High-definition television (or HDTV) is a digital television broadcasting system with higher resolution than traditional television systems (standard-definition TV, or SDTV). HDTV is digitally broadcast; the earliest implementations used analog broadcasting, but today digital television (DTV) signals are used, requiring less bandwidth due to digital video compression.
The term high definition once described a series of television systems originating from the late 1930s; however, these systems were only high definition when compared to earlier systems that were based on mechanical systems with as few as 30 lines of resolution.
The British high definition TV service started trials in August 1936 and a regular service in November 1936 using both the (mechanical) Baird 240 line and (electronic) Marconi-EMI 405 line (377i) systems. The Baird system was discontinued in February 1937. In 1938 France followed with their own 441 line system, variants of which were also used by a number of other countries. The US NTSC system joined in 1941. In 1949 France introduced an even higher resolution standard at 819 lines (768i), a system that would be high definition even by today's standards, but it was monochrome only. All of these systems used interlacing and a 4:3 aspect ratio except the 240 line system which was progressive (actually described at the time by the technically correct term of 'sequential') and the 405 line system which started as 5:4 and later changed to 4:3. The 405 line system adopted the (at that time) revolutionary idea of interlaced scanning to overcome the flicker problem of the 240 line with its 25 Hz frame rate. The 240 line system could have doubled its frame rate but this would have meant that the transmitted signal would have doubled in bandwidth, an unacceptable option.
Color broadcasts started at similarly higher resolutions, first with the US' NTSC color system in 1953, which was compatible with the earlier B&W systems and therefore had the same 525 lines (480i) of resolution.In the 1970's European standards did not follow until the 1960s, when the PAL and SECAM colour systems were added to the monochrome 625 line (576i) broadcasts.
Since the formal adoption of Digital Video Broadcasting's (DVB) widescreen HDTV transmission modes in the early 2000s the 525-line NTSC (and PAL-M) systems as well as the European 625-line PAL and SECAM systems are now regarded as standard definition television systems. In Australia, the 625-line digital progressive system (with 576 active lines) is officially recognized as high definition.