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Hertz


The hertz (symbol: Hz) is the derived unit of frequency in the International System of Units (SI) and is defined as cycles per one second. It is named after Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, the first person to provide conclusive proof of the existence of electromagnetic waves. Hertz are commonly expressed in multiples: kilohertz (103 Hz, kHz), megahertz (106 Hz, MHz), gigahertz (109 Hz, GHz), terahertz (1012 Hz, THz), petahertz (1015 Hz, PHz), exahertz (1018 Hz, EHz), and zettahertz (1021 Hz, ZHz).

The hertz is defined as one cycle per second. The International Committee for Weights and Measures defined the second as "the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom" and then adds: "It follows that the hyperfine splitting in the ground state of the caesium 133 atom is exactly 9 192 631 770 hertz, (hfs Cs) = 9 192 631 770 Hz." The dimension of the unit hertz is 1/time (1/T). Expressed in base SI units it is 1/second (1/s).

The hertz is named after Heinrich Hertz. As with every SI unit named for a person, its symbol starts with an upper case letter (Hz), but when written in full it follows the rules for capitalisation of a common noun; i.e., "hertz" becomes capitalised at the beginning of a sentence and in titles, but is otherwise in lower case.

Sound is a traveling longitudinal wave which is an oscillation of pressure. Humans perceive frequency of sound waves as pitch. Each musical note corresponds to a particular frequency which can be measured in hertz. An infant's ear is able to perceive frequencies ranging from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz; the average adult human can hear sounds between 20 Hz and 16,000 Hz. The range of ultrasound, infrasound and other physical vibrations such as molecular and atomic vibrations extends from a few femtohertz into the terahertz range and beyond.

Radio frequency radiation is usually measured in kilohertz (kHz), megahertz (MHz), or gigahertz (GHz). Light is electromagnetic radiation that is even higher in frequency, and has frequencies in the range of tens (infrared) to thousands (ultraviolet) of terahertz. Electromagnetic radiation with frequencies in the low terahertz range (intermediate between those of the highest normally usable radio frequencies and long-wave infrared light) is often called terahertz radiation. Even higher frequencies exist, such as that of gamma rays, which can be measured in exahertz (EHz). (For historical reasons, the frequencies of light and higher frequency electromagnetic radiation are more commonly specified in terms of their wavelengths or photon energies: for a more detailed treatment of this and the above frequency ranges, see electromagnetic spectrum.)

In computers, most central processing units (CPU) are labeled in terms of their clock rate expressed in megahertz (106 Hz) or gigahertz (109 Hz). This specification refers to the frequency of the CPU's master clock signal. This signal is a square wave, which is an electrical voltage that switches between low and high logic values at regular intervals. As the hertz has become the primary unit of measurement accepted by the general populace to determine the performance of a CPU, many experts have criticized this approach, which they claim is an easily manipulable benchmark. Some processors use multiple clock periods to perform a single operation, while others can perform multiple operations in a single cycle. For personal computers, CPU clock speeds have ranged from approximately 1 MHz in the late 1970s (Atari, Commodore, Apple computers) to up to 6 GHz in IBM POWER microprocessors.