Info & Answers
The Technology Waiting Game
A quick look at technology's history shows most electronic innovations take the long road home.
December 06, 2007 by Steven Castle

We grow impatient with technology, especially when we want to use it. Many of us want high-definition DVD players, for example, but who wants to pay several hundred dollars for a player that spins only one of the incompatible formats? Or how about a 55-inch flat-panel TV with “Full HD” 1080p resolution? It costs how much? Fuhgettaboutit.

But we forget how long it can take for new technologies to be adopted. Or to be developed. Or for prices to drop to mass market levels. Remember the dawn of the CD in the early 1980s? How many rushed right out to get it? Be honest now. Not all of us did. Not even a majority of us did. CD players didn’t even make it into 30 percent of U.S. homes until the 1990s. Several years after the arrival of the DVD—the most quickly adopted format in electronics history—Blockbuster Video stores still had many more videotapes on their shelves than shiny 5-inch discs. That’s not the case today, of course, but it’s proof that these things take time.

HDTV? It’s new to many, but the first “high-definition” systems were developed in the 1950s and 1960s. The implementation of it had been planned in the United States for about a decade before it was finally introduced in 1998. And although it’s been in development for decades, it’s still undergoing the growing pains of childhood.

The introduction of HDTV has often been compared to the breakthrough of color TV. And we should remember that while color TV didn’t appear in our culture until the 1950s, patents for it were filed in 1904 and 1925, and a mechanical color system was developed in 1928.

There was also a nasty, convoluted format war associated with the color TV. (Sound familiar?) The FCC authorized a color TV system by CBS in 1950. RCA sued, and in 1953, the FCC flipped and awarded the color TV standard to RCA.

Still, it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that color TV became commonplace in people’s living rooms. I remember my family’s first color TV set. ‘Wow, what a great new thing,’ I thought, not realizing that color TV from its inception was already a generation older than me.

So what are we in, year two of the high-def DVD war between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD? Patience, patience. What are we in, year 10 of HDTV, and sets that started at $15,000 or more can now be had for $1,000 or less? That’s pretty good. And the best thing is, now many more people can afford it.

Or, as Joel Silver of the Imaging Science Foundation explains, the features in a high-end TV set today will be mainstream in about five years. So if you have eyes on a new OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display and want one bigger than the 11-incher Sony recently introduced, pencil it in for about 2013. It will happen.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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