- Author Simon Lucas
- Published June 30, 2013
How sport has driven the innovation of TV
TVs have changed a lot over the years. Some of it’s been fashion, some of it’s been tech. But nothing has propelled the evolution of TV like sport, as Simon Lucas explains
Except for a fortunate few, paying for a new TV is an expense that has to be justified. Household budgets have to be balanced, after all, and one can’t just pop out, Mario Balotelli-style, for some milk and then return six hours later with a new LED-backlit LCD screen tucked under one’s arm.
I vividly remember the changeover to colour from black-and-white in my childhood home. Some of my swankier friends had been enjoying the near-alchemy of colour TV for a while, but in my house it was the 1976 Montreal Olympics that was the excuse my mother used for spending money she almost certainly didn’t have on a colour TV. Like any appliance in those days it was trimmed in wood veneer (what was that obsession with making household goods look like furniture?) and had six extremely clunky push/push switches to change channels. Why there were six I don’t know – perhaps you were meant to tune in each of the three available TV channels twice each.
Needless to say, the Montreal Olympics is an extremely fond memory. And I know for a fact that it’s sporting events (the Olympics and the football World Cup are the most common examples, but don’t underestimate the Grand National’s wide-ranging ability to part a customer from his cash) that are the only rationale many people need to finally buy that nice new TV they’ve promised themselves.
And I think sport has played an equally significant role in the development of television technology. You don’t need to be high-up at Sky Sports to know sport of all kinds is a huge driver of the broadcasting business, and the more sport available the more insatiable consumers become. But it’s the technological challenges that broadcast sport presents that’s forced TV manufacturers to up their game.
The move from black-and-white to colour can’t be completely attributed to sport (although who among us isn’t aware of the classic “for those of you watching in black and white, the cue-ball is behind the pink” snooker commentary?) but when the paradigm shift from CRT TVs to futuristic flatscreens came it was sport that presented the most significant problems to broadcasters.
Motion was the biggest problem. Football, motor-racing, even the afore-mentioned snooker… any sport you care to mention, really, they all involve motion. Sometimes of the most rapid kind, and sometimes the on-screen motion will be at a different rate, and in a different direction, to the movement of the camera that’s following it.
For complicated and relatively esoteric reasons concerning the relationship of the number 24 to the number 25, this kind of motion caused the first (and second and third, to be fair) generations of flatscreens terrible trouble. On-screen motion just wasn’t crisply handled – it smeared and ghosted and blurred its way around in a manner unbecoming of the future of TV.
Sport forced TV manufacturers – all of them – to ever-more impressive feats of scientific and technological prowess. Buy a half-decent TV today and as long as it’s competently set up motion of any kind won’t be a problem. This level of expertise was not brought to bear because of Merchant-Ivory.
And every televisual innovation since has either been driven by, or developed as a direct result of, people’s limitless desire to watch sport on TV. High-definition broadcasts (which, of course, come at a premium) found their natural home early at Sky’s multiple sports channels. And when the time came to start broadcasting in 3D, Sky found it more expedient to broadcast football games in 3D even before it started broadcasting made-in-3D movies.
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Simon Lucas is the editor of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision magazine
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