Color Television - Adoption - Europe

Europe

European color television was developed somewhat later and was hindered by a continuing division (and nationalistic bias) on technical standards. Having decided to adopt a higher-definition 625-line system for monochrome transmissions, with a lower frame rate but with a higher overall bandwidth, Europeans could not directly adopt the U.S. color standard. This was widely perceived as inadequate anyway because of its hue error problems, which became particularly acute with the introduction of videotape recorders in the late 1950s. There was also less urgency, since there were fewer commercial motivations, European television broadcasters being predominantly state-owned at the time.

As a consequence, although work on various color encoding systems started already in the 1950s, with the first SECAM patent being registered in 1956, many years had passed when the first broadcasts actually started in 1967. Unsatisfied with the performance of NTSC and of initial SECAM implementations, the Germans unveiled PAL (phase alternating line) in 1963, technically similar to NTSC but borrowing some ideas from SECAM. The French continued with SECAM, notably involving Russians in the development.

The first full-specification PAL receivers ("PAL-D") relied on a precision ultrasonic glass delay line, which in the early days was estimated would make up about a third of the cost of the receiver. PAL stood for Phase Alternated Line. It was basically a 625-line version of NTSC, with phase inversion of alternate numbered scan lines. Therefore, for example, a HUE or TINT (phase) error on line 22 would be offset by an opposite HUE or TINT error on line 23. The two phase errors would cancel each other in the optical presentation as interpreted by the human eye. The TINT control required by NTSC was therefore obviated. Other color encoding systems had already been proposed which would overcome the tint problems of NTSC using such a delay line, but PAL was unique in that an economy receiver (known as "PAL-S" for "simple PAL") could also be built without using a delay line, with a performance no worse than, and in most cases better than, an equivalent NTSC model.

SECAM did not require such precision for its delay line, and could use much cheaper magnetostrictive metal types. Ironically, by the time PAL broadcasts commenced in 1967, advances in glassmaking techniques had dropped the cost of precision PAL delay lines so much that hardly any simple-PAL receivers were built commercially, and virtually all SECAM receivers used the same type of delay line as PAL receivers. By the end of the 20th century, glass delay lines had been completely replaced by all-electronic equivalents.

The first regular color broadcasts in Europe were by the United Kingdom's BBC2 beginning on July 1, 1967 (PAL). West Germany's first broadcast occurred in August (PAL), followed by the Netherlands in September (PAL), and by France in October (SECAM). Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Austria, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary all started regular color broadcasts before the end of 1969. Ireland's national TV station RTE, began using color in 1968. The PAL system spread through most of Western Europe and on into the territories of the old British, Portuguese, Belgian, Dutch, Austria, Ottoman and Chinese Empires.

In Italy there were debates to adopt a national color television system, the ISA, developed by Indesit, but that idea was scrapped. As a result, Italy was one of the last European countries to officially adopt the PAL system in 1977, after long technical experimentation.

France, Luxembourg and most of the Eastern Bloc along with their overseas territories opted for SECAM. SECAM was a popular choice in countries with a lot of hilly terrain, and technologically backward countries with a very large installed base of monochrome equipment, since the greater ruggedness of the SECAM signal could cope much better with poorly maintained equipment. However for many countries the decision was more down to politics than technical merit.

A drawback of SECAM for production is that, unlike PAL or NTSC, certain post-production operations of encoded SECAM signals are not really possible without a significant drop in quality. As an example, a simple fade to black is trivial in NTSC and PAL: you just reduce the signal level until it is zero. However, in SECAM the color difference signals, which are frequency modulated, need first to be decoded to e.g. RGB, then the fade-to-black is applied, and finally the resulting signal is re-encoded into SECAM. Because of this, much SECAM video editing was actually done using PAL equipment, then the resultant signal was converted to SECAM. Another drawback of SECAM is that comb filtering, allowing better color separation, is not possible in TV receivers. This was not, however, much of a drawback in the early days of SECAM as such filters did not become readily available in high-end TV sets before the 1990s.

The first regular color broadcasts in SECAM were started on October 1, 1967, on France's Second Channel (ORTF 2e chaîne). In France and the UK color broadcasts were made on UHF frequencies, the VHF band being used for legacy black and white, 405 lines in UK or 819 lines in France, till the beginning of the 1980s. Countries elsewhere that were already broadcasting 625-line monochrome on VHF and UHF, simply transmitted color programs on the same channels.

Some British television programmes, particularly those made by or for ITC Entertainment, were shot on color film before the introduction of color television to the UK, for the purpose of sales to U.S. networks. The first British show to be made in color was the drama series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956–57), which was initially made in black and white but later shot in color for sale to the NBC network in the United States. Other British color television programmes include Stingray (1964–1965), which was the first British TV show to be filmed entirely in color, Thunderbirds (1965–1966) and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967–1968). However, most UK series predominantly made using videoptape, such as Doctor Who (1963–89; 2005–present) did not begin color production until later, with the first color Doctor Who episodes not airing until 1970.

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