HDTV turns 75

The world’s first regular high-definition television broadcast took place 75 years ago. Of course it wasn’t 720 lines, but it was arguably the birth of what we know as television today.

The broadcast came from Alexandra Palace (pictured) in London on November 2nd, 1936. It came seven years after the first broadcasts aimed at a public audience rather than purely being a demonstration of the technology, and six years after the first series of regular schedules with programming five days a week. (These broadcasts used as few as 30 vertical lines.)

However, the 1936 broadcast, by the British Broadcasting Corporation, was distinct in two ways. It was the first to feature an entirely electrical broadcasting system by Marconi-EMI as opposed to John Logie Baird’s system that also involved both mechanical equipment and chemical processing of film in tubs of cyanide, causing a delay of almost a minute in transmitting “live” pictures. A BBC worker of the time noted ” Working in the Baird studio was a bit like using Morse code when you knew that next door you could telephone.”

It was also the first to have more than the 240 lines of Baird’s improved system. The 405-line display of the Marconi system was considered so spectacularly detailed in comparison that it was described at the time as high-definition. It became the standard in the United Kingdom until the late 1960s.

When the BBC decided to launch regular transmissions 75 years ago, officials were uncertain which system to opt for, it being something of a chicken-and-egg situation as to which types of sets people would buy. For this reason the first six months of broadcasts were made in each system from separate studios. A toss of a coin meant that the first broadcast was in the Baird system, with the same presenters repeating the same performance for the Marconi system immediately afterwards.

The first’s night’s broadcast included speeches by broadcasting chiefs, followed by a variety performance including musicals star Adele Dixon, accompanied by a symphony orchestra, performing a song concluding:

There’s joy in store
The world is at your door –
It’s here for everyone to view
Conjured up in sound and sight
By the magic rays of light
That bring Television to you.

(Picture credit: BBC)

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