When HDTV was introduced into American homes in the early 2000’s, the new technology made a big splash, as it greatly enhanced the user viewing experience. Although only 23% of American households had an HDTV by 2008, that number went up to 75% by 2013, according to Leichtman Research Group.

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This rapid rise in home entertainment technology changed the way the world consumes content, and boosted all forms of media industries, making it one of the most significant technological jumps in recent history. So how did one of our most beloved inventions come to be? Well, it turns out that it goes all the way back to the 1930’s, but it actually really first made its mark in the 80’s.

The Beginning of HD

In the 1930’s, HDTV experiments began, and resolution was measured in lines per screen, with the average TV containing only 12. By the 60’s, the European standard was Sequential Color with Memory (SECAM) and Phase Alternating Line (PAL), which offered 625 lines. This international race to create “true HD” would continue for decades.

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In the 1970’s, a Japanese company began developing its own commercial HDTV technology, and when Ronald Reagan witnessed it in 1981, it sparked the FCC to start developing its own system, eventually leading to the transition from analog to digital.

The FCC wanted to know more about the public’s reaction to HDTV and needed advice on future decisions, so it formed the Advisory Committee on Advanced Television Service. In the beginning, there were 23 proposals for advanced television systems that the FCC had to consider. By 1990, it had narrowed it down to nine, all of which ran on outdated analog technology.

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After being given a joint proposal in 1995 that was devised by multiple companies, and that detailed an all-digital ATV system, the FCC gave it the go-ahead a year later. By 1996, the US mandated a nationwide switch to digital TV in order to pave the way for further developments in HDTV technology, but that deadline was pushed back twice. The switch from analog to digital meant the end of dull resolution TV, and a new era of never-before experienced crispness. But it meant that everyone had to get a new TV, or at the very least, a converter box.

The final transition date was June 12th, 2009, when the FCC mandated that all U.S. based TV signals would be transmitted digitally, a switch that 97.5% of Americans were prepared for, according to the global measurement company The Nielsen Company.

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While developments were being made in the HDTV world, TV manufacturers were catching up, creating thinner and lighter display screens. Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) would take on most of the market share by 2006, as they presented a new way of filtering white LED lights, and provided a more crisp and clean image.

Currently, standard formats of HDTV are 720i, 1080i, and 1080p, with the “i” standing for interlaced, a method of streaming that uses less bandwidth, and the “p” standing for progressive scanning. 1080p, the current “full HD” standard, transmits two megapixels per frame, about five times the amount in standard definition TV (SD).

Today, many TV manufacturers use HD as keywords for marketing purposes, clouding customer knowledge about what the technology actually does, and what works best for them. In order to maximize your HDTV home system, there are a few things to keep in mind regarding compatibility and resolution.

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The device should be able to play widescreen (16:9), as well as standard screen (4:3). It should also have at least a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, but the higher the better, with full HD being (1920 x 1080). If you purchased your TV anytime after 2012, it’s most likely HD.

The Future

Technology is ever-improving, as engineers are constantly trying to improve resolution and consumer experience. Manufacturers have been able to create HDTV’s that are considered Ultra HD, with a resolution of 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) and 8K UHD (7680 x 4320). These HDTV’s use progressive scanning, but there is debate about whether or not people will actually need TV’s of this caliber.

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Just like what we saw in the digital camera sector, there’s a limit to the amount of information our eyes can process, meaning there’s a cap on resolution needed.

One thing’s for sure- if you’re going to invest in the latest and greatest HDTV’s, make sure whatever content you’re streaming is also HD. For example, if you’re using your new fancy HDTV to watch a DVD, chances are your not maximizing the potential resolution.

Not only does the content have to be HD, but you need to make sure you have enough Internet bandwidth to support the stream. And finally, take into consideration the size of the screen on your TV. There’s no point in having the highest HD resolution if the screen isn’t big enough to get the full effect.

All that being said, HDTV changed the home entertainment industry for the better, and we can’t wait to see what the future has in store.