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Terrestrial television is a mode of television broadcasting which does not involve satellite transmission or underground cables — typically using radio waves through transmitting and receiving antennas or aerials. The term is more common in Europe, while in the United States it is referred to as broadcast television.

Terrestrial television broadcasting dates back to the very beginnings of television as a medium itself with the first long-distance public television broadcast from Washington, D.C., on April 7, 1927. The BBC began broadcasting television to the public in 1929, and had a regular schedule of programmes in 1930. Aside from transmission by high-flying planes moving in a loop using a system developed by Westinghouse called Stratovision, there was virtually no other method of television delivery until the 1950s with the beginnings of cable television, or community antenna television (CATV). The first non-terrestrial method of delivering television signals that in no way depended on a signal originating from a traditional terrestrial source began with the use of communications satellites during the 1960s and 1970s.

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Europe

In Europe, a planning conference ("ST61") held under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union in Stockholm in 1961 allocated frequencies the Bands IV and V for the first time for broadcast television use. It also superseded the 1951 Plan (also made in Stockholm) which had first allocated Band II frequencies for FM radio and Band III frequencies for television.

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 is still used in other countries around Europe for PAL broadcasts, though many have plans to phase it out.

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

North America

In North America terrestrial television underwent a revolutionary transformation with the eventual acceptance of the NTSC standard for color television broadcasts in 1953. Later, Europe and the rest of the world either chose between the later PAL and SECAM color television standards, or adopted NTSC. Japan also uses a version of NTSC.

In addition to the threat from cable television, analog terrestrial television is now also subject to competition from satellite television and distribution of video and film content over the Internet. The technology of digital terrestrial television has been developed as a response to these challenges. The rise of digital terrestrial television, especially HDTV, may mark an end to the decline of broadcast television reception via traditional receiving antennas, which can receive over-the-air HDTV signals.

In North America, terrestrial broadcast television operates on TV channels 2 through 6 (VHF-low band, known as band I in Europe), 7 through 13 (VHF-high band, known as band III elsewhere), and 14 through 69 (UHF television band, elsewhere bands IV and V). Channel numbers represent actual frequencies used to broadcast the television signal. Additionally, television translators and boosters can be used to rebroadcast a terrestrial TV signal using an otherwise unused channel to cover areas with marginal reception. A chart showing the North American television bandplan can be found here.

Digital 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 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 digital broadcasting only in its place.

In December 2005, the EU has decided to cease all analog television transmissions by the year 2012 and switch all terrestrial television broadcasting to digital (all EU countries have agreed on using DVB-T). The Netherlands completed the transition in December 2006, and some EU member states have decided to complete this switchover as early as 2008 (Sweden), and (Denmark) in 2009, while the UK began the switch over in late 2007 it will not be a nationwide switch over until mid 2012. Norway will cease all analogue television transmissions on 01.12.2009. 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 are expected to stop analog television transmissions by 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 commenced 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 underpriviledged houses across the nation with free digital set-top DTV 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 FCC has set a final deadline for the switchoff of analog service for June 12, 2009. All television receivers must now include a digital tuner. In Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), has set August 31, 2011 as the date that over-the-air analog transmission service will cease in most parts of the country except in Northern Canada.[1] [2]

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_(radio)#White-space_devices), while other 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 commenters have proposed the closing down of over-the-air 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 organized 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

References

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