SECAM, also written SÉCAM (French pronunciation: Séquentiel couleur à mémoire, French for "Sequential color with memory"), is an analog color television system first used in France. It was one of three major color television standards, the others being the European PAL and North American NTSC.
Development of SECAM began in 1956 by a team led by Henri de France working at Compagnie Française de Télévision (later bought by Thomson, now Technicolor). The first SECAM broadcast was made in France in 1967. The system was also selected as the standard for color in the Soviet Union, who began broadcasts shortly after the French. The standard spread from these two countries to many client states and former colonies.
SECAM remained a major standard into the 2000s. It is in the process of being phased out and replaced by DVB, the new pan-European standard for digital television.
Work on SECAM began in 1956. The technology was ready by the end of the 1950s, but this was too soon for a wide introduction. A version of SECAM for the French 819-line television standard was devised and tested, but not introduced. Following a pan-European agreement to introduce color TV only in 625 lines, France had to start the conversion by switching over to a 625-line television standard, which happened at the beginning of the 1960s with the introduction of a second network.
The first proposed system was called SECAM I in 1961, followed by other studies to improve compatibility and image quality.
These improvements were called SECAM II and SECAM III, with the latter being presented at the 1965 CCIR General Assembly in Vienna.
Further improvements were SECAM III A followed by SECAM III B, the adopted system for general use in 1967.
Soviet technicians were involved in the development of the standard and created their own incompatible variant called NIIR or SECAM IV, which was not deployed. The team was working in Moscow's Telecentrum under the direction of Professor Shmakov. The NIIR designation comes from the name of the Nautchno-Issledovatelskiy Institut Radio (NIIR, rus. Научно-Исследовательский Институт Радио), a Soviet research institute involved in the studies. Two standards were developed: Non-linear NIIR, in which a process analogous to gamma correction is used, and Linear NIIR or SECAM IV that omits this process.
SECAM was inaugurated in France on 1 October 1967, on la deuxième chaîne (the second channel), now called France 2. A group of four suited men—a presenter (Georges Gorse, Minister of Information) and three contributors to the system's development—were shown standing in a studio. Following a count from 10, at 2:15 pm the black-and-white image switched to color; the presenter then declared "Et voici la couleur !" (fr: And here is color!) In 1967, CLT of Lebanon became the third television station in the world, after the Soviet Union and France, to broadcast in color utilizing the French SECAM technology.
The first color television sets cost 5000 Francs. Color TV was not very popular initially; only about 1500 people watched the inaugural program in color. A year later, only 200,000 sets had been sold of an expected million. This pattern was similar to the earlier slow build-up of color television popularity in the US.
SECAM was later adopted by former French and Belgian colonies, Greece, Cyprus, the Soviet Union, and Eastern bloc countries (except for Romania and Albania), and Middle Eastern countries. However, with the fall of communism, and following a period when multi-standard TV sets became a commodity, many Eastern European countries decided to switch to the German-developed PAL system.
Other countries, notably the United Kingdom and Italy, briefly experimented with SECAM before opting for PAL.
Since the late 2000s, SECAM is in the process of being phased out and replaced by DVB.
Some have argued that the primary motivation for the development of SECAM in France was to protect French television equipment manufacturers. However, incompatibility had started with the earlier unusual decision to adopt positive video modulation for French broadcast signals. The earlier systems System A & the 819-line systems were the only other systems to use positive video modulation. In addition, SECAM development predates PAL. NTSC was considered undesirable in Europe because of its tint problem requiring an additional control, which SECAM and PAL solved. Nonetheless, SECAM was partly developed for reasons of national pride. Henri de France's personal charisma and ambition may have been a contributing factor. PAL was developed by Telefunken, a German company, and in the post-war De Gaulle era, there would have been much political resistance to dropping a French-developed system and adopting a German-developed one instead.
Unlike some other manufacturers, the company where SECAM was invented, Technicolor (known as Thomson until 2010), still sells TV sets worldwide under different brands; this may be due in part to the legacy of SECAM. Thomson bought the company that developed PAL, Telefunken, and today even co-owns the RCA brand —RCA being the creator of NTSC. Thomson also co-authored the ATSC standards which are used for American high-definition television.