact remains that television is one of the largest modern communications media with great influence on our lives.
As the technology enthusiast that I am, ever curious about cool stuff and always sharing my non-existent expertise, allow me to take a moment of your time and tell you about what’s in store for TV. First, let’s start by examining television technology of the past. The first countries to adopt television (late 20s, early 30s) were the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the Soviet Union. All using a mechanical system. This was later replaced by electric systems using cathode ray tubes, which shouldn’t be that surprising. Initial broadcasting was done using analog signal. In analog broadcasting, the video information is sent using amplitude modulation (information contained in the amplitude of the signal), while the audio signal is sent using frequency modulation (information contained in the instantaneous frequency of the signal). The audio signal was mono until the advent of NICAM and MTS in the eighties, when stereo sound transmission also became possible. The video was originally monochromatic. Later on, color information was tacked on. This gave rise to the three analog encoding standards: NTSC, PAL and SECAM. You probably know about these if you like travelling or watching foreign movies. These standards allowed for color information to be piggybacked on top of a regular monochromatic signal while remaining backwards compatible (so old black and white TVs would still work). These standards are all really awesome, so you should look into them if you are interested.
Digital television is a more modern transmission method. Using just ones and zeroes, as well as various encoding standards, you can transmit audio and video signals with greater flexibility. Canada still used analog signals for over-the-air broadcasting, but this has been officially over since August 31st 2011. The video codecs used are MPEG-2, H.264 and AVS, while some of the audio codecs used are AC-3, MP3 and
AAC. DVDs use MPEG-2 video and AC-3 audio.
So here we are, today’s television – High Definition. Although it’s nothing that novel (Japan had it in the works since 1964), it only became easily accessible in recent years, especially with the advent of HD DVD and Blu-ray. The two principal resolutions use line heights of 720 or 1080. The difference between 1080i and 1080p (as you may have wondered) is that one uses interlaced video, whereas the other uses progressive scan. Interlaced means you only draw half the lines of each frame (odd ones first, even ones next, etc.) Hence, today’s television roughly stands at 1080p and that’s the best available – or is it?
The future isn’t that far away. There are already screens capable of displaying quad full high definition. That’s 2160p, four times the size of current HD. If current broadcasters could handle the throughput, we would probably be using it already. Don’t think it’s too far off, though, broadcasters are already way ahead of us and are upgrading their infrastructure. It might take a few years for the change to happen, but it will happen. It doesn’t end here, though. There are already talks of Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV). That would be 4320p, or 16 times the current maximum in terms of pixels. And SHARP already has a TV capable of displaying it. Wouldn’t you know it, Japan is leading the way once again.
The prime supporter of UHDTV is NHK, the Japanese equivalent to the CBC, and they are seriously considering ways to broadcast in that resolution. With the way things stand now, though, it sounds pretty much impossible. Let’s just hope Bell starts selling unmetered Internet before the rest of the world gets all the cool stuff.