The end of analog TV

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 12, 2009, 7:54 PM | comments: 0

Today was the day (second try) to end analog television. For most people, it probably makes no difference, since they're already getting their TV from satellite or cable (or whatever you call AT&T's digital service over copper). The estimates are something like 14% of people still get TV over-the-air, and they're the people who are affected by this, which is something like 15 million houses.

Even though this gets almost no attention, NTSC has been transmitted since 1941, or shortly thereafter when it was approved. When they tacked on the color subcarrier a few years later, it was still basically the same TV standard. For more than 60 years, this is how broadcast TV was transmitted. Turning it off is a big deal.

NTSC has been a fairly reliable video format for a very long time. It has been with us through tube TV's of various sizes, video game consoles, VCR's, video cameras, etc. It wasn't until the last ten years though that we started to see differences in the way we moved that video around. DV (and the DVCPRO and DVCAM pro derivitives) brought us digital recording. MPEG-2 based DVD came along, and introduced us to 16:9 aspect ratios and 24 fps recording. A huge mess of incompatible formats surfaced for Internet delivery. It has all been pretty crazy to see the demise of analog video tape.

I got to touch 1" tape, 3/4" U-matic, VHS and S-VHS 1/2", a little Hi8, and once or twice, the good old news gathering standard, Betacam.

ATSC, the new broadcast standard, is still important. The thing about broadcast, which so many people think is irrelevant, is that there's still a local, public service aspect to it that I think we need to retain. It is still free.

The future is pretty exciting. Transmission and format means so little in a world where software ultimately has the job of getting pictures on the screen. And the screen's number of pixels is really the only limiting factor to what we can view. At the other end, camersa like the Red One can shoot countless formats. Heck, my HVX200 can do everything from 1080p at 30 fps down to old fashioned 480i (our old friend NTSC).

Analog television, as a platform, has likely done more to shape and mold our culture than anything else. It deserves a moment of silence.


OK, now we can move on. :)


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