The Internet didn't kill the TV star

Far from fading into oblivion TV is enjoying a renewal thanks to new technologies

By Morand Fachot

As World TV day was observed recently, it is worth looking at what makes television more popular than ever, enabling it to evolve and reach new audiences via different platforms and new distribution modes. This was highlighted also during the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference, which ended recently consolidating central aspects of TV broadcasting for coming years. Television enduring popularity can be ascribed to many innovations in the hardware and software domains, many of which rely on standardization work by a number of IEC Technical Committees (TCs) and Subcommittees (SCs).

Vintage RCA TV
The 10" screen RCA 630TS went on sale in 1946 (Photo: by Fletcher6)

From niche product to global adoption

Television is a fairly recent invention that started being adopted in the early and mid-1950s only. The nearly square box that brought more or less sharp black and white pictures in living rooms was a phenomenon limited mainly to countries in North America and western Europe.  Colour television was introduced in the mid-1960s, but sets were relatively expensive for many households, and it was available in a few countries only. The choice of TV programmes was limited (by regulation and technical reasons) to a handful of channels in most markets.

Later, mass adoption meant significant cuts in the prices of sets, leading to wider adoption across the world and even the acquisition of multiple sets in some households.

According to Nakono Research worldwide average TV penetration today is 92,2%, with all regions of the world averaging between 90% (Asia-Pacific) and 99% North and Latin America, and Europe. However, Middle East and Africa countries average 77% penetration only, mainly due to the lack of universal electricity in some sub-Saharan countries.

International Standards for TV sets are prepared mainly by IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, and some of its Technical Areas (TAs).

TC 100 was established in 1995 by disbanding and merging the following TCs and SCs:

SC 12A: Receiving equipment and SC 12G: Cabled distribution system (from TC 12: Radiocommunications, created in 1926), SC 60A: Audio recording and SC 60B: Video recording (from TC 60: Recording, established in 1964) and TC 84: Equipment and systems in the field of audio, video and audio-visual engineering (created in 1983).

The second birth of television

The introduction of new technologies, such as cable and satellite distribution, video recording equipment and digital broadcasting gave an impetus to more developments in television, including the availability of more channels and a growing demand for TV sets.

Digital television broadcasting, the transmission of digitally-processed audio and video signals, represented a major advance when it was introduced in the 1990s as it can support more programmes on the same channel bandwidth than analogue broadcasting.

Digital TV also led to the introduction of new types of displays to replace the cathode ray tube types (CRT) in use since the beginning of television.

These include plasma display, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), light-emitting diode and organic light-emitting diode (LED and OLED, respectively). These screens are needed to support higher definition pictures, such as those provided by ultra-high definition TV (UHDTV), which offers four times the resolution of current 1080p HDTV.

International Standards for displays supporting these broadcast modes and new ones, such as broadcasting to computers and mobile devices via Internet or streaming, are developed by IEC TC 110: Electronic display devices, and its SCs.

It's not just about hardware

One significant issue with the delivery of more and more digital content for HDTV and UHDTV, computers and mobile devices, is the large bandwidth it requires. This places significant strain on existing terrestrial or satellite distribution channels using current compression standards.

Solutions are available now with the recent release of the latest video coding standard, known as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), which has been developed jointly by ISO/IEC MPEG, the Moving Picture Experts Group, and the International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T).

HEVC needs only half the bit rate of its Advanced Video Coding (AVC) predecessor to deliver the same content.

All these advances on the equipment software sides, made possible and supported by IEC International Standards, mean that TV is certainly in its prime with viewers of all age spending more time today watching TV programmes live, on demand or recorded on TVs, computers or mobile devices.

In view of the universal reach of television and of its growing popularity, the 1946 prediction of US movie executive Daryl F. Zanuck that television wouldn't be able to hold on to any market it captured after the first six months as people would soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night, will certainly be remembered as one of the worst technical predictions ever made. Similarly, predictions that the Internet would kill television seem still far off as the Internet has certainly strengthened certain aspects of television.

Vintage RCA TV The 10" screen RCA 630TS went on sale in 1946 (Photo: by Fletcher6)
Sony curved TV Sony S80C curved UHDTV (Photo: Sony)
TV on smart devices Television programmes can now be accessed on tablets and mobile phones