Television technology has evolved with Super Bowls

Television technology has evolved with Super Bowls
Stephen Davis, left, Julia Woods, right, and other patrons celebrate at Buffalo Wild Wings in Westminster after Anquan Boldin scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Baltimore Ravens' AFC Championship win over the New England Patriots Sunday night, Jan. 20, 2013. The Ravens will face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on February 3. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

It's one of the key factors in choosing a site for a Super Bowl party: the size of the TV the big game will be shown on.

While football fans can check out the game on TVs 85 inches and larger, 50 years ago at the first Super Bowl, families instead had to cram around television sets no larger than the Sunday sports page.


Nearly 80 percent of houses today are home to televisions larger than 40 inches, according to IHS Technology, but in 1967, when the first Super Bowl was played, a brand-new, high-quality set was much more likely to come at less than 25 inches, with some as small as 11 or 12. According to TV Guide's 1966 buyers' guide, 75 percent of all color TV sets sold had a 21-inch screen. The models were priced about $100 less than the larger 23- or 25-inch sets, and were considered to be the best value per viewing inch.

Today, television's main selling points include internet capability, 4K resolution and 3-D capabilities, but back then ads were more likely to brag about the speed at which the screen could be turned on and the craftsmanship of the furniture-sized console the sets came embedded within.

1967 was a major year for color TV purchases. According to PBS's "Television," 9.6 percent of households had color televisions in 1966, a figure that jumped to 24.2 percent in 1968. By 1971, color TVs would outsell black and white models for the first time.

Viewers watching the Super Bowl in '67 had two options, as the game was broadcast on both NBC and CBS, sharing a video feed, but with each network hosting its own commentary. According to Nielsen ratings from the era, CBS came out ahead, with about 26,750,000 viewers on average, while NBC captured 24,430,000 viewers. These combined 51,180,000 viewers would not be topped until 1972 with Super Bowl VI, featuring the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins. Over the years, CBS has continued to top NBC as the No. 1 home for the Super Bowl, with 19 games aired on the network, compared to NBC's 18. ABC and Fox have each hosted seven times, but Fox will pull ahead with its eighth Super Bowl this year.

Another oddity of that first broadcast was that fans within 75 miles of Los Angeles weren't able to tune into the game that launched a half-century of matchups, due to the league's blackout rules preventing local fans from watching games over the air that hadn't sold out their in-person tickets.

In 1977, just in time for Super Bowl XI between the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings, VCRs first hit stores, allowing early pioneers to start recording games for future preservation. Perhaps if VCRs had been more prominent back when the first Super Bowl aired, there would be more than a single surviving copy. According to an article from the New York Times from last year, a man recorded the game on a Quadruplex taping machine — a device that resembles a large reel-to-reel recorder more than the compactness of a VCR tape — before passing it to his son. Today, that son still has the sole surviving broadcast; the NFL turned down the opportunity to purchase the tape from him and has blocked him from releasing it.

By 1978, television had become an inescapable part of the American lifestyle, with 98 percent of all households owning at least one TV, 78 percent of which were in color. And by the start of the '80s, the first rear-projection big-screen televisions began hitting the market, increasing possible screen size beyond 40 inches.

Rear-projection screens would prove to be the most popular tech for big-screen televisions until the mid-2000s, as large plasma and LCD screens began to reach affordable prices in stores — according to Ad Week, a 47-inch plasma TV sold for $15,000 in 1997.

Screen resolution continued to improve, when in 1996, the first HDTVs — televisions with dimensions of either 1920x1080 pixels or 1280x720 pixels — were released. Within two years, HDTV signals were being broadcast over the air.

Despite all of the changes in big-screen technology, by 2004 the average screen size was 27 inches, just barely larger than the 21-inch norm of purchases made in 1966. Soon, though, screen size would increase dramatically, with 2015 representing the first year the majority of television purchases were for screens larger than 40 inches.

According to the NPD Group's research, the two largest growth areas for television technology are in 4K televisions — with about four times the resolution as an HDTV — and in devices that connect to the internet for streaming media options. The group said that connected TVs are projected to drive 45 percent of growth over the next four years and 38 percent of families are somewhat or very likely to use a 4K television in the future.