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The word television derives from the Greek tele, for “far,” and the Latin visio, meaning “sight.” Many people believe the television was invented in one instance by one person, but, in fact, it was a culmination of several discoveries over a period of time.
Scanning images to transmit them via electrical signals was first performed in 1881 with a pendulum-like device and a German student, Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, patented a device in 1884 that scanned images via a spinning disk with angular holes that spun light over a selenium sensor. This produced electrical charges that could be sent through wire or airwaves. Advanced as this notion seems, there was no practical way to reconstitute the images until 1907 when amplifier tubes came into use.
In 1926, John Logie Baird successfully transmitted images from a drum scanning device to a cathode ray tube display at 30 lines of resolution via telephone line from Glasgow to London. Kalman Tihanyi invented a system using only electronic scanning later that same year and Russian Leion Theremin had increased resolution to 100 lines by 1927. Also in 1927, Philo Farnsworth developed the first electronic scanner and display. It was revealed to the press in 1928 and in 1934 he was able to remove the last of the mechanical parts. A significant patent battle developed between Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin who independently developed a similarly working system from his own lab. After Zworykin was unable to produce a working model, the U.S. patent office gave the patent solely to Farnsworth in 1939. However, Isaac Shoenberg later used Zworykin’s design to produce the first BBC cameras in 1936.
Television resolution was at its peak in Britain with Shoenberg’s system that produced 405 lines. It was not topped until 1944 when the Soviet Union began using technology producing 625 lines which later became the European standard in the late 1940s. After the increase in resolution, the next major innovation was electronic color television with the first fully-functional model being demonstrated by Baird in 1944.
Broadcast television would not change substantially for most consumers until the 1990s when the analog signals began to be digitized and primarily delivered through wired subscription cable services and satellite transmissions and the first decade of the 21st century saw the death of the cathode ray tube television with the advent of LCD and plasma technology.