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Further information: Analog high-definition television system and History of television
The term high definition once described a series of television systems originating from August 1936; however, these systems were only high definition when compared to earlier systems that were based on mechanical systems with as few as 30 lines of resolution. The ongoing competition between companies and nations to create true "HDTV" spanned the entire 20th century, as each new system became more HD than the last.
The British high-definition TV service started trials in August 1936 and a regular service on 2 November 1936 using both the (mechanical) Baird 240 line and (electronic) Marconi-EMI 405 line (377i) systems. The Baird system was discontinued in February 1937. In 1938 France followed with their own 441-line system, variants of which were also used by a number of other countries. The US NTSC 525-line system joined in 1941. In 1949 France introduced an even higher-resolution standard at 819 lines (768i), a system that would be high definition even by today's standards, but was monochrome only. All of these systems used interlacing and a 4:3 aspect ratio except the 240-line system which was progressive (actually described at the time by the technically correct term "sequential") and the 405-line system which started as 5:4 and later changed to 4:3. The 405-line system adopted the (at that time) revolutionary idea of interlaced scanning to overcome the flicker problem of the 240-line with its 25 Hz frame rate. The 240-line system could have doubled its frame rate but this would have meant that the transmitted signal would have doubled in bandwidth, an unacceptable[to whom?] option.
Colour broadcasts started at similarly higher resolutions, first with the US NTSC color system in 1953, which was compatible with the earlier monochrome systems and therefore had the same 525 lines (480i) of resolution. European standards did not follow until the 1960s, when the PAL and SECAM color systems were added to the monochrome 625 line (576i) broadcasts.
The Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai (NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation) began conducting research to "unlock the fundamental mechanism of video and sound interactions with the five human senses" in 1964, after the Tokyo Olympics. NHK set out to create an HDTV system that ended up scoring much higher in subjective tests than NTSC's previously dubbed "HDTV". This new system, NHK Color, created in 1972, included 1125 lines, a 5:3 aspect ratio and 60 Hz refresh rate. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), headed by Charles Ginsburg, became the testing and study authority for HDTV technology in the international theater. SMPTE would test HDTV systems from different companies from every conceivable perspective, but the problem of combining the different formats plagued the technology for many years.
There were 4 major HDTV systems tested by SMPTE in the late 1970s, and in 1979 an SMPTE study group released A Study of High Definition Television Systems:
EIA monochrome: 4:3 aspect ratio, 1023 lines, 60 Hz
NHK color: 5:3 aspect ratio, 1125 lines, 60 Hz
NHK monochrome: 4:3 aspect ratio, 2125 lines, n/a Hz[clarification needed - does that mean they didn't/don't have a fixed refresh rate?]
BBC color: 8:3 aspect ratio, 1501 lines, n/a Hz
Since the formal adoption of digital video broadcasting's (DVB) widescreen HDTV transmission modes in the early 2000s the 525-line NTSC (and PAL-M) systems as well as the European 625-line PAL and SECAM systems are now regarded as standard definition television systems. In Australia, the 625-line digital progressive system (with 576 active lines) is officially recognized as high-definition.
Main article: analog high-definition television system
Early HDTV broadcasting used analog technology, but today it is transmitted digitally and uses video compression.
In 1949, France started its transmissions with an 819 lines system (737i). The system was monochrome only, and was used only on VHF for the first French TV channel. It was discontinued in 1983.
In 1958, the Soviet Union developed Тransformator,(Russian: Трансформатор, Transformer) the first high-resolution (definition) television system capable of producing an image composed of 1,125 lines of resolution aimed at providing teleconferencing for military command. It was a research project and the system was never deployed by either the military or consumer broadcasting.
In 1979, the Japanese state broadcaster NHK first developed consumer high-definition television with a 5:3 display aspect ratio.The system, known as Hi-Vision or MUSE after its Multiple sub-Nyquist sampling encoding for encoding the signal, required about twice the bandwidth of the existing NTSC system but provided about four times the resolution (1080i/1125 lines). Satellite test broadcasts started in 1989, with regular testing starting in 1991 and regular broadcasting of BS-9ch commencing on November 25, 1994, which featured commercial and NHK programming.
In 1981, the MUSE system was demonstrated for the first time in the United States, using the same 5:3 aspect ratio as the Japanese system. Upon visiting a demonstration of MUSE in Washington, US President Ronald Reagan was most impressed and officially declared it "a matter of national interest" to introduce HDTV to the US.
Several systems were proposed as the new standard for the US, including the Japanese MUSE system, but all were rejected by the FCC because of their higher bandwidth requirements. At this time, the number of television channels was growing rapidly and bandwidth was already a problem. A new standard had to be more efficient, needing less bandwidth for HDTV than the existing NTSC.
Demise of analog HD systems
The limited standardization of analog HDTV in the 1990s did not lead to global HDTV adoption as technical and economic constraints at the time did not permit HDTV to use bandwidths greater than normal television.
Early HDTV commercial experiments such as NHK's MUSE required over four times the bandwidth of a standard-definition broadcast, and HD-MAC was not much better. Despite efforts made to reduce analog HDTV to about 2× the bandwidth of SDTV these television formats were still distributable only by satellite.
In addition, recording and reproducing an HDTV signal was a significant technical challenge in the early years of HDTV (Sony HDVS). Japan remained the only country with successful public broadcasting of analog HDTV, with seven broadcasters sharing a single channel.