25 Years of HDTV Broadcasting

Today, according to calendars in the United States, is the 25th anniversary of China’s crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Yesterday, according to those same calendars, was the 25th anniversary of modern, regularly scheduled, HDTV broadcasting (in Japan). In the local time zones, where the HDTV broadcasting was received, it was actually the same day.

Perhaps strangely, Japan’s first regularly scheduled HDTV broadcast programming originated in New York. It began with prerecorded programming that had been shot in the city but could have been played from anywhere, but it continued with live programming — an environmental-awareness star-studded gala called Our Common Future.

The show was centered in Avery Fisher Hall but included feeds from the Soviet Union, England, Australia, Poland, Brazil, and Norway. The prime minister of the last was the host. Talent ranged from the Moscow Symphony Orchestra to Kenny Loggins, Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil to Elton John and Diana Ross, Lenny Kravitz and Phoebe Snow to Stevie Wonder and R.E.M., Sting to Johnny Clegg, Herbie Hancock, and Joni Mitchell. An African tawny eagle also flew through the hall.

The HDTV cameras were positioned where their maximum cable lengths permitted. The glass in their lenses had been slow cooled to avoid any micro-cracks. It was the dawn of modern HDTV production, but, according to some, there have never been finer pictures than those produced by the larger-format (one-inch) imagers and hand-crafted lenses.

One of New York City’s least-watched TV stations carried the program locally, but surely, with its cavalcade of stars, Our Common Future would have made the news, thereby raising environmental awareness. It might have but for the larger news item of the day: Tiananmen Square.


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