TV celebrates 70-year landmark trial

Seventy years ago today the BBC launched what was then described as a high-definition television service. The service was in fact a trial to determine which of two rival systems, one using 240 lines, developed by TV inventor John Logie Baird, the other using 405 lines, developed by Marconi-EMI, would be adopted.

The trial was the recommendation of a government-appointed committee to advise on the merits of the rival systems. Broadcasting began on November 2, 1936, with a televised speech by the Postmaster General, Lord Selsdon, who had chaired the committee. The Baird and Marconi systems were trialled on alternate evenings; receivers were built with both standards and viewers switched between the different systems.

According to Baird's son, Malcolm, the first high-definition broadcasts would have been seen in just 1,000 homes. "Television was not yet a mass medium and total receiver sales did not pass the 1500 figure until the summer of 1937."

Baird's 'flying-spot' scanner was efficient at transmitting film but not live studio images which the Marconi camera excelled in. Baird made up for that by creating a film process for live television which scanned still-wet 16mm film just a minute after it was developed. But the move was not enough to convince the committee which opted in favour of Marconi-EMI's system in February 1937.

Lovelace Consulting  |  02.11.2006

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