What were the first HDTVs?

Developing HDTV

As the six contenders worked on their approaches to HDTV, there were a few interesting developments. One was that the prospect of digital television became viable. When ACATS made the determination that the approaches should be analog, it was because the committee believed a digital solution wasn't feasible. But further consideration led to the conclusion that digital would be the future of terrestrial television transmission.

ACATS submitted each approach to extensive testing in a special facility designed specifically for that task. At the end of testing, ACATS determined that a digital approach was superior to analog. Two of the six proposals were analog approaches. These two, including a proposal submitted by NHK, faded away.

There were no clear winners among the digital approaches. ACATS concluded that there should be a second round of testing. The four remaining competitors weren't keen on the idea of another round of expensive development and testing. As a result, the four remaining groups formed a consortium with several other companies called the Grand Alliance. It was the Grand Alliance's goal to finalize the HDTV standard in the United States and produce a working HDTV machine.

The Grand Alliance divided up the machine into several subsystems and assigned each subsystem to a specific group. The first HDTV machine in the United States was a prototype built by committee. The committee included companies like General Instruments, Zenith, Philips and AT&T. ACATS approved of the standard and the path was cleared for manufacturers to market consumer televisions. The first HDTV sets hit the consumer market in 1998.

Those sets came from manufacturers like Panasonic and Sony, and had a different appearance -- they were wider than standard televisions. That's because the new HDTV standard also included a new aspect ratio. The standard aspect ratio was 4:3, the new ratio was 16:9. They also came with a hefty price tag -- the first sets on the American market cost $7,000 or more. If you had the cash to drop on one of these sets you might have been disappointed to find that there wasn't much programming available.

Today, several cable and satellite companies offer high-definition content. The move to create standards for HDTV also helped push the United States to switch from analog to digital signals. But that's another story.

Learn more about HDTV by following the links below.

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More Great Links


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  • Ciciora, Walter et al. "Modern cable television technology: video, voice and data communications." Morgan Kaufman, 2nd Edition. Dec. 8, 2003.
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