HDTV, High Definition television

The operational deployment of High Definition (or 2K) begins in Italy in 2006. Rai broadcasts the Winter Olympics of Turin 2006 in HD experimentally on closed circuit terrestrial frequencies, in Turin and its province, intended for viewing only in equipped rooms. In the same year, Sky, the satellite pay TV, broadcasts to its subscribers the UEFA Champions League final and all the matches of the 2006 FIFA World Cup in High Definition, then launching its first 4 thematic channels with programming entirely in HD. It is during this phase that flat LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) and PDP (Plasma Display Panel) screens with large diagonal and greatly reduced depth come onto the market. The first compatible televisions, with “HD Ready” resolution (1,280 × 720 pixels) and “FullHD” (1,920 × 1,080 pixels), are available at affordable prices. This technology penetrates the market also thanks to the introduction of digital terrestrial, with the DVB standard – already long used by satellite TV – which starts its path to replace analog TV. And digital, thanks to signal compression techniques, allows broadcasters to transmit High Definition through reasonable use of bandwidth.

In 2010, Rai HD channel is launched on digital terrestrial, offering a selection of programs in native High Definition selected from various Rai channels. With the switch-off of analog TV (2009-2012) and the more recent transition to second-generation digital (DVB-T/S2), a gradual process of migration of television offerings begins, leading to a progressive expansion of HD content offerings, both on satellite – where most of Sky’s and tivùsat’s channels are now in HD – and, more recently, on digital terrestrial. HD offerings are also available from OTT platforms that arrived in Italy from 2015 onwards.

Today, HD has become the de facto standard for audiovisual production and broadcasting, across all available platforms.

However, for many years High Definition had been a dream of difficult – if not impossible – realization. Television technologies, in their early days (from experiments in the late 1920s to the birth of the first channels), allowed for a limited image resolution (405 interlaced lines, of which only 377 were used for images), on screens of inevitably small dimensions. A first improvement was achieved with the advent of color, starting from the late 1960s, and with the adoption of the corresponding standards (in Europe mainly PAL, capable of offering a resolution of 625 lines, 576 of which were destined for the image).

Research to increase image quality and offer a spectacular, more realistic experience had yielded the first concrete results at the end of the 1980s, with the experiments of the HD-Mac standard: a system still based on analog technologies, capable of doubling television resolution, reaching 1,250 lines (of which 1,152 were visible) in widescreen format. In Italy, Rai had experimented with this standard, transmitting through the Olympus satellite some matches of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in specially equipped rooms at its premises.

Rai’s experiments, together with the first HD production (the TV movie “Giulia e Giulia,” directed by Peter Del Monte in 1987), served to highlight the requirements, advantages, and limitations of the technology of the time, in terms of production, transmission, and consumption: high costs for hardware, substantial bandwidth resources for distribution, limited availability of compatible televisions. To appreciate High Definition, screens characterized by a “widescreen” aspect ratio (for example, the 16:9 format) would have been more suitable, more responsive to the need for a satisfying user experience, with a diagonal larger than those available at the time: with cathode ray tube technology, exceeding the 32-inch limit meant building devices too bulky for a normal living room.