Today’s television sets are sleek and thin, but TVs weren’t always that way. It was a long journey to the elegance of today’s TVs from the first unwieldy model. While the early versions were chunky and took up a lot of space, even with minimal screen space, today’s televisions are thin and light enough to be hung on the wall, while providing 60 inches or more of viewing screen. This video gives a quick overview of the television’s evolution.
In the Beginning: The Original Televisions
In 1927, Philo Farnsworth showed off the first electronic television set in San Francisco. This early model was anything but impressive by today’s standards, showing a single line that was scanned with an electron beam and displayed on the screen. When asked when he would see some dollars on the television, 21-year-old Farnsworth aimed his simplistic camera at a dollar sign. It may have been a joke at the time, but in the coming decades, his invention did become insanely popular, as evidenced by today’s widespread use of the television.
RCA spent $50 million, a massive fortune back in the day, to help develop Farnsworth’s design. At the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, RCA broadcast the opening, including the first televised president’s speech, given by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Television had finally arrived.
The previously radio-centric company began to develop and sell TV sets. These had 5-by-12-inch picture tubes and were able to show the television shows that RCA broadcast to them. These television sets may have been primitive, but they became the basis of a growing industry.
Television Gets Colorful … and Wireless
While the first color TV set was developed in 1928, the whole concept of color didn’t go very far until much later. In 1950, the FAA adopted the new color system by CBS, which was not compatible with the black-and-white systems of the time. Because of this, it didn’t do as well as it could have, though some manufacturers worked on adaptors to make the systems work correctly.
It wasn’t until the National Television System Committee (NTSC) system was developed by RCA that color television sets were really put into production. 1954 saw the first NTSC sets sold. They featured 15-inch screens (19-inch screens were sold later that same year), and by the following year, 21-inch screens were standard for color televisions. At the time, a color TV would set you back at least $1,000, if not more, depending on the manufacturer. It was a small fortune in the ’50s.
According to The Washington Post, the first television sets were controlled with knobs and dials to choose volume and channels and even to turn them on and off. While there was a Flashmatic, a remote control that connected to the television with a beam of light, it was also sensitive to sunlight and other light sources, so it didn’t work very well.
In 1956, everything changed when the Zenith Space Command™ wireless remote control emerged on the scene. Suddenly, people could change channels without getting up from their chairs. It revolutionized the world of television.
Panasonic created one of the earlier versions of HDTV in 1974. It was capable of broadcasting 1,125 lines of pixels. Prewar systems used just 405 lines, so this was a drastic improvement.
During the first decade of the 21st century, rear projection screens became popular, as reported by The New York Times. These were televisions, often thinner than the large boxes for cathode tubes, that did as the name suggests – projected from behind the screen. However, they were very expensive, and once plasma and LED screens became more commonly available, the rear projection screen plummeted in popularity. In 2008, many television manufacturers moved away from this style of television set.
The start of LCD televisions came about in 1968, when liquid crystal displays were created for the first time by George Heilmeir. Early displays included LCD clocks and calculators. The first plasma graphic display was developed in 1971 at the University of Illinois and was used to show off graphics on a 12-inch screen.
However, companies had bigger plans for the technology, and in the early 1980s, Sharp came out with the very first TEFL product designed for commercial use. These were first implemented in portable computers but were still monochromatic. Color didn’t become popular until later, though a color handheld TV was developed in 1983. By the mid-’90s, color television screens were available, and flat-screen TVs were on the rise. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today we have a wide range of options in televisions, but just a few decades ago, choices were limited – even color was a luxury. It’s mind boggling to consider how far we’ve come since the days of the 15-inch screen!