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High Definition Television 1

High Definition Television

High definition television was developed to improve the quality of picture and to bring

improved sound to the television screen (Kindel, 1983). With increased number of

scanning lines and digital improvements in vision and color, the television will produce a

picture that is almost 3-D quality compared to the analog signal now broadcast in the

NTSC system (Krantz, 1997).

When the concept of high definition television was first introduced in the early 1970’s by

the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) it was an analog system (Aversa, 1997).

But since then great improvements have been made in digital signals and in the area of

signal compression (Schubin, 1996).

Adding many more scanning lines to the present 525 line NTSC system would

theoretically produce a sharper, clearer picture (Kindel, 1983). Under the new High

Definition standard, the main advantage would be higher resolution video, with 35 mm

film quality, and an aspect ratio of 16 to 9,which closely approximates the wide screen

aspect used in theatrical films (Gross, 1992).

There has been much conflict between broadcasters in both the United States, and in

different countries of the world, as to which format HDTV should take (Gross, 1992).

There has also been conflict between the United States government and the general US

population over government of HDTV. Many feel that the present NTSC signal is

sufficient to entertain and inform the public (Winner, 1989). A segment of the population

feels that government moneys would be better spent in other areas, such as improved

education (Betez, 1991).

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As the first HDTV sets are now being displayed and purchased off show room floors,

there still is no single clear cut format selected by broadcasters (Strassberg, 1998). The

FCC has not stepped in to determine which format will be the ultimate winner of the

eighteen formats that can be used, but the FCC has been setting guidelines to follow

(West, 1998).

The cost to purchase a high definition television set is expected to remain high until

market saturation, based on popularity, sets in (Helliwell, 1989). With an increase of

household spending of three percent to four percent on consumer goods spent every

year, this is expected to continue into the next century. It is believed much of this

money will filter down to the new technology of HDTV (Kindel, 1983).

The first recognizable television video image was of a face in 1925, developed by John

Logie Baird, using only 15 scanning lines per frame and at 5 frames per second. Then

in 1927 the President of the United States, Herbert Hoover, appeared on a 50 scanning

line, square pixel, flat-panel television screen (Schubin, 1996). There have been many

“fathers of television” over the years, Philo Fransworth of Scotland and television

pioneer David Sarnoff to name a few (Fisher and Fisher, 1996). As far back as 1827 Sir

Charles Weatstone predicted the possibility of image scanning (Schubin, 1996).

The term high definition television was first used around 1931 to describe a video

picture of fine detail. Prior to 1931 television consisted of anywhere between 30 to 60

scanning lines per frame. Between 1931 and 1939 as few as 120 scanning lines

constituted HDTV (Schubin, 1996). America’s 525 line monochrome system was

developed by RCA and was first demonstrated at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. This
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system went into commercial use after the end of World War II

In Europe, the British Broadcasting Service produced the first practical television

picture. Using a 405 scanning line system it went into service just prior to England’s

involvement in the war (Flaherty, 1997). At about this time most of the European nations

adopted 625 scanning lines as their standard, with France going as gigh as 819

scanning lines. Latter they dropped their system to 625 lines like most of Europe.

England in 1937 was using a 405 scanning line, black and white system. It took over

two decades, with the use of converters, to switch over the new 625 line color standard

(Schubin, 1996).

In the United States in 1941, the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) was

formed. It developed the present television standard used in the northern hemisphere

(Eastman, 1993). The present system is comprised of 525 scanning lines per frame,

483 carry picture information and only 450 scanning lines are visible on a normal

television. There are 30 frames per second which is still not enough scanning lines to

prevent the picture screen from flickering (Schubin, 1996).

For many years this has been the standard in the United States, 525 scanning lines, 30

frames per second. In Europe 625 scanning lines at 25 frames per second, and 50

fields per second was the standard. The European countries use a 50 field-per-second

system because this is tied to their electrical current, which operates at 50 cycles per

second and they believe that this works more effectively (Gross, 1992).

The television screens of the 1940’s were small, under 16 inches, so 525 scanning lines

provided adequate resolution. But as modern screens grew to average 21 to 23 inches,

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the result was that you could often not only see the scanning lines the television’s

electronic gun made as it passed along the screen, but also the pattern of colored dots

as the electron gun painted its picture. As the screens got wider the space between the

red, green and blue phosphor dots became more noticeable. On a small screen it is

harder to notice that the electronic gun sometimes paints slightly outside the lines. As

the screen gets larger the human eye detects the imperfection. High definition television

corrects this problem with more than twice the number of scanning lines and a wider

aspect ratio, this compensates for the fact that the human eye can see more in the

horizontal plane than it does in the vertical plane (Kindel, 1983).

After years of silence the question of high definition television came up again in the

early 1970’s when Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK), the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation,

once again raised the possibility of HDTV. The technology was first developed by the

Japanese to produce a better quality picture than previously available, and in 1978 NHK

came up with two new HDTV systems. One of them was an 1, 125 line system, the

other a 2, 125 line system that was transmitted by satellite (Schubin, 1996). Japan

started the HDTV movement in 1970 and spent over one billion dollars on its

development by mid-1990 (Japan’s new image problem, 1990).

In the early 1970’s the major players in the effort to produce HDTV were Sony Pictures,

Panasonic, Ikegami, and NHK. Most of the engineering was undertaken by Sony and

NHK tested the concept over the air. Panasonic and Ikegami (along with Sony)

developed cameras, video tape recorders and other equipment needed for an entire

HDTV package.
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Philps, the Dutch equipment manufacturer, developed a new HDTV system called

Eureka in the early 1970’s. The system scanned 1,250 horizontal lines at 50 frames per

second, with the same 16 to 9 aspect ratio as the Japanese system. This system was

sometimes referred to as Vision 1,250 (Gross, 1992).

The American television industry was finally waking up and coming out of the doldrums

it had been in since the early 1970’s. The Japanese production had already taken over

television, VCR’s, and the stereo business. It looked as if they would also become

world-leaders in the development of HDTV (Fisher and Fisher, 1996).

The US was behind in the development of HDTV over Europe and Japan. The Defence

Department pledged to spend $30 million dollars on the technology. The Defence

Department sanctioned the spending of this money partly because the superior picture

quality would have application for military reconnaissance and pilot training. The House

Telecommunication Subcommittee held a hearing with the intent to insure that this new

technology would flourish in the United States (Gross, 1992).

The electronics industry is in a high stakes race. A 1989 government report stated that

the United States stood a chance to lose 2 million jobs, and suffer a $255 billion dollar

annual trade deficit by the year 2010 if the US does not produce a coherent strategy to

compete in the HDTV and associated industries.

During the Reagan era in industrial consortium known as “Sematech” wanted to push

the United States to become the leading technological manufacturer of the computer

chip. This chip is used in HDTV. Chip makers are of vital importance to the overall well

being of the electronics industry. They represent the USA’s largest manufacturing
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business, with revenues for 1989 of $300 billion dollars. This is a business that is larger

than the steel industry, aerospace, and the automobile industry combined (DeWitt,


The Americans Electronics Association (AEA) wanted $1.35 billion in US government

loans, grants and loan guarantees to further produce and improve HDTV. They felt once

the government committed itself that deeply it could not pull out (HDTV: A better buggy,


The AEA’s attempt to persuade the government to enter into a government-industry

consortium failed. It was an ambitious program to form a consortium to develop the

next-generation of HDTV sets. The plan attracted only nominal support in Congress.

The Bush administration actively opposed the idea. It received vocal support from the

industry but no financial commitments (Robertson, 1990).

The Bush administration wanted to pull the plug on the high-tech industries. Washington

was determined to cut the $10 million dollars pledged for research and development of

HDTV in 1989. It also wanted to cut all federal support including the $100 million dollars

it pledged for research and development in 1991.

The Japanese manufacturers of semiconductors are encouraged by their government to

spend 50 percent more on research and development of the chip. This is often

subsidized by the Japanese government. This is more money spent on chip

development than its US counterpart (DeWitt 1996).

In 1977 the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) formed a

study group to investigate HDTV in the United States. As early as 1973 an 1, 125
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scanning line HDTV system was shown to engineers with CBS supporting the system.

By 1980 SMPTE recommended using a system of about 1, 100 scanning lines per

frame and an interlace system (Schubin, 1996).

Since the US decided to take the lead in HDTV development the FCC sponsored the

movement by creating “The Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service”

(ACATS). This was headed by former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley. ACATS declared

an open competition to help create a usable HD service for the US. The FCC requested

those involved with this project to submit their proposals to the FCC for approval.

Shortly after that 23 proposals were turned in to the FCC. All of them were in analog

format. Many of the inventors felt that digital would not become available until the 21st

century. Also many broadcasters were not interested in creating a new system that was

not compatible with their existing system, since that would require them to invest heavily

to create a new market from (Fisher and Fisher, 1996).

CBS was the first network to actively pursue HDTV (Schubin, 1996). This was unusual

since at that time the broadcast networks had less money to invest in high cost

programming. In part some of this was due as a result of the viewing audiences shifting

over from the broadcast networks’ programming to the cable stations. The loss of

viewers to home VCR playback and rental movies, satellite delivery of Direct-TV, DBS

and pay cable services also accounted for viewer erosion (Eastman, 1993).

In 1981 the Japanese company NHK was prodded by CBS to come to the United States

to demonstrate their HDTV system. Members of CBS and SMPTE met with the

Japanese in San Francisco, California, at the St. Francis Hotel at an annual television
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conference. The demonstration was very successful. The viewers were impressed with

the NHK’s system’s “extraordinary resolution, rich saturated color and wide screen

monitors and projection television displays”. The general feeling of the people attending

the conference was that the HDTV system broke all constraints of television picture

quality imposed on them by the aging NTSC color standard. In 1983, based on what

they saw at the conference, the Advanced Television System Committee (ATSC) was

formed. their goal was to improve the quality of video and develop new standards in

technology. they were also instructed to come up with a recommendation for a usable

HDTV standard for the United States by the spring of 1985. They were to present this

standard to a subcommittee of the International Consultative Radio Committee (CCIR)

which would set a world standard.

The ATSC is a committee largely made up of engineers. In 1984 it had a yearly budget

of $250,000. They decided to work on three parallel ideas to help improve the overall

picture performance of US television. One group called the “improved NTSC” group

headed by RCA Laboratories, Kern Powers, worked to improve the present standard by

improving studio and transmission equipment and the television receivers.

Another group called the “enhanced group” investigated new production and

transmission systems that still used the 525 scanning lines and a 4 to 3 aspect ratio.

They also sought to produce a better picture through different signal formats.

The third group worked on HDTV at the CBS Technology Center and closely examined

the Japanese NHK type of HDTV. This system would produce twice as many horizontal

and vertical scanning lines as the NTSC system and would have an aspect ratio of 5 to
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3. Their goal was to have and HDTV standard that they could present to the FCC by the

spring of 1985. Their standard would be compatible with NTSC, PAL and SECAM and

they could transfer their video to 35 mm film for theatrical release.

By March of 1985 ATSC did have a standard they felt they could present to the FCC.

They picked 1, 125 scanning lines as their standard because it was a compromise

between twice the 525 NTSC standard which equals 1,050 and twice 625 lines (used in

Europe) which is 1, 250. The system would also have a two-to-one interlaced scanning,

a 5 to 3 aspect ratio and scan at 80 fields per second. This scanning rate was the only

source of controversy, since the NTSC used 60 per second and most of Europe used

50 per second. The European felt it could not be used by them because conversion

could not take place without some degradation of picture quality. The Japanese

approved of it since most of their experiments were conducted in a 60 field per second

rate (Improving The Look, 1984).

The ATSC believed that its HDTV standard would rule the land-based-over-the-air

broadcast not only in the United States but in the northern hemisphere, and even in a

few Asian countries as well. Europe, Japan and Australia are going to have a different

HDTV standard from the USA. America’s standard used an eight-level vestigial

sideband (8-VSB) 6- Mhz modulation for its over-the-air transmission. The European,

Japanese, and Australian system use an orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing

(OFDM) system (Strassberg, 1998). But politics intervened and a world wide standard

was not to be. Different parts of the world will all have their own high definition

standards. All the different formats will have more scanning lines than the present

NTSC system, but they will not have the same number of scanning lines as each other.
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Therefore, conversion will be necessary between each country’s systems (Gross,

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