Terrestrial television

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Indoor "rabbit ears" antenna often used for terrestrial television reception OTA antenna.jpeg
Indoor "rabbit ears" antenna often used for terrestrial television reception

Terrestrial television is a type of television broadcasting in which the television signal is transmitted by radio waves from the terrestrial (Earth-based) transmitter of a television station to a TV receiver having an antenna. The term terrestrial is more common in Europe and Latin America, while in the United States it is called broadcast or over-the-air television (OTA). The term "terrestrial" is used to distinguish this type from the newer technologies of satellite television (direct broadcast satellite or DBS television), in which the television signal is transmitted to the receiver from an overhead satellite, and cable television, in which the signal is carried to the receiver through a cable.

Television telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images

Television (TV), sometimes shortened to tele or telly, is a telecommunication medium used for transmitting moving images in monochrome, or in colour, and in two or three dimensions and sound. The term can refer to a television set, a television program, or the medium of television transmission. Television is a mass medium for advertising, entertainment and news.

Broadcasting distribution of audio and video content to a dispersed audience via any audio or visual mass communications medium

Broadcasting is the distribution of audio or video content to a dispersed audience via any electronic mass communications medium, but typically one using the electromagnetic spectrum, in a one-to-many model. Broadcasting began with AM radio, which came into popular use around 1920 with the spread of vacuum tube radio transmitters and receivers. Before this, all forms of electronic communication were one-to-one, with the message intended for a single recipient. The term broadcasting evolved from its use as the agricultural method of sowing seeds in a field by casting them broadly about. It was later adopted for describing the widespread distribution of information by printed materials or by telegraph. Examples applying it to "one-to-many" radio transmissions of an individual station to multiple listeners appeared as early as 1898.

Radio wave type of electromagnetic radiation

Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencies as high as 300 gigahertz (GHz) to as low as 30 hertz (Hz). At 300 GHz, the corresponding wavelength is 1 mm, and at 30 Hz is 10,000 km. Like all other electromagnetic waves, radio waves travel at the speed of light. They are generated by electric charges undergoing acceleration, such as time varying electric currents. Naturally occurring radio waves are emitted by lightning and astronomical objects.


Terrestrial television was the first technology used for television broadcasting, with the first public television broadcast from Schenectady, NY, in January, 1928. [1] [ better source needed ] The BBC began broadcasting in 1929 and by 1930 many radio stations had a regular schedule of experimental television programmes. However, these early experimental systems had insufficient picture quality to attract the public, due to their mechanical scan technology, and television did not become widespread until after World War II with the advent of electronic scan television technology. The television broadcasting business followed the model of radio networks, with local television stations in cities and towns affiliated with television networks, either commercial (in the US) or government-controlled (in Europe), which provided content. Television broadcasts were in black and white until the transition to color television in the 1950s and 60s. [2]

Public broadcasting includes radio, television and other electronic media outlets whose primary mission is public service. In much of the world, funding comes from the government, especially via annual fees charged on receivers. In the United States, public broadcasters may receive some funding from both federal and state sources, but generally most financial support comes from underwriting by foundations and businesses ranging from small shops to corporations, along with audience contributions via pledge drives. The great majority are operated as private not-for-profit corporations.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

Mechanical television television system that relies on a mechanical scanning device, such as a rotating disk with holes in it or a rotating mirror, to scan the scene and generate the video signal, and a similar mechanical device at the receiver to display the picture

Mechanical television or mechanical scan television is a television system that relies on a mechanical scanning device, such as a rotating disk with holes in it or a rotating mirror, to scan the scene and generate the video signal, and a similar mechanical device at the receiver to display the picture. This contrasts with modern television technology, which uses electronic scanning methods, for example electron beams in cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions, and liquid-crystal displays (LCD), to create and display the picture.

There was no other method of television delivery until the 1950s with the beginnings of cable television and community antenna television (CATV). CATV was, initially, only a re-broadcast of over-the-air signals. With the widespread adoption of cable across the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, viewing of terrestrial television broadcasts has been in decline; in 2013, it was estimated that about 7% of US households used an antenna. [3] [4] A slight increase in use began after the 2009 final conversion to digital terrestrial television broadcasts, which offer HDTV image quality as an alternative to CATV for cord cutters.[ citation needed ]

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 fiber-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 by a communications satellite orbiting the Earth and received by a satellite dish 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.

Digital terrestrial television is a technology for broadcast television in which land-based (terrestrial) television stations broadcast television content by radio waves to televisions in consumers' residences in a digital format. DTTV is a major technological advance over the previous analog television, and has largely replaced analog which had been in common use since the middle of the last century. Test broadcasts began in 1998 with the changeover to DTTV beginning in 2006 and is now complete in many countries. The advantages of digital terrestrial television are similar to those obtained by digitising platforms such as cable TV, satellite, and telecommunications: more efficient use of limited radio spectrum bandwidth, provision of more television channels than analog, better quality images, and potentially lower operating costs for broadcasters.

High-definition television (HDTV) is a television system providing an image resolution that is of substantially higher resolution than that of standard-definition television. This can be either analog or digital. HDTV is the current standard video format used in most broadcasts: terrestrial broadcast television, cable television, satellite television, Blu-rays, and streaming video.

Analogue terrestrial television

Rooftop television antennas like these are required to receive terrestrial television in fringe reception areas far from the television station. Antenna.jpg
Rooftop television antennas like these are required to receive terrestrial television in fringe reception areas far from the television station.


Following the ST61 conference, UHF frequencies were first used in the UK in 1964 with the introduction of BBC2. In UK, VHF channels were kept on the old 405-line system, while UHF was used solely for 625-line broadcasts (which later used PAL colour). Television broadcasting in the 405-line system continued after the introduction of four analogue programmes in the UHF bands until the last 405-line transmitters were switched off on January 6, 1985. VHF Band III was used in other countries around Europe for PAL broadcasts until planned phase out and switchover to digital television.

BBC Two second television channel operated by the BBC

BBC Two is the second flagship television channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. It covers a wide range of subject matter, but tends to broadcast more "highbrow" programmes than the more mainstream and popular BBC One. Like the BBC's other domestic TV and radio channels, it is funded by the television licence, and is therefore free of commercial advertising. It is a comparatively well-funded public-service network, regularly attaining a much higher audience share than most public-service networks worldwide.

The 405-line monochrome analogue television broadcasting system was the first fully electronic television system to be used in regular broadcasting.

PAL Colour encoding system for analogue television

Phase Alternating Line (PAL) is a colour encoding system for analogue television used in broadcast television systems in most countries broadcasting at 625-line / 50 field per second (576i). Other common colour encoding systems are NTSC and SECAM.

The success of analogue terrestrial television across Europe varied from country to country. Although each country had rights to a certain number of frequencies by virtue of the ST61 plan, not all of them were brought into service.


In 1941, the first NTSC standard was introduced by the National Television System Committee. This standard defined a transmission scheme for a black and white picture with 525 lines of vertical resolution at 60 fields per second. In the early 1950s, this standard was superseded by a backwards-compatible standard for color television. The NTSC standard was exclusively being used in the Americas as well as Japan until the introduction of digital terrestrial television (DTT). While Mexico have ended all its analogue television broadcasts and the US and Canada have shut down nearly all of their analogue TV stations, the NTSC standard continues to be used in the rest of Latin American countries while testing their DTT platform. [5]

NTSC analog television system

NTSC, named after the National Television System Committee, is the analog television color system that was used in North America from 1954 and until digital conversion, was used in most of the Americas ; Myanmar; South Korea; Taiwan; Philippines; Japan; and some Pacific island nations and territories.

Color television television transmission technology that includes information on the color of the picture, so the video image can be displayed in color on the television set

Color television is a television transmission technology that includes information on the color of the picture, so the video image can be displayed in color on the television set. It is an improvement on the earliest television technology, monochrome or black and white television, in which the image is displayed in shades of gray (grayscale). Television broadcasting stations and networks in most parts of the world upgraded from black and white to color transmission in the 1970s and 1980s. The invention of color television standards is an important part of the history of television, and it is described in the technology of television article.

The digital television transition, also called the digital switchover, the analog switch-off (ASO), or the analog shutdown, is the process, mainly begun in 2006, in which older analog television broadcasting technology is converted to and replaced by digital television. Conducted by individual nations on different schedules, this primarily involves the conversion of analog terrestrial television to digital terrestrial. However, it also involves analog cable conversion to digital cable or internet protocol television, as well as analog to digital satellite television. Terrestrial transition was begun by some countries around 2000. By contrast, satellite transition was well underway or completed in many counties by this time. It is an involved process because the existing analog television receivers owned by viewers cannot receive digital broadcasts; viewers must either purchase new digital TVs, or converter boxes which change the digital signal to an analog signal which can be viewed on the old TV.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Advanced Television Systems Committee developed the ATSC standard for digital high definition terrestrial transmission. This standard was eventually adopted by many American countries, including the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; however, the three latter countries ditched it in favour of ISDB-Tb. [6] [7]

Advanced Television Systems Committee

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) is the group, established in 1982, that developed the eponymous ATSC standards for digital television in the United States. These standards have also been adopted by Canada, Mexico, South Korea and recently Honduras, and are being considered by other countries.

Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standards are a 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, used mostly in the United States, Mexico and Canada. Other former users of NTSC, like Japan, have not used ATSC during their digital television transition because they adopted their own system called ISDB.

The Pan-American terrestrial television operates on analog channels 2 through 6 (VHF-low band, 54 to 88 MHz, known as band I in Europe), 7 through 13 (VHF-high band, 174 to 216 MHz, known as band III elsewhere), and 14 through 51 (UHF television band, 470 to 698 MHz, elsewhere bands IV and V). Unlike with analog transmission, ATSC channel numbers do not correspond to radio frequencies. Instead, a virtual channel is defined as part of the ATSC stream metadata so that a station can transmit on any frequency but still show the same channel number. [8] Additionally, free-to-air television repeaters and signal boosters can be used to rebroadcast a terrestrial television signal using an otherwise unused channel to cover areas with marginal reception. (see Pan-American broadcast television frequencies for frequency allocation charts) [9]

Analog television channels 2 through 6, 7 through 13, and 14 through 51 are only used for LPTV translator stations in the U.S. Channels 52 through 69 are still used by some existing stations, but these channels must be vacated if telecommunications companies notify the stations to vacate that signal spectrum. By convention, broadcast television signals are transmitted with horizontal polarization.


Terrestrial television broadcast in Asia started as early as 1939 in Japan through a series of experiments done by NHK Broadcasting Institute of Technology. However, these experiments were interrupted by the beginning of the World War II in the Pacific. On February 1, 1953, NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) began broadcasting. On August 28, 1953, Nippon TV (Nippon Television Network Corporation), the first commercial television broadcaster in Asia was launched. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Alto Broadcasting System (now ABS-CBN), the first commercial television broadcaster in Southeast Asia, launched its first commercial terrestrial television station DZAQ-TV on October 23, 1953, with the help of Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

Digital terrestrial television

By the mid-1990s, the interest in digital television across Europe was such the CEPT convened the "Chester '97" conference to agree means by which digital television could be inserted into the ST61 frequency plan.

The introduction of digital terrestrial television in the late 1990s and early years of the 21st century led the ITU to call a Regional Radiocommunication Conference to abrogate the ST61 plan and to put a new plan for DTT broadcasting only in its place.

In December 2005, the European Union decided to cease all analogue audio and analogue video television transmissions by 2012 and switch all terrestrial television broadcasting to digital audio and digital video (all EU countries have agreed on using DVB-T). The Netherlands completed the transition in December 2006, and some EU member states decided to complete their switchover as early as 2008 (Sweden), and (Denmark) in 2009. While the UK began to switch off analogue broadcasts, region by region, in late 2007, it was not completed until 24 October 2012. Norway ceased all analogue television transmissions on 1 December 2009. [10] Two member states (not specified in the announcement) have expressed concerns that they might not be able to proceed to the switchover by 2012 due to technical limitations; the rest of the EU member states had stopped analogue television transmissions by the end 2012.

Many countries are developing and evaluating digital terrestrial television systems.

Australia has adopted the DVB-T standard and the government's industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, has mandated that all analogue transmissions will cease by 2012. Mandated digital conversion started early in 2009 with a graduated program. The first centre to experience analog switch-off will be the remote Victorian regional town of Mildura, in 2010. The government will supply underprivileged houses across the nation with free digital set-top converter boxes in order to minimise any conversion disruption. Australia's major free-to-air television networks have all been granted digital transmission licences and are each required to broadcast at least one high-definition and one standard-definition channel into all of their markets.

In North America, a specification laid out by the ATSC has become the standard for digital terrestrial television. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set the final deadline for the switch-off of analogue service for 12 June 2009. All television receivers must now include a DTT tuner using ATSC. In Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) set 31 August 2011 as the date that terrestrial analogue transmission service ceased in metropolitan areas and provincial capitals. [11] [12] In Mexico, the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) set the final deadline for the end of analogue terrestrial television for 31 December 2015.

Competition for radio spectrum

In late 2009, US competition for the limited available radio spectrum led to debate over the possible re-allocation of frequencies currently occupied by television, and the FCC began asking for comments on how to increase the bandwidth available for wireless broadband. Some have proposed mixing the two together, on different channels that are already open (like White Spaces) while others have proposed "repacking" some stations and forcing them off certain channels, just a few years after the same thing was done (without compensation to the broadcasters) in the DTV transition in the United States.

Some US commentators have proposed the closing down of terrestrial TV broadcasting, on the grounds that available spectrum might be better used, and requiring viewers to shift to satellite or cable reception. This would eliminate mobile TV, which has been delayed several years by the FCC's decision to choose ATSC and its proprietary 8VSB modulation, instead of the worldwide COFDM standard used for all other digital terrestrial broadcasting around the world. Compared to Europe and Asia, this has hamstrung mobile TV in the US, because ATSC cannot be received while in motion (or often even while stationary) without ATSC-M/H as terrestrial DVB-T or ISDB-T can even without DVB-H or 1seg.

The National Association of Broadcasters has organised to fight such proposals, and public comments are also being taken by the FCC through mid-December 2009, in preparation for a plan to be released in mid-February 2010.

See also

Related Research Articles

Set-top box information appliance device

A set-top box (STB) or set-top unit (STU) is an information appliance device that generally contains a TV-tuner input and displays output to a television set and an external source of signal, turning the source signal into content in a form that then be displayed on the television screen or other display device. They are used in cable television, satellite television, and over-the-air television systems, as well as other uses.

A television channel is a terrestrial frequency or virtual number over which a television station or television network is distributed. For example, in North America, "channel 2" refers to the terrestrial or cable band of 54 to 60 MHz, with carrier frequencies of 55.25 MHz for NTSC analog video (VSB) and 59.75 MHz for analog audio (FM), or 55.31 MHz for digital ATSC (8VSB). Channels may be shared by many different television stations or cable-distributed channels depending on the location and service provider

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.

Digital Video Broadcasting open standard for digital television broadcasting

Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) is a set of international open standards for digital television. DVB standards are maintained by the DVB Project, an international industry consortium, and are published by a Joint Technical Committee (JTC) of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

Terrestrial television systems are encoding or formatting standards for the transmission and reception of terrestrial television signals. There were three main analogue television systems in use around the world until the late 2010s (expected): NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. Now in digital terrestrial television (DTT), there are four main systems in use around the world: ATSC, DVB, ISDB and DTMB.

Amateur television

Amateur television (ATV) is the transmission of broadcast quality video and audio over the wide range of frequencies of radio waves allocated for radio amateur (Ham) use. ATV is used for non-commercial experimentation, pleasure, and public service events. Ham TV stations were on the air in many cities before commercial television stations came on the air. Various transmission standards are used, these include the broadcast transmission standards of NTSC in North America and Japan, and PAL or SECAM elsewhere, utilizing the full refresh rates of those standards. ATV includes the study of building of such transmitters and receivers, and the study of radio propagation of signals travelling between transmitting and receiving stations.

Tuner (radio) frequency selection subsystem for a radio receiver

A tuner is a subsystem that receives radio frequency (RF) transmissions like radio broadcasts and converts the selected carrier frequency and its associated bandwidth into a fixed frequency that is suitable for further processing, usually because a lower frequency is used on the output. Broadcast FM/AM transmissions usually feed this intermediate frequency (IF) directly into a demodulator that convert the radio signal into audio-frequency signals that can be fed into an amplifier to drive a loudspeaker.

Television channel frequencies Wikimedia list article

The following tables show the frequencies assigned to broadcast television channels in various regions of the world, along with the ITU letter designator for the system used. The frequencies shown are for the analogue video and audio carriers. The channel itself occupies several megahertz of bandwidth. For example, North American channel 2 occupies the spectrum from 54 to 60 MHz. See Broadcast television systems for a table of signal characteristics, including bandwidth, by ITU letter designator.

Datacasting is the broadcasting of data over a wide area via radio waves. It most often refers to supplemental information sent by television stations along with digital terrestrial television, but may also be applied to digital signals on analog TV or radio. It generally does not apply to data which is inherent to the medium, such as PSIP data which defines virtual channels for DTT or direct broadcast satellite systems; or to things like cable modem or satellite modem, which use a completely separate channel for data.

Multiplexed Analogue Components

Multiplexed analogue components (MAC) was a satellite television transmission standard, originally proposed for use on a Europe-wide terrestrial HDTV system, although it was never used terrestrially.

ATSC tuner

An ATSCtuner, often called an ATSC receiver or HDTV tuner is a type of television tuner that allows reception of digital television (DTV) television channels transmitted by television stations in North America, parts of Central America and South Korea that use ATSC standards. Such tuners may be integrated into a television set, VCR, digital video recorder (DVR), or set-top box that provides audio/video output connectors of various types.

Band I is a range of radio frequencies within the very high frequency (VHF) part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The first time there was defined "for simplicity" in Annex 1 of "Final acts of the European Broadcasting Conference in the VHF and UHF bands - Stockholm, 1961". Band I ranges from 47 to 68 MHz for the European Broadcasting Area, and from 54 to 88 MHz for the Americas and it is primarily used for television broadcasting in line to ITU Radio Regulations. Channel spacings vary from country to country, with spacings of 6, 7 and 8 MHz being common.

Television frequency allocation has evolved since the start of television in Australia in 1956, and later in New Zealand in 1960. There was no coordination between the national spectrum management authorities in either country to establish the frequency allocations. The management of the spectrum in both countries is largely the product of their economical and political situation. New Zealand didn't start to develop television service until 1965 due to World War 2 and its economic harm in the country's economy.

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 OTA 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.

In North American digital terrestrial television broadcasting, a distributed transmission system is a form of single-frequency network in which a single broadcast signal is fed via microwave, landline, or communications satellite to multiple synchronised terrestrial radio transmitter sites. The signal is then simultaneously broadcast on the same frequency in different overlapping portions of the same coverage area, effectively combining many small transmitters to generate a broadcast area rivalling that of one large transmitter or to fill gaps in coverage due to terrain or localised obstacles.

The Pan-American television frequencies are different for terrestrial and cable television systems. Terrestrial television channels are divided into two bands: the VHF band which comprises channels 2 through 13 and occupies frequencies between 54 through 216 MHz, and the UHF band, which comprises channels 14 through 83 and occupies frequencies between 470 and 890 MHz. These bands are different enough in frequency that they often require separate antennas to receive, and separate tuning controls on the television set. The VHF band is further divided into two frequency ranges: VHF low band between 54 and 88 MHz, containing channels 2 through 6, and VHF high band between 174 and 216 MHz, containing channels 7 through 13. The wide spacing between these frequency bands is responsible for the complicated design of rooftop TV antennas. The UHF band has higher noise and greater attenuation, so higher gain antennas are often required for UHF.


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