For such a life-changing technology, it's sad that the quality of television pictures up until recently was pretty crap. Sure, 576i is good enough to see a picture clearly, but as screen sizes started getting larger with the introduction of rear projection, plasma and LCD screens, the lack of detail was really starting to get disconcerting. Fortunately, we now have high definition.
Picture resolution in television has always been a problem. Depending on where you are in the world, the resolution of your TV broadcasts were widely different, with the US using NTSC (480 horizontal lines interlaced), while Europe and Australia use PAL (576 horizontal lines interlaced). Even today, if you buy a US DVD, you'll only be able to watch it at 480i.
With high definition though, resolution becomes a constant globally (although refresh rates - which are part of the NTSC/PAL standards - are another thing all together). You either get 1280 x 720 progressive or 1920 x 1080 interlaced or progressive, no matter where you are in the world.
The first HD broadcasts occurred in 1996 in the US, although at that stage there weren't HD TVs to enjoy the experience, instead being watched in special theatres capable of receiving the HD signal. Europe launched HD broadcasts in 2004, eight years later.
In Australia, High Definition has been relatively slow to roll out. Originally mandated to be a part of the launch of digital television in 2001, the free-to-air networks managed to get out of broadcasting true HD content thanks to the Australian Government's false belief that 576p was high definition. In 2003, the Government changed their tune, requiring networks to broadcast 1040 hours a year of high definition content in the major cities around the country, although that could still be 576p content.
In fact, it was only in 2007 that the networks were able to launch an HD channel that broadcast completely different content to their SD offering. Ten was the first to announce their HD multi-channel plans, although Seven actually launched first in October 2007. Ten's HD channel launched in December 2007 and Nine followed in March 2008. On the upside, the huge uptake in HD televisions meant that all three networks are broadcasting in 1080i, rather than the 576p some were passing off as HD.
Today, HD is now starting to truly make its mark. The Ten network launched One HD, a channel dedicated to HD sport earlier this year. Seven and Nine both have HD channels. Foxtel, which launched HD in May 2008, recently expanded their HD offering to more than 15 HD channels.
Considering how quickly we've gone from nothing to having a pretty wide selection of HD, it means the next few years will be pretty exciting for high quality TV pictures, especially as more and more HDTVs make their way into homes.
History of TV is Giz AU’s month-long look back at the development of the world-changing medium and its influence on our daily lives.