High-definition television in the United States

Last updated

High-definition television (HDTV) in the United States was introduced in 1998 and has since become increasingly popular and dominant in the television market. Hundreds of HD channels are available in millions of homes and businesses both terrestrially and via subscription services such as satellite, cable and IPTV. HDTV has quickly become the standard, with about 85% of all TVs used being HD as of 2018. [1] [ failed verification ] In the US, the 720p and 1080i formats are used for linear channels, while 1080p is available on a limited basis, mainly for pay-per-view and video on demand content. Some networks have also began transmitting content at 1080p via ATSC 3.0 multiplex channels, with CBS and NBC affiliates being the main stations that transmit at 1080p.


Proposals and introduction

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began soliciting proposals for a new television standard for the U.S. in the late 1980s and later decided to ask companies competing to create the standard to pool their resources and work together, forming what was known as the Grand Alliance in 1993.

On July 23, 1996, WRAL-TV (the then CBS affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina; now affiliated with NBC) became the first television station in the United States to broadcast a digital television signal. [2]

HDTV sets became available in the U.S. in 1998 and broadcasts began around November 1998. The first public HDTV broadcast was of the launch of the space shuttle Discovery and John Glenn's return to space; that broadcast was made possible in part by the Harris Corporation. [3] The first commercial broadcast of a local sporting event in HD was during Major League Baseball's Opening Day on March 31, 1998, the Texas Rangers against the Chicago White Sox from The Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, TX. The telecast was produced by LIN Productions, and overseen by LIN Productions president and Texas Rangers television executive producer Lee Spieckerman. The game was also the inaugural telecast on the digital channel of Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas NBC affiliate KXAS channel 5. The event was simultaneously shown via satellite at a reception attended by members of congress, the FCC and members of the industry in Washington, DC. This telecast was also the first commercial HD broadcast in the state of Texas. [4] The first major sporting event broadcast nationwide in HD was Super Bowl XXXIV, broadcast by ABC on January 30, 2000. By the 2014–15 season every network show producing new episodes had transitioned to high definition. [5]

Satellite and cable

Satellite television companies in the United States, such as Dish Network and DirecTV, started to carry HD programming in 2003. Satellite transmissions in the U.S. use various forms of PSK modulation. A separate tuner is required to receive HD satellite broadcasts.

Cable television companies in the U.S. generally prefer to use 256-QAM to transmit HDTV. Many of the newer HDTVs with integrated digital tuners include support for decoding 256-QAM in addition to 8VSB for OTA digital. Cable television companies started carrying HDTV in 2003.

Currently, HD programming is carried by all major television networks in nearly all DMAs, including ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, The CW, MyNetworkTV and Telemundo; and on many independent stations. All but a select few of cable networks offer an HD broadcast to cable and satellite companies.

List of current American high-definition channels

NameFirst-launched HD serviceHD FormatLetterbox/PillarboxCategoryType
A&E September 4, 20061080iN/AEntertainmentCable
ABC September 16, 2001720pPillarbox (2001–2016)

Letterbox (2016–present)

AccuWeather Network N/A1080iN/ANewsCable
Adult Swim October 15, 2007Pillarbox (2007–2013)

Letterbox (2013–present)

Altitude N/ASports - Regional
AMC Entertainment
American Heroes Channel
Animal Planet Lifestyle
AT&T SportsNet April 1, 2011720pSports – Regional
ASPiRE June 27, 20121080iEntertainment
AWE June 1, 20041080iLifestyle
AXS TV September 6, 2001Entertainment
Azteca July 16, 2012Broadcast – SpanishBroadcast
BBC America March 29, 1998EntertainmentCable
BBC World News August 5, 2013News
beIN Sports June 1, 2012720pSports
beIN Sports en Español Sports – Spanish
BET March 23, 20111080iEntertainment
Big Ten Network 2009720pSports - College
Bloomberg TV May 9, 20111080iNews
Bravo 2007Lifestyle
Cars.TV May 2009Sports
Cartoon Network October 15, 2007Pillarbox (2007–2013)

Letterbox (2013–present)

CBS September 1998Pillarbox (1998–2018)

Letterbox (2018–present)

CBS Sports Network August 2008SportsCable
Cinemax (MoreMax, ActionMax, ThrillerMax, 5starMax, MovieMax, OuterMax, MaxLatino)N/APremium MoviesPremium
CMT EntertainmentCable
CNBC October 10, 2007News
CNN September 6, 2007
Comedy Central January 13, 2009Entertainment
Comedy.TV May 2009
Cooking Channel March 31, 2008Lifestyle
Crime & Investigation Network April 1, 2005720pPillarboxEntertainment
The CW March 20121080iBroadcast
Daystar N/A720pReligionCable
Destination America March 31, 20081080iLifestyle
Discovery Channel June 2002Entertainment
Discovery Family October 10, 2010Family
Discovery Life February 1, 2011Lifestyle
Disney Channel March 19, 2008720pPillarbox (2008–2017)

Letterbox (2017–present)

Disney Junior March 23, 2012Pillarbox (2012–2017)

Letterbox (2017–present)

Disney XD February 13, 2009Pillarbox (2009–2017)

Letterbox (2017–present)

DIY May 1, 20101080iLifestyle
E! December 8, 2008
Epix (Epix 2, Epix Hits)October 30, 2009Premium MoviesPremium
ES.TV May 2009EntertainmentCable
ESPN March 30, 2003720pSports
ESPN2 January 2005
ESPNews March 30, 2008
ESPNU March 23, 2010
ESPN Deportes January 7, 2004Sports – Spanish
EVINE Live February 13, 20151080iShopping
Flix August 1, 1992Premium MoviesPremium
FM September 30, 2015MusicCable
Food Network March 31, 2008Lifestyle
Fox September 12, 2004720pPillarbox (2004–2007)

Letterbox (2007–present)

Fox Business Network October 15, 2007NewsCable
Fox Deportes N/ASports – Spanish
Fox News Channel April 29, 2008News
FS1 N/ASports
Fox Soccer Plus June 15, 2010
Fox Sports Networks (All Networks)July 2010Sports – Regional
Freeform 2008Family
Fuse N/A1080iMusic
Fusion October 28, 2013News
FX 2007720pEntertainment
FXM 2007Movies
FXX September 2, 2013Entertainment
FYI January 1, 1999Lifestyle
Galavisión June 1, 20101080iSpanish
Gol TV August 1, 2010Sports – Spanish
Golf Channel January 2007Sports
Great American Country October 1, 2013Music
GSN September 15, 2010Entertainment
Hallmark Channel N/AFamily
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries January 20, 2004Movies
HBO (HBO2, HBO Comedy, HBO Family, HBO Latino, HBO Signature, HBO Zone)March 6, 1999Premium MoviesPremium
HDNet Movies January 13, 2003MoviesCable
HGTV March 31, 2008Lifestyle
History January 2008Entertainment
HLN December 15, 2008News
HSN August 2009Shopping
IFC 2007Movies
Investigation Discovery N/AEntertainment
Ion February 16, 2009720pBroadcast
Justice Central N/A1080iNewsCable
Lifetime April 16, 2008Lifestyle
LMN June 29, 1998
Logo TV June 30, 2005
MASN (MASN2) September 16, 2008Sports – Regional
MAVTV October 1, 2004Sports
Mega TV March 1, 2006Broadcast – Spanish
MGM HD October 10, 2007MoviesPremium
Midco Sports Network N/ASports – RegionalCable
Minnesota Channel 2007EntertainmentBroadcast
MLB Network December 17, 2008720pSportsCable
MLB StrikeZone
Motor Trend June 17, 20021080i
The Movie Channel (The Movie Channel Xtra)December 1, 2003Premium MoviesPremium
MoviePlex (IndiePlex, RetroPlex)February 11, 2010
MSG (MSG Plus, MSG Western New York)January 22, 2009Sports – RegionalCable
MSNBC June 29, 2015News
MTV January 2006Entertainment
MTV2 2012
MTV Live January 16, 2006Music
MyDestination.TV N/ALifestyle
MyNetworkTV September 5, 2006720pBroadcast
Nat Geo Wild March 29, 2010LifestyleCable
National Geographic January 2006Entertainment
NBA TV October 30, 20071080iSports
NBC April 26, 1999Pillarbox (1999–2006)

Letterbox (2006–present)

NBC Sports Regional Networks 2010Sports – RegionalCable
NBC Universo N/ASpanish
NBCSN January 2007Sports
NESN April 2006Sports – Regional
Newsmax TV June 16, 2014News
NewsNation N/A
NFL Network August 2004Sports
NFL RedZone September 13, 2009
NHL Network October 1, 2007
Nick at Nite 2008Family
Nicktoons August 13, 2013Pillarbox (2013–2014) Letterbox (2014–present)
Nick Jr. August 1, 2013
One America News Network July 4, 2013News
Outdoor Channel 2004Sports
Ovation July 2010Lifestyle
OWN January 1, 2011
Olympic Channel July 31, 2003Sports
Oxygen March 2011Lifestyle
Pac-12 Network August 15, 2012Sports – College
Paramount Network N/AEntertainment
PBS March 1, 2004BothBroadcast
Pets.TV N/ALifestyleCable
Playboy TV March 29, 2018Adult
Pop N/ALifestyle
QVC May 2009Shopping
Recipe.TV N/ALifestyle
Reelz August 1, 2010720pEntertainment
Revolt October 21, 20131080iMusic
RFD-TV July 26, 2007Lifestyle
Science September 1, 2009Lifestyle
SEC Network August 14, 2014720pSports - College
ShortsTV February 17, 20101080iMovies
Showtime (Showtime 2, Showcase, Showtime Extreme, SHO×BET, Showtime Next, Showtime Women)July 25, 2013Premium MoviesPremium
Smithsonian Channel September 26, 2007LifestyleCable
SNY March 16, 2006Sports – Regional
Sony Movie Channel October 1, 2010Movies
Spectrum SportsNet LA February 25, 2014Sports – Regional
Spectrum SportsNet N/A
Sportsman Channel January 25, 2010Sports
Starz (Starz Comedy, Starz Edge, Starz Kids and Family, Starz InBlack, Starz Cinema)December 2003Premium MoviesPremium
Starz Encore (Starz Encore, Starz Encore Action, Starz Encore Black, Starz Encore Classic, Starz Encore Suspense)March 22, 2003
SundanceTV July 1, 2011MoviesCable
Syfy October 3, 2007Entertainment
TBS September 1, 2007Pillarbox (2007–2010)

Letterbox (2010–present)

TCM June 2009Movies
Telemundo April 23, 2009Broadcast – SpanishBroadcast
TeenNick July 2011FamilyCable
Tennis Channel December 31, 2007Sports
TLC September 1, 2007Lifestyle
TNT May 21, 2004Entertainment
Travel Channel N/ALifestyle
truTV March 2011Entertainment
TUDN April 7, 2012Sports – Spanish
TV Land November 2011Family
TV One January 19, 2004Entertainment
UniMás January 1, 2010Broadcast – SpanishBroadcast
Universal Kids September 2010Pillarbox (2010–2013)

Letterbox (2013–present)

Univision January 1, 2010Broadcast – SpanishBroadcast
Up N/AFamilyCable
USA Network Entertainment
Viceland February 29, 2016Lifestyle
VH1 2005Entertainment
WE tv N/ALifestyle
The Weather Channel September 26, 2007News
WeatherNation TV October 27, 2011
World Fishing Network November 2007Sports
YES July 2004Sports – Regional

See also

Related Research Articles

Cable television Television content transmitted via signals on coaxial cable

Cable television is a system of delivering television programming to consumers via radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coaxial cables, or in more recent systems, light pulses through fibre-optic cables. This contrasts with broadcast television, in which the television signal is transmitted over-the-air by radio waves and received by a television antenna attached to the television; or satellite television, in which the television signal is transmitted over-the-air by radio waves from a communications satellite orbiting the Earth, and received by a satellite dish antenna on the roof. FM radio programming, high-speed Internet, telephone services, and similar non-television services may also be provided through these cables. Analog television was standard in the 20th century, but since the 2000s, cable systems have been upgraded to digital cable operation.

8VSB is the modulation method used for broadcast in the ATSC digital television standard. ATSC and 8VSB modulation is used primarily in North America; in contrast, the DVB-T standard uses COFDM.

Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standards are an American set of standards for digital television transmission over terrestrial, cable and satellite networks. It is largely a replacement for the analog NTSC standard and, like that standard, is used mostly in the United States, Mexico, Canada, and South Korea. Several former NTSC users, in particular Japan, have not used ATSC during their digital television transition, because they adopted their own system called ISDB.

Digital cable is the distribution of cable television using digital video compression for distribution. The technology was developed by General Instrument, which was succeeded by Motorola and subsequently by ARRIS Group. Cable companies converted to digital cable during the 2000s, during the period that broadcast television converted to the digital HDTV standard, which was incompatible with existing analog cable systems. In addition to providing higher resolution HD video, digital cable systems provide more services such as pay-per-view programming, cable internet access and cable telephone services. Most digital cable signals are encrypted, which reduced the incidence of cable television piracy which occurred in analog systems.

WRAL-TV NBC affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina

WRAL-TV, virtual channel 5, is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Raleigh, North Carolina, United States and serving the Triangle region. It is the flagship station of the locally based Capitol Broadcasting Company, which has owned the station since its inception.

All-Channel Receiver Act United States legislation

The All-Channel Receiver Act of 1962 (ACRA), commonly known as the All-Channels Act, was passed by the United States Congress in 1961, to allow the Federal Communications Commission to require that all television set manufacturers must include UHF tuners, so that new UHF-band TV stations could be received by the public. This was a problem at the time since most affiliated stations of the Big Three television networks were well-established on VHF, while many local-only stations on UHF were struggling for survival.

KXAS-TV NBC owned-and-operated station in Fort Worth, Texas

KXAS-TV, virtual channel 5, is an NBC owned-and-operated television station licensed to Fort Worth, Texas, United States and serving the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex. The station is owned by the NBC Owned Television Stations subsidiary of NBCUniversal, as part of a duopoly with Dallas-licensed Telemundo owned-and-operated station KXTX-TV. The two stations share studios at the CentrePort Business Park on Amon Carter Boulevard in eastern Fort Worth; KXAS-TV's transmitter is located south of Belt Line Road in Cedar Hill.

KTVT CBS TV station in Fort Worth, Texas

KTVT, virtual channel 11, is a CBS owned-and-operated television station licensed to Fort Worth, Texas, United States and serving the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex. The station is owned by the CBS Television Stations subsidiary of ViacomCBS, as part of a duopoly with independent station KTXA, also licensed to Fort Worth.

KXTX-TV Telemundo TV station in Dallas

KXTX-TV, virtual channel 39, is a Telemundo owned-and-operated television station licensed to Dallas, Texas, United States and serving the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex. The station is owned by the Telemundo Station Group subsidiary of NBCUniversal, as part of a duopoly with Fort Worth-licensed NBC owned-and-operated station KXAS-TV. The two stations share studios at the CentrePort Business Park on Amon Carter Boulevard in Fort Worth; KXTX-TV's transmitter is located south of Belt Line Road in Cedar Hill.

QAM is a digital television standard using quadrature amplitude modulation. It is the format by which digital cable channels are encoded and transmitted via cable television providers. QAM is used in a variety of communications systems such as Dial-up modems and WiFi. In cable systems, a QAM tuner is linked to the cable in a manner that is equivalent to an ATSC tuner which is required to receive over-the-air (OTA) digital channels broadcast by local television stations when attached to an antenna. Most new HDTV digital televisions support both of these standards. QAM uses the same 6 MHz bandwidth as ATSC, using a standard known as ITU-T Recommendation J.83 Annex B ("J.83b").

KVII-TV ABC/CW affiliate in Amarillo, Texas

KVII-TV, virtual and VHF digital channel 7, is a dual ABC/CW+-affiliated television station licensed to Amarillo, Texas, United States. The station is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. KVII-TV's studios are located at One Broadcast Center between South Pierce and South Buchanan streets in downtown Amarillo, and its transmitter is located west of US 87/287, in unincorporated Potter County. On cable, the station is available on Suddenlink Communications channel 8 in standard definition and digital channel 708 in high definition in Amarillo, and on channel 7 on other providers in outlying areas of the market.

KXII, virtual and VHF digital channel 12, is a dual CBS/Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Sherman, Texas, United States and serving the Sherman–Ada television market. The station—which maintains an additional subchannel-only affiliation with Ion Television—is owned by Gray Television, and is sister to low-power MyNetworkTV affiliate K31LQ-D, which is simulcast on KXII's second digital subchannel. The two stations share studios on Texoma Parkway in northeastern Sherman, with an additional studio on South Commerce Street and Elks Boulevard in southwestern Ardmore, Oklahoma. KXII's transmitter is located along Oklahoma State Highway 99 in rural northeastern Marshall County, Oklahoma. KXII's signal is relayed on low-power translator station KXIP-LD in Paris, Texas.

KFDA-TV CBS affiliate in Amarillo, Texas

KFDA-TV, virtual and VHF digital channel 10, is a CBS-affiliated television station licensed to Amarillo, Texas, United States. The station is owned by Gray Television, as part of a duopoly with Borger-licensed Telemundo affiliate KEYU. The two stations share studios on Broadway Drive in northern Amarillo, where KFDA's transmitter is also located. On cable, the station is available on Suddenlink Communications channel 12 in Amarillo, and on channel 10 on other providers in outlying areas of the market.

In broadcasting, digital subchannels are a method of transmitting more than one independent program stream simultaneously from the same digital radio or television station on the same radio frequency channel. This is done by using data compression techniques to reduce the size of each individual program stream, and multiplexing to combine them into a single signal. The practice is sometimes called "multicasting".

A multiplex or mux is a grouping of program services as interleaved data packets for broadcast over a network or modulated multiplexed medium. The program services are split out at the receiving end.

FTA receiver

A free-to-air or FTA Receiver is a satellite television receiver designed to receive unencrypted broadcasts. Modern decoders are typically compliant with the MPEG-2/DVB-S and more recently the MPEG-4/DVB-S2 standard for digital television, while older FTA receivers relied on analog satellite transmissions which have declined rapidly in recent years.

In the United States, digital television broadcasts, or DTV, can be received via cable, via internet, via satellite, or via digital terrestrial television — much like analog television broadcasts have been. Full-power analog television broadcasts, however, were required by U.S. federal law to cease by June 12, 2009. Low-power, Class A, and TV Translator stations are not currently required to cease analog broadcasts. Also by law, digital broadcasts — when transmitted as over-the-air signals — must conform to ATSC standards. it is unclear whether satellite operators are free to use their own proprietary standards; and many standards exist for Internet television.

High-definition television (HD) describes a television system providing an image resolution of substantially higher resolution than the previous generation of technologies. The term has been used since 1936, but in modern times refers to the generation following standard-definition television (SDTV), often abbreviated to HDTV or HD-TV. It is the current de facto standard video format used in most broadcasts: terrestrial broadcast television, cable television, satellite television and Blu-ray Discs.

ATSC 3.0, also known by the moniker NextGen TV, is a major version of the ATSC standards for television broadcasting created by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). ATSC 3.0 comprises around 20 standards covering different aspects of the system and in total will have over 1,000 pages of documentation.


  1. HDTV SETS NOW IN OVER 80% OF U.S. HOUSEHOLDS Leichtman Research Group March 16, 2015
  2. History of WRAL Digital
  3. "HDTV: Launched and Counting". Broadcasting and Cable. BNET. 1998-11-02. Archived from the original on 2008-12-10. Retrieved 2008-10-24.
  4. KXAS Texas Rangers vs Chicago White Sox introduction – March 31, 1998
  5. End of an era: the last US broadcast network TV shows finally switch from SD to HD. Diverse Tech Geek. 11 June 2014.