OLD TV sets
Some of the older, mostly black-and-white TV models, based on the cathode-ray tube technology, which are now museum pieces. Image Credit: Google / File

Dubai: There's a confusing permutations of display technology — OLED, QLED, AMOLED, 4K, 5K and 8K resolutions. Whatever the variant, they have become all the rage of our age.

And they're getting cheaper, thanks for economies of scale, the "Asianisation" of manufacturing.

And we all want it: Crisp, lifelike, moving images on our walls, in our hands. Up next: Flexible screens that would also deliver 3D movies.

Not so long ago, in the 1990s, it was plasma TVs and LCDs. Before that, it was just cathode-ray tube — when television was called the “boob-tube”. And that’s where “Youtube” got its name.

Over the last 170+ years or so, a string of inventors and corporations competed to deliver a display device around the world. Many capitalised on their inventions and make a profit. 

And here we are, a generation at the receiving end of that lengthy evolution. Getting to this point was not really a straight line. In fact, there were so many lines involved, literally and figuratively, in this story:

Who invented the television (TV)?

It’s a combination of innovations that piled up over the course of nearly 180 years, from about 1843 to the present. The more appropriate question is:

How was the TV invented?

Quick answer: Over a long period of time. The TV, as we know today, is the outcome of the work of many individuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A family watching television US 1950s
A family watching television in the 1950s in the US. The TV, as we know today, is the outcome of the work of many individuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Image Credit: File

Here's a quick timeline of TV technology development:

  • 1843 and 1846: Scottish inventor Alexander Bain introduced the "facsimile machine", considered the forerunner to modern-day television.
  • 1851: English physicist Frederick Bakewell demonstrated a working laboratory version.
  • 1856 onwards: The first practical facsimile system — using telegraph lines — was developed and put into service by the Italian priest Fr Giovanni Caselli.
  • 1873: Willoughby Smith, an English electrical engineer, discovered the “photoconductivity” of the element selenium
  • 1884, German university student, Paul Julius Gottlieb Nipkow, then only a 23-year-old, proposed and patented the Nipkow disk — a spinning disk with a spiral pattern of holes in it, so each hole scanned a line of the image. Although he never built a working model of the system, variations of Nipkow's spinning-disk "image rasterizer" became common.
  • 1897, J. J. Thomson, an English physicist, in his three famous experiments was able to deflect cathode rays, a fundamental function of the modern Cathode Ray Tube (CRT).
  • August 24, 1900, Constantin Perskyi had coined the word “television” in a paper read to the International Electricity Congress at the International World Fair in Paris. Perskyi's paper reviewed the existing electromechanical technologies, mentioning the work of Nipkow and others.
  • 1907 saw the discovery of "electroluminescence". This year saw developments in amplification tube technology, by Lee de Forest and Arthur Korn among others, made the TV design practical. It's the year British radio researcher Henry Joseph Round discovers electroluminescence, a natural phenomena that serves as the foundation upon which LED technology will later be built. This same year, Russian scientist Boris Rosing is the first to transmit crude geometrical patterns onto a television screen using CRT.
  • In 1909, the first demonstration of the instantaneous transmission of images was made by Georges Rignoux and A. Fournier in Paris. A matrix of 64 selenium cells, individually wired to a mechanical commutator, served as an electronic retina. In the receiver, a type of Kerr cell modulated the light and a series of variously angled mirrors attached to the edge of a rotating disc scanned the modulated beam onto the display screen. A separate circuit regulated synchronization. The 8x8 pixel resolution in this proof-of-concept demonstration was just sufficient to clearly transmit individual letters of the alphabet. An updated image was transmitted "several times" each second.
  • In 1911, Boris Rosing and his student Vladimir Zworykin created a system that used a mechanical mirror-drum scanner to transmit, in Zworykin's words, "very crude images" over wires to the "Braun tube" (cathode ray tube or "CRT") in the receiver. Moving images were not possible because, in the scanner, "the sensitivity was not enough and the selenium cell was very laggy".
  • 1923: Vladimir Zworykin experimented with the cathode ray tube (CRT) to create and show images. While working for Westinghouse Electric that year, Zworykin began to develop an electronic camera tube. In a 1925 demonstration, the image was dim, had low contrast and poor definition, and was stationary.
  • 1926: Hungarian engineer Kálmán Tihanyi designed a television system utilizing fully electronic scanning and display elements and employing the principle of "charge storage" within the scanning (or "camera") tube.
  • December 25, 1926: Kenjiro Takayanagi demonstrated a TV system with a 40-line resolution that employed a CRT display at Hamamatsu Industrial High School in Japan. This was the first working example of a fully electronic television receiver. Takayanagi did not apply for a patent.
  • June 1929: A mechanically-scanned colour television was also demonstrated by Bell Laboratories using three complete systems of photoelectric cells, amplifiers, glow-tubes and colour filters, with a series of mirrors to superimpose the red, green and blue images into one full colour image.
  • Until the 1930s, mechanical TV was the main type, but usually only produced small images. The last mechanical television broadcasts ended in 1939 at stations run by a handful of public universities in the United States.
  • 1931: Mexican inventor Guillermo González Camarena played an important role in the development of TV technology. His experiments (which lasted til 1940) with TV (known as telectroescopía at first) led to a patent for the "trichromatic field sequential system" colour TV in 1940.
  • 1933: American company RCA introduced an improved camera tube that relied on Tihanyi's charge storage principle. Dubbed the Iconoscope by Zworykin, the new tube had a light sensitivity of about 75,000 lux.
  • 1934: Zworykin shared some patent rights with the German licensee company Telefunken
  • 1936, the German company Heimann produced the Superikonoskop for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.
  • 1936: Kálmán Tihanyi described the principle of plasma display, the first flat panel display system.
  • 1940: the first practical hybrid system (a colour television combining a traditional black-and-white display with a rotating coloured disc) was pioneered by John Logie Baird.
  • 1940s-50s saw experiments with 3D movies: In 1947, the Soviet Union releases the film Bwana Devil and bills it as "the first feature length motion picture in 3-dimension natural vision."
  • 1941: Deals were made and standards agreed upon to harmonise a wide range of sizes, each competing for programming and dominance with separate technology (RCA, for example, used only Iconoscopes in the New York area, but Farnsworth Image Dissectors in Philadelphia and San Francisco).
  • 1941: the United States implemented 525-line television.
  • 1944: The world's first 625-line television standard was designed in the Soviet Union, and became a national standard in 1946. The first broadcast in 625-line standard occurred in 1948 in Moscow. The concept of 625 lines per frame was subsequently implemented in the European standard.
  • 1953: An all-electronic colour TV set was introduced in the US.
  • 1952 to 1958: the Dutch company Philips produced and commercialised the image “iconoscope and multicon”.
  • July 23, 1962: The first broadcast of public satellite TV signals, relayed from Europe to North America via the Telstar satellite over the Atlantic Ocean, although a test broadcast had taken place almost two weeks earlier on 11 July.
  • 1964: The first flat plasma display panel (PDP) was invented by Donald Bitzer, Gene Slottow and Robert Willson.
  • 1972: The first active-matrix liquid crystal display (LCD) panel was produced by Westinghouse.
  • 1977: James P Mitchell described, prototyped and demonstrated what was perhaps the earliest monochromatic flat panel LED television display targeted at replacing the cathode-ray tube (CRT).
  • Mid-1980s: Japanese companies developed HDTV technology. NHK, a Japanese TV channel, was seen as a pacesetter that threatened to eclipse US electronics companies.
  • June 1990: The Japanese MUSE standard — based on an analog system — was the front-runner among the more than 23 different technical concepts under consideration.
  • 1990s: US-based General Instrument demonstrated the feasibility of a digital television signal, which was considered a breakthrough
  • Late 2000s, digital TV transition started. All the governments across the world set the deadline for analog shutdown by the 2010s. While the adoption rate was initially low, more and more households were converting to digital televisions.

In sum, the development of TV technology was more of an evolution, rather than a revolution — it took more than 176 years, from the time of Scottish inventor Alexander Bain's 'facsimile machine' in 1843 to the present system of 4K and 8K displays.

OLED stands for "organic light emitting diode" screen technology. OLED is "emissive," which means the pixels discharge their own particular light.

QLED stands for "quantum dot LED" screen. QLED, as is LCD, in its present shape, is "transmissive" and depends on a LED backdrop illumination.

A Super AMOLED is Samsung's brand name for AMOLED shows with an implanted touch layer. If a pristine picture is what you want, AMOLED is the way to go.

What was the first televised show?

The ‘Queen's Messenger’ was aired on September 11, 1928. It was a 40-minute long program, the first drama to ever be broadcast on TV, thanks to WGY Television, General Electric's experimental station based in Schenectady, New York.

How did Youtube get its name?
You guessed it right: “YouTube” is just straightforward. The “You” represents that the content is user generated, created by individual users and not the site itself. “Tube” is a salute to an older original term for television — “boob tube”.

When was the first TV programme in the Arab World?

In the 1960s, the Arab TV landscape consisted of terrestrial channels. Most were established as government channels, mostly localized to their country of origin, and covering official inaugurations, ceremonial events and reporting on the whereabouts of heads of states.

This format changed, thanks to an array of non-controversial entertainment programs, Arab films and locally-produced soaps (dramas bankrolled by soap and shampoo companies), as well as shows imported from abroad, broadcast in their post-censorship variations and largely adapted to local laws, customs, and traditions.

When was satellite TV first introduced in the Middle East?

In the early 1990s, satellite TV was introduced in the Middle East. This technology has completely transformed the region's media landscape. Satellite channels set in motion the emergence of modern TV journalism, live debate and reality TV.

The year 1991 saw the strongest catalyst for radical change in the Arab media landscape, with CNN’s live coverage of the Gulf War. Until then, Arab audiences had virtually no access to international news coverage.

First 3D movies
In 1947, the Soviet Union releases the film Bwana Devil and bills it as "the first feature length motion picture in 3-dimension natural vision." Between 1952 and 1955, there are 46 3D movies released, including the famous 'House of Wax'. Poor visual quality was off-putting to viewers, and the 3D craze didn't really catch on for years to come.
Television monitors in New York on July 12, 1962
Television monitors in New York on July 12, 1962 show the first images broadcast by satellite from the UK to to the U.S. Image Credit: Corbis

What was the first Arab satellite TV channel?

The emergence of a global telecommunications revolution in the 1980s, particularly in satellite television, brought dramatic changes to the Middle East, perhaps more than to any other region on Earth.

The first satellite broadcaster in the region started in Egypt. The Egyptian Satellite Channel began transmitting in December 1990, followed a year later by the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC).

Moon landing
Three years after the first satellite broadcast, the world watched the first televised pictures of the moon in 1965, thanks to the technology introduced a few years earlier. Image Credit: Nasa via NYT

In September 1991, prominent Saudi businessman Sheikh Walid al-Ibrahim founded the first privately owned station, the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC).

In 1996, the Emir of Qatar funded the launch of Al Jazeera, the first 24-hour news service in the region. The new proliferation of satellite dishes throughout the Middle East gave Al Jazeera a chance at a quickly-growing audience.

The number of Arabic-language satellite channels has tripled since 2004, according to PBS. Today, the majority of households in the region have satellite TV links.

How many Arabic-language channels are there in the world?

There are more than 300 satellite stations now on the air in the Middle East. And there’s is room for any more, as new stations keep on popping up on audiences' satellite menus. Number of channels reached 400 by the end of 2007.

The number of Arabic-language satellite channels has tripled since 2004, according to PBS. The majority of households in the region have satellite TV links today.

It was estimated that by the year 2007, there were 400+ Arabic channels.

When was the first TV station established in the UAE?

190311 satellite
Satellite dishes are seen for the rooftop of the buildings Image Credit: Gulf News archives

1969. The United Arab Emirates' first television channel, Abu Dhabi Television, was launched that year.

In the years that followed, many more stations and channels went live — including Channel 33, launched in 1997, and targeted expatriates.

When was the first TV commercial (advertisement) aired?

The first TV commercial was aired 78 years ago, on July 1, 1941.

The ad was inserted during a televised baseball game in the US, between Brooklyn Dodgers who were facing off against the Philadelphia Phillies at Ebbets Field in New York.

Before the first pitch was broadcast on NBC-owned WNBT (now WNBC), the first true TV commercial aired in the US. It was a short, simple spot for Bulova Watch Co.

How many TV sets produced annually?

Statista estimates that about 229 million TV units were sold in 2017, from 234 million in 2012.

What is the world's biggest TV market?

Television is a very popular technology around the globe, Asia (given its large population) is the region that buys the most TV sets, accounting for over a third of all sales in 2018.

What was the rate of adoption of colour television?

It was in 1953, when an all-electronic colour TV was first introduced in the US. Since then, the rate of adoption has been mercuric. Economists have tracked this rate using the so-called "S-curve".

S curve
The S-curve shows rate of adoption of different technologies in an "S" form on a graph from 1900 to 2005. Image Credit: Bloomberg

This curve, which does look like as the letter "S", plotted in a Bloomberg graph above, shows that it took about 45 years for more than 90% of the world to embrace colour TV.

The S-curve is also shown for the adoption of refrigerators, computers and cellular phones. The same curve is going to apply to electric vehicles, according to experts.

OLED/QLED display, 4K vs 8K: What's the difference

Display technology has greatly improved. Remember "plasma" screens? They've been completely wiped out within a decade or so, thanks to HD, UHD 4K and 8K LED (light-emitting diode) screen technology.

If you're looking for the best screen quality for home, personal or professional use, just remember some really simple industry terms:

  • 8K — it's a higher resolution standard than 4K — thus quadrupling the total number of pixels just like 4K did with 1080p. 8K is 7,680 x 4,320 resolution, or approximately 8,000 horizontal pixels.
  • 4K — it's around 4,000 horizontal pixels at 3,840 x 2,160, and 1080p is around 2,000 horizontal pixels at 1,920 x 1,080.
  • QLED — QLED is a Samsung-specific marketing term for LCD TVs that uses quantum dot technology to enhance performance in key picture quality areas, differentiating it from LG’s OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) line-up.
  • OLED — LG’s OLED comes from Organic Light-Emitting Diode, and is its own marketing term for the light-emitting diode display technology.
Customers check out LED TV 001
Customers check out LED TV screens at Gitex Shopper 2019 in Dubai on September 25, 2019.. Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin

How many TV channels does the UAE have?

There are at least 72 channels in the UAE.

In 2011, the United Arab Emirates was the main headquarters to 72 free-to-air channels, falling slightly behind Egypt and Saudi Arabia in terms of the total number of channels within the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates also had 16 terrestrial channels, of which 13 are state-owned.

What is the percentage of people watching TV in the UAE?

Approximately 50% of viewers spend between one and three hours watching TV per day. Emirati nationals watch the highest amount of television, with 53% watching between three and six hours per day, according to recent figures. 

What are the most popular channels in the UAE?

MBC channels are the most watched, particularly among expat Arabs, while Zee TV remains at the top among other expats due to the strong preponderance of South Asians in this group. Abu Dhabi TV is also a popular choice. 


Netflix subscription

IPTV penetration was estimated at 33% in 2011. Although free-to-air television remains dominant, there has been an increase in the uptake of pay-TV, which is estimated at around 45%.

What is the future of TV and display technology?

There are our bold predictions, informed by recent data.

A war between Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV and similar online movie services is on. This is just the harbinger of the future.

For a few dollars a month ($8.99/month for Netflix and $4.99 or Dh19.00/month for Apple TV), these services — including "experiential marketing" — bring an almost unlimited content of a movie house to our living rooms.


Apple TV subscription

There will be a big rush for content creators of 3D movies and other "immersive".

In terms of display technology OLED, QLED, AMOLED and foldable screens will continue to compete with each other for dominance in an increasingly connected world.