90 Years of Television – The Most Popular Form of Mass Entertainment
Physicist Manfred von Ardenne paved the way for an unlikely success story on 14 December 1930: He succeeded in producing moving images electronically, instead of mechanically, for the first time in history. This concept turned out to be groundbreaking, as his attempt is considered to be the spark that developed into today’s mass medium of television.
Watching television is still a popular leisure activity and an important source of information. Viewers spent an average of 211 minutes each day watching TV in Germany last year. The amount of time spent in front of the screen is expected to have risen dramatically this year: 42 percent of respondents said they spent more time watching television than before the COVID-19 pandemic, in a study conducted by gfu during the first lockdown in spring 2020. Television’s enduring popularity is confirmed by current market figures reported by GfK and gfu: global sales of TV sets in 2020 are estimated at approximately 230 billion TVs, which is an increase of two per cent compared to the year 2019.
Dr. Sara Warneke, Managing Director of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH, states: “Like many other groundbreaking innovations, the television premiered at IFA in Berlin (formerly known as “Funkausstellung”), the world’s most important trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances. As its current viewer numbers and sales figures indicate, television has lost none of its appeal.”
How Television Has Developed: From the Tube to 8K
The first steps towards television in the mid-1920s were based on generating images mechanically. These mechanical solutions were replaced by electronics in 1930. On 14 December 1930, Manfred von Ardenne demonstrated a fully electronic television in the laboratory for the first time. With an image of only 100 lines and 20 frames per second, the technical data of this system was quite modest. In 1931, Ardenne’s television technology was presented at the Loewe booth to the public for the first time during the exhibition “Große Funkausstellung” in Berlin. Even on the other side of the Atlantic, this technological breakthrough was considered a sensation, announced by The New York Times in a prominent article during the lead up to the exhibition on 16 August 1931.
Ardenne based his solution on existing components, such as the Braun tube (cathode ray tube or CRT) for both transmission and reception. The ingenious and revolutionary aspect of his experiment, however, was how he selected and optimized the components, which could be upgraded without problems, supporting the continuous improvement of the image quality.
With the technology now developed, the content soon followed. On 22 March 1935, the world’s first regular public television program was broadcast from Berlin’s “Haus des Rundfunks”. The station broadcast a mixture of film clips and studio-produced live programs three times a week, between 8:30pm and 10pm. Most viewers were merely able to watch these in public “TV salons”, and not yet in their living rooms in front of their own television sets.
From this humble beginning, television technology has constantly developed over the past 90 years: From the primitive flicker box with tube technology and an image of only 100 lines, it has progressed through standard definition TV sets, to HDTVs and UHDTVs through to today’s 8K screens – 7680×4320 pixels with approximately 8,000 columns horizontally (comparable to lines). Further important developments were the remote control (initially still via cable), the introduction of semiconductor technology and color television.
With the patent granted to two Swiss physicists for using liquid crystal technology in displays in 1970, the dream of a flat TV on the wall was finally within reach, and the first liquid crystal displays debuted in Japan in 1973. In 1991, the first widescreen 16:9 televisions were produced.
Television producers, manufacturers, transmission equipment suppliers, and providers, together launched the European Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) project on 10 September 1993. Under the leadership of this organization, the technical standards for digital television were defined, culminating in the first broadcasts in 1995. These days, digital television is in use throughout the world.
Since the mid-90s, televisions have constantly added new features. Smart TVs have opened up access to an entire universe of new content via home networks and the internet. TVs can receive much more than just programs via their antenna, cable, or satellite connection, offering access to the world of streaming TV and extensive media libraries. LCD and OLED screen technologies are currently bringing amazing experiences to living rooms – with high resolution, brilliant pictures and high-quality sound.