Early Television
Early Television
Early Television
Early Television
Early Television Early Television

Ed Reitan's Color Television History

Color Line

Transition to HDTV at the Network and Local Level


December 1956 marked three years of NTSC colorcasting. The first table, Early Color Pioneers, lists those stations with live local color television by the end of 1956. By November 2001, it similarly was just past the third anniversary of nationwide ATSC HDTV, which started on Thursday, October 29, 1998 with the John Glenn Space Shuttle Launch. The ABC HD broadcast of 101 Dalmatians followed on November 1, 1998. Unfortunately, by November 2001 there was very little network and certainly little local HDTV activity.


As occurred for color, initially HDTV was only available from network feeds: initially ABC in 720p and CBS and PBS in 1080i. Eventually, NBC started to distribute a few HDTV programs in 1080i. Most initial programming involved HDTV transfers from film. The beauty and excitement of live sports in HDTV became rapidly evident and the first HDTV baseball, tennis, golf, and football appeared. A single mobile HDTV truck could easily support this type of one-time event of HDTV programming. Fox changed its initial policy of 480p to finally distribute in 720p.


Studio-based regular programming was slower to appear. NBC had only a single studio for its nightly Jay Leno HDTV program (starting on April 26, 1999). CBS had equipped its first HDTV studio in Television City, Hollywood to produce the daytime soap "The Young and the Restless" on June 27, 2001.


The networks also provided ample situation comedy HDTV product because of the daily bicycling of relatively rare HDTV Sony 24p cameras between the Hollywood sound stages. It was also easy to provide HDTV as transferred from programs shot on good-old-original high definition 35mm film negatives.


Major awards shows, such as the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards, were not presented in HDTV until 2003 - in a manner resembling the event programming of the early color spectaculars.


In January 2002 there were only three local stations (in Seattle WA., Raleigh N.C. and Portland, OR-KOIN) were producing regular local HDTV high-definition telecasts of their news - compare this to 33 stations with local live color after just three years of NTSC color.


By August 2005 the list of local stations that have HD newscasts was still small:

Cleveland, OH

WRAL - Raleigh, NC (On July 23, 1996, WRAL transmitted the first digital signal in the U.S.)


On September 6, 1997, WRAL became the first commercial station in the nation to complete a live HD satellite feed of an Atlantic Coast Conference football game. The game was the first football game produced in HDTV. The signal was transmitted from the site to a K-2 satellite and then returned to the WRAL HD transmitter, where it was broadcast live to monitors placed at Wallace Wade Stadium at Duke University in Durham, N.C. On October 28, 1998, WRAL broadcast the first live news event, bringing viewers across the nation a 70-minute broadcast of John Glenn's return to space.   In 2001, WRAL began broadcasting all of its newscasts in HD. WRAL also introduced a 24-hour NewsChannel so viewers can get WRAL News, weather and sports anytime they want.

WUSA Washington, DC (not all remotes were in HD, some 480i, some 1080i)

KUSA Denver, CO (first HDTV helicopter in the country)
KING Seattle, WA

KOMO Seattle, WA

KABC Los Angeles, CA

Of note is the first HDTV helicopter that used by KABC-TV in Los Angeles in February, 2005. On February 4, 2006, all KABC-TV studio newscasts began to be presented in HDTV while remote news crews shot in standard definition 16:9 aspect ratio.


Other HDTV Milestones:


KTLA-DT, January 1, 1999 (first transmission of Tournament of Roses Parade, from Pasadena, California in HDTV) [KTLA had experimentally recorded parts of the 1998 parade in HDTV]


KTLA-DT, 1999 (first local Dodgers HDTV Baseball Game)


PBS (first HDTV production distributed live with the 1999 Great Circus Parade)


WDIV-DT, 2002 (initiates local HDTV production with coverage of the 2002 Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade).


2005 2006


We are seeing a burst of Network HDTV studio activity in 2005 and 2006.


On April 26, 2005 Conan OBrien transitioned to HDTV from Radio City in New York City. On August 29, 2005 David Letterman initiated CBS HDTV in New York from the historic Ed Sullivan Theater.


Other HDTV starts in the Fall of 2005 included Good Morning America (ABC) and Saturday Night Live the last from fabled Studio 8H in Radio City, the Toscanini Studio. Saturday Night Live began HDTV on October 1, 2005. Good Morning America (ABC) began HDTV on November 3, 2005. Carson Daly (NBC) was originally planned to also originate in HDTV from Studio 8H in Radio City, but that has not occurred.


On Monday, September 11, 2006, the first syndicated shows were distributed in HDTV these were Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. On Wednesday, September 13, 2006 The View started in HDTV on a daily basis.


Indicating that HDTV may have finally come of age as of November 2006, a significant number of HDTV commercials are finally appearing. One of the first HDTV sponsors had been Target Stores with their trendy Design ads, and some motion picture commercials had appeared on the annual Academy Award show. But in November 2006 the following sponsors had recognized the heightened realism and feeling of perceived product quality using HDTV for their commercials:


Allstate (Tech Rules)American Express (with several Ellen ads)

Apple Computer (with the sparring PC man and Mac man)

AT&T Home-zone

Best Buy (various Christmas ads)

Casino Royale James Bond motion picture

Chase Freedom Card

Cingular (Blackjack phone)

IBM (IBM.com/special)


Liberty Mutual Insurance (Helpful to Others

Lincolns new SUV

Miller Lite Beer

Nissan Titan

Olivia HDTV receiver

Pacific Life

Target Stores

Texas Instrument DLP

Visa Check Card

Verizon Wireless

We are Marshall motion picture

Somehow, these ads seem much more sophisticated, fresh, and elegant than in blurred standard definition. This reaction was similar to those first ads that appeared in full color instead of in drab black and white. Starting in November 2006, HDTV ads appeared frequently on college and NFL football games, and, less often, on evening HDTV show.


However, the rapid colorization by the early color pioneers was really significant, when compared to the timidity of present-day network and local stations in their slow transition to HDTV.

Color Line

Version 1.02, revision o, 2006-12-06

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