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It’s the 60th birthday of color TV

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Sixty years ago, the first color televisions arrived. And while it took color TVs a while to become the norm in the marketplace (same happened for HDTV and is happening for Ultra HD TV), there was no turning back once people saw vivid color on their screens.

Dave Arland, a longtime employee of RCA (which once was one of the biggest and most pioneering TV manufacturers) and current president of public relations firm Arland Communications, has written a nice blog post to commemorate the occasion. We reprint it here with his permission:

One in five U.S. households purchased a color TV set in the past year, just as consumers have done year after year as they bring home the latest technology.

A more realistic portrait of our world, filled with vivid colors and spectacular vistas, began 60 years ago this week with the shipment of the world’s first mass-produced all-electronic color TV set from RCA’s sprawling factory in Bloomington, Indiana. In time, Bloomington itself was named the “Color TV Capital of the World,” a title it held through the production of more than 60 million sets.

Photo of the RCA CT-100, via Wired.com.

Photo of the RCA CT-100, via Wired.com.

It all started with the RCA CT-100, featuring a 15-inch tri-color picture tube that could deliver red, green, and blue converged into a stunning image much different than the monochrome flickers that filled living rooms at the time. Considered the “Holy Grail” for TV collectors and named the “best gadget of all time” by WIRED magazine, there are fewer than 40 RCA CT-100 sets are known to still be in operating condition. The Early TV Museum in Hilliard, Ohio and the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis both have working models on public view.

Analog color TV broadcasts finally succumbed to the march of technology in 2009, marking 55 years of service. Thirteen years earlier, the transition to high-definition digital television began with the Federal Communications Commission’s adoption of the current transmission system that delivers pristine high-definition images over-the-air (and free) to millions of viewers.

Now, according to Leichtman Research Group (which has studied HDTV trends for 11 years), more than three-quarters of all households in the U.S. have at least one high-definition TV. And almost half of households have more than one.

Just five years ago, only a third of households had a single HDTV.

Analog TV sets are still around – and not just the rare 1954 model. With a converter box to receive digital transmissions from local TV broadcasters and convert them to analog signals, many millions of analog TV sets are still in use in bedrooms, playrooms, and kitchens. 59 percent of all television sets used in U.S. households are now high-definition models, which means that 41 percent are still the analog variety (and likely hooked up to cable or satellite services or a converter box.)

And despite the fact that tablets, smartphones, and portable TV sets are allowing viewers to take their favorite channels wherever they go, analyst Bruce Leichtman points out that “television sets in the home are getting bigger and bigger” even as “consumers are acquiring an increasing number of devices that allow them to watch video anywhere and anytime.”

So what’s next? How about Ultra HDTV? That’s the consumer handle for TV signals that will carry at least four times more data than today’s signals. Nearly a third of adults in the Leichtman study have heard of UltraHD, and about a third of those report that they’ve seen demonstrations (likely in electronics stores) of the first UltraHD sets.

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  1. My Mom worked at RCA TV Plant in Bloomington, IN for 20 years before it became Thomson Consumer Electronics, that closed all the plants, & moved all the work to Mexico.

    Edward Stotts