What’s on TV?

 I have always liked the French phrase “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” [“the more things change, the more they stay the same”]. It says a lot about so many aspects of the world. I have been pondering a phenomenon that has been around all my life: television. In some ways, TV is the same as it always was; in others it has changed beyond all recognition. Quite a lot has happened in the last seven decades.

UK TV started out with just one channel - from the BBC. In due course, the advert-supported ITV channel was added. These were transmitted at 405-line resolution in black and white on VHF.

BBC 2 was added. This was broadcast at 625-line resolution in black and white on UHF. The other channels were added at the higher resolution on UHF.

Colour TV in the UK was a few years behind the US. This was because the US system, NTSC [dubbed “Never Twice the Same Color”] had some limitations and the better PAL system took some more development. BBC 2 was the first colour channel, with the others following.

More channels appeared. First Channel 4 and then Channel 5, which was troublesome as broadcast bandwidth was running out.

Satellite TV provided a means of delivering many more channels and also accommodated subscription, pay-per-view and other commercial options.

Digital TV arrived, paving the way for many channels of terrestrial broadcasts and the possibility of higher resolution. Digital satellite followed suit.

Flat screen TVs started appearing - plasma and LCD initially, followed later by LED and OLED screens - and quickly became ubiquitous. These TVs were initially “HD ready”; they did not support receiving HD broadcasts [there weren’t any initially], but could show HD video from a suitable source, like Blu-Ray, via an HDMI interface.

Full HD TVs are now most common. Higher resolution 4K are readily available. Bigger screens, projector TV systems and 3-D TV have all been around for a while.

In recent years, in my view, the biggest change is from broadcast TV to on-demand delivery of programming - streaming and catch-up services. It used to be the case that, to watch a TV program, you needed to be in front of the screen at exactly the right time and any interruption would be most annoying. Nowadays, you can tune in at any time after it has started and watch from the beginning, pausing to accommodate interruptions as necessary. Streaming services, like Netflix, offer movies and complete seasons of TV shows.

Personally, I love the way that the viewer is now in control. I watch what I want, when I want and I am not governed by arbitrary schedules. If a new season of a favourite show starts, I might wait until it has finished so that I can watch the episodes as and when I want.

A favourite show of mine is Star Trek. I watched the original back in the 60s in black and white, even though it was actually one of the first shows made in the US in colour. The bright shirts were just to show off the colour system, as NTSC could not handle anything more subtle. Recently I have been working through the 90s-vintage Start Trek TNG - all 7 seasons - on Netflix and enjoy both the picture quality and the accuracy of some of the futuristic stuff, even if it arrived 200 years sooner than expected.

As I said, plus ça change …