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The Evolution of AV Systems from Analog to Digital Formats

February 04, 2017

The AV industry changes all the time, but some transitions are more significant than others. Arguably the largest change that has occurred in the AV industry—at any time—has been the evolution of AV technology from analog to digital formats.

The move from analog to digital has impacted nearly every aspect of AV systems, broadening the array of capabilities available to us, and dramatically changing the way in which end users interact with the technology. Today, digital technology is nearly everywhere you go, from your home computer and TV to your smart phone, shopping malls and restaurants, work offices, hospitals and even along the highways in between.

As they say, to understand where we’re headed, it helps to take a look back at where we’ve been. Today, we’ll discuss the evolution of AV over the years, from analog to digital:

1948: The NTSC analog television system has been adopted throughout much of the world. The system was named after the National Television System Committee and, at the time, did not allow for color television.

1949: Claude Shannon, a well-known mathematician and electronic engineer, creates “communication theory,” which explored the best methods for transmitting information and would serve as the original foundation of the digital revolution.

1953: Version two of the NTSC standard is adopted, allowing for growing use of color TV.

2006: After more than 50 years of dependence on the NTSC standard, the Analog Sunset officially begins. A growing number of manufacturers, value-added resellers (VARs) and end users had recognized the advantages of digital formats over analog, making the gradual transition away from analog all but inevitable. In 2006, the Netherlands led the way by officially switching to digital formats nation-wide. Meanwhile, NTSC began gradually disappearing as digital standards, such as ATSC, were adopted.

2007: The Netherlands’ example spreads to Finland, Sweden and Switzerland.

2009: The United States begins its transition to an all-digital broadcast infrastructure, creating a ripple effect throughout the pro AV industry. Denmark, Germany, Norway, Canada, Italy and Israel followed shortly behind.

2009 and beyond: As new digital formats permeate the pro AV industry, advanced capabilities—such as 3-D and touchscreen displays, video walls, HD projectors and video conferencing—become increasingly widespread. This in turn helps to grow the pro AV market and encourages more VARs to begin selling AV systems.

2010: In an attempt to protect Blu-ray devices from illegal copying of content, manufacturers helped bring about another aspect of the Analog Sunset. Over the last several years, this has led to an incompatibility between many analog and digital devices and outlets—for example, between newer digital displays and laptops with analog connections.

2013: Digital-Only Tokens (DOT) are introduced, completely eliminating analog output during the playing of HD digital content. If a device uses a DOT and analog output is attempted, the result is a blank screen (which causes plenty of frustration for laptop and projector users).

2015: The majority of laptop and display manufacturers have switched to all-digital connections, helping to streamline use and interoperability.

2024: The year at which the full global transition to all-digital formats is expected to occur.

While the transition from analog to digital has not always been a smooth one, today the pro AV industry is more robust and innovative than it has ever been—thanks in large part to digital formats. As the market continues to grow and evolve, we can all look forward to exciting new digital capabilities and experiences.

How has the evolution of AV systems from analog to digital formats affected your own business and personal life? Can you think of any analog devices that you still use regularly?