The Long Strange Trip To US Color TV

We are always fascinated when someone can take something and extend it in a clever way without changing the original thing. In the computer world, that’s old hat. New computers improve, but can usually run old software. In the real world, the addition of stereo to phonograph records and color to photography come to mind.

But there are few stories as strange or wide-ranging as the path to provide color TV. And it had to be done in a way that a color set could still get a black and white picture and black and white sets could still watch a color signal without color. You’d think there would be a “big bang” moment where color TV burst on the scene — no pun involving color burst intended. But there wasn’t. Instead, there was a long, twisted path with many competing interests and ideas to go from a world in black and white to one tinted with color phosphor.


In 1928, Science and Invention magazine had plans for building a mechanical TV (although not color)

It is hard to imagine, but John Logie Baird transmitted color images as early as 1928 using a mechanical scanner. Bell Labs had a demonstration system, also mechanical, in 1929. Baird broadcast using his system in 1938. Even earlier, around 1900, there were attempts to create mechanical color image systems. Those systems were fickle or impractical, though.

Electronic scanning was the answer, but World War II froze most consumer electronics development. Baird showed an electronic color system in late 1944. However, it would be 1953 before NTSC (the National Television System Committee) adopted the standard color TV signal for the United States. It would be almost 20 years later before SECAM and PAL were standardized in other parts of the world.

Of course, these are all analog standards. The world’s gone digital now, but for nearly 50 years, analog color TV was the way people consumed TV in their homes. By 1941, NTSC produced a standard in the United States, but not for color TV. TV adoption didn’t really take off until after the war. But by 1950, the US had some 6 million TV sets.

This was both a plus — a large market — and a negative. No one wanted to obsolete those 6 million sets. Well, at least, the government regulators and consumers didn’t. But most color systems would be incompatible with those existing black and white sets. Continue reading “The Long Strange Trip To US Color TV”

Your Voice Assistant Doesn’t Have To Be Cloudy

Voice assistants are neat — they let us interface with computers without having to bother with touching them at all. Still, many decry the perceived privacy intrusion these devices present, as they’re always trucking data off to corporate servers for all kinds of opaque reasons. Building your own standalone assistant is a way to get around that, and that’s precisely what [Tristram] did.

The build is based on an ESP32 Lyrat development board. Unlike most devboards, this one has two 3 watt audio outputs and mics on board, making it perfect for a build like this one. The Lyrat was paired with some NeoPixel LEDs and a pair of Dayton Audio 1.5″ speakers to enable it to interact with the user both audibly and visually.

[Tristram] steps through not only how to set up the voice assistant, but also how to build it into a simple and attractive enclosure that won’t unduly stand out in the average house. The Lyrat simply has to be flashed with firmware that enables it to work as a voice aid with Home Assistant platform.

If you’re unfamiliar, Home Assistant is a smart home architecture that you can run yourself on your own hardware, without having everything live in the cloud of some murky corporation.

Home Assistant has grown in popularity in recent years as a less intrusive smarthome solution. You can even use it to monitor your hot tub! Video after the break.

Continue reading “Your Voice Assistant Doesn’t Have To Be Cloudy”

Apple Vision Pro’s Secret To Smooth Visuals? Subtly Substandard Optics

The displays inside the Apple Vision Pro have 3660 × 3200 pixels per eye, but veteran engineer [Karl Guttag]’s analysis of its subtly blurred optics reminds us that “resolution” doesn’t always translate to resolution, and how this is especially true for things like near-eye displays.

The Apple Vision Pro lacks the usual visual artifacts (like the screen door effect) which result from viewing magnified pixelated screens though optics. But [Karl] shows how this effect is in fact hiding in plain sight: Apple seems to have simply made everything just a wee bit blurry thanks to subtly out-of-focus lenses.

The thing is, this approach of intentionally de-focusing actually works very well for consuming visual content like movies or looking at pictures, where detail and pixel-to-pixel contrast is limited anyway.

Clever loophole, or specification shenanigans? You be the judge of that, but this really is evidence of how especially when it comes to things like VR headsets, everything is a trade-off. Improving one thing typically worsens others. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why VR monitor replacements are actually a nontrivial challenge.