With Netflix splitting its rentals between DVD and streaming – and in doing so focusing more on streaming content – we’re seeing a quicker evolution on how people watch television. The changes are such that actual televisions aren’t even necessary in the process anymore, and many rentals and movies that people own no longer exist in a physical state. TV has been in American households since the late 40′s, but what was once the cornerstone of every American household has been taking a hit from how high speed internet and companies like Apple and Netflix have changed how people can watch entertainment at home. So let’s look at some of the biggest changes and evolutions of the old boob tube, shall we?

1.) Invention

Television was developed (at least theoretically) around the time of the invention of the telephone, but was not practical until the late 1920’s. By the 1930’s Television signals were in use, and it became available commercially in America by 1939 – though there was little production and use during World War II.

Fact: In 1939 there were less than 1,000 sets in use, with 441 lines of resolution.

2.) Mass Production

TV didn’t become mainstream until 1948, when people were finally home from war, and the American economy was stronger than ever. Homes had already adopted to radio, and television was the natural extension. Cinema worried about the growing desire (and – more to the point – being replaced) so it created stereoscopic sound and CinemaScope, but television was making its way into people’s homes and there was no going back. With radio stars like Lucille Ball and Milton Berle on TV, television was of the moment. It quickly became the dominant form for entertainment.

Fact: In 1953 there were 25,233,000 Television in use, with a maximum 525 lines of resolution. The top movie of the year (The Robe) sold 64.8 Million tickets.

3.) Color

Though invented in 1953, color television wasn’t standardized until the late 60′s when TV networks adopted to the format. In 1966 networks introduced their all color line-up, and color TV models became practical. The movie business, which had already lost a lot of business to television, was also going through a rocky period as studios were mounting expensive productions that were flopping – the industry was changing, and color TV hurt cinema that much more.

Fact: In 1966 there were 53.850,000 Televisions in use and in 93% of American Homes. The top movie of 1965 – The Sound of Music – sold 125 Million tickets.

4) Cable

Though cable was available as early as 1948, the FCC choked its growth until the 1970′s, when it was deregulated. In 1972 HBO was born. Other channels developed as well, and by 1984 the “Cable Growth Act” made getting cable less restrictive. One of the big innovations was the birth of MTV in 1981, which changed the pop culture landscape and pop music – for better and worse. With less restrictions on the format and more channels coming, cable was and still is divided between basic and pay channels. Basic cable channels were often like TBS – a local network broadcast through satellite throughout the country – but as the industry grew, more and more original programming was developed, with such networks as Nickelodeon, VH1 and Comedy Central coming to the fore (Comedy Central was a combination of two networks, the Ha! Channel and The Comedy Channel). The growing options for home entertainment set the tone for how we consume media now.

Fact: In 1977 there were over 12 million cable subscribers, by 1992 there were over 57 Million.

5.) Stereo Sound and VHS

As the 1980′s progressed there was an attempt to get better quality television in homes (lines of resolution were still limited), and in 1984 stereo sound was added to broadcast television. Shows would note “in Stereo” before the start, and noting that continued into the 1990′s (Mystery Science Theater 3000 started with a parody of this with its slogan “Turn Down Your Lights… Where Applicable”). Though having stereo in homes was not a big change, with it (and projector televisions, and the size of televisions expanding) it was the start of creating better home theaters. Televisions were getting modernized.

HDTV was in development, but to get better quality in homes there would have to be a huge paradigm shift. Also added to the scene was VHS (and its competitor Betamax), which allowed people to record shows and record shows they weren’t at home for if they could figure out how to program their VCRs (numerous comedy routines were based around people not understanding how to program a VCR).

Fact: In 1985 14% of households with TVs had a VCR. By 1995 79% of households had one.

6.) DVD and Flat Screens

Though laserdiscs and S-VHS never made much of an impression on the general public, in 1997 DVD was launched, and completely changed the home video landscape. The CD to VHS’s audio tapes, the format offered better picture and sound, and eventually killed off video tape.The biggest drawback was that DVD didn’t record, and though steps were made to make DVD-R’s for home use, eventually that need was killed by DVR.

But more than replacing video tape, it helped accelerate home theater technology. One of the big evolutions was the flat screen format, which allowed for a reduction in weight versus the old curved screen model (a 32=inch TV used to weight around 200 pounds, where a flat screen of the same size weighs around 50 pounds). In 2005 flat screens were the industry standard, and HDTV’s offered 1080 lines of resolution versus the original standard of 480. By 2006, Flat screens and HDTV were mass produced to the point that their prices dropped to make them no longer just for the collector, and these days manufacturers no longer make 4×3 (or 1.33:1, or non-widescreen) models any more. The Government had long been suggesting a switch to all=digital for television broadcast, but it took until 2009 for that change to finally be enforced. But this switch to digital picture was also a move toward integrating the home theater with growing computer technology.

Fact: 2005′s A History of Violence was the last film released on VHS.

7.) Tivo and DVR

In 1999, Tivo was launched and changed the way people could watch television with DVRing (aka Digital Video Recording). It would record shows while you watched them, so if you delayed your start you could skip commercials. You could also sign up for a season pass, and make sure you didn’t miss your favorite show – or save them for a rainy day. Tivo in its prime had 4.36 million user, but DVR transcended Tivo itself. Now, a company like DirecTV has 19.2 Million users, all of whom have free DVR. Between that and the popularity of seasons of TV shows being collected on DVD, how people would watch (or re-watch) a program changed, so much so that the narratives of television stories reflected audiences who would watch every episode, versus the old standard of shows that were written so a viewer could watch them in virtually any order.

Fact: Janet Jackson’s Superbowl Nipple slip is still one of the most Tivo’d events in history, and changed network television’s censorship standards.

8.) Smart TV

With Smart TV, streaming video has become a battleground, where Apple, Netgear, Logitech, Boxee and many others are competing to get the best streaming video on the market. Watching television no longer necessarily involves watching a television, with many shows set to stream on tablets and computers. We’ve also seen HBO get into streaming their shows after release, but only for subscribers – something that seems destined to change.

Between renting shows that just aired through iTunes and Hulu, people can now watch things whenever they feel like (not to mention Netflix instant), and the technology is moving in the Smart TV direction where web-based technology allows internet access to television. With shows available for rent or for free online shortly after broadcast, we’re now seeing movies follow this example with video on demand – where consumers can watch a movie at home just as easily as going to the theater (this has been a boom for low budget and art films in that making a print of a movie can cost thousands of dollars).

Fact: One in four people in 2011 use Hulu to watch TV and Movies.


Ultimately, the internet has irrevocably changed how people consume television. Currently Smart TV have sold over 2 Million units worldwide, but it’s in less than a million US homes. Like Blu-ray technology, we’re still in the infancy of this format. The Wild West days. But – as this list shows – it takes a while for most innovations to become standardized. And to that, we’re seeing that all of these innovations have been incorporated into the latest technology – Netflix streams movies in HD and 5.1 surround and allow the instant access of DVRing something, while Hulu offers many premium cable shows through their streaming networks. As time has shown it’s likely this will all come together in one package (one can already see it on the way) and from there, there big question is, what’s next?

So now that you know where we’ve been, where do you think TV will go? What’s the next big step for TV?

This post is brought to you in partnership with Intel(R) who is dedicated to delivering the technology that makes lives better –today and tomorrow. Intel-Inspired technology helps us to stay in touch with what’s happening on screen and behind it.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #IntelEMP!