For years now, the broadcast television industry has been talking about plans to revise over-the-air television to a new standard called ATSC 3.0.
Also know as NextGen TV, ATSC 3.0 can offer 4K HDR video, improved dialogue, on-demand display options, and potentially better reception, all for free with an antenna. Stations in 46 US markets are now broadcasting at the new standard, covering nearly half of the United States, with dozens more markets through 2022.
But before you accept the hype and buy compatible TVs or tuners, keep in mind that NextGen TV is still cutting edge technology and broadcasters have yet to realize its biggest benefits. As I wrote last year and the year before, most antenna users can leave ATSC 3.0 out of their cable-cutting plans for now, even if it’s something to keep an eye out for in the future.
NextGen TV updates for 2022
Today, ATSC 3.0 is top of mind thanks to CES, the technology industry’s annual trade show where major TV manufacturers announce new products. The big news for this year’s ATSC 3.0 is that Hisense include ATSC 3.0 tuners on most of its upcoming ULED televisions, becoming the fourth television manufacturer to support the new standard, and the first not to be an original sponsor of the standard.
“We are very excited that Hisense is a new entrant, because it is a vote of confidence,” said Anne Schelle, CEO of Pearl TV, a broadcast industry trade group.
Still, ATSC 3.0 remains focused on mid- and high-end TVs. While Sony has brought NextGen TV tuners to all of their TVs, LG and Samsung reserve it for their premium OLED and Neo QLED TVs, respectively. Meanwhile, Hisense is omitting ATSC 3.0 from its less expensive U6H ULED televisions and its lower budget non-ULED televisions. Other value-oriented TV vendors, including Vizio, TCL, Toshiba, and Insignia, haven’t announced NextGen TV support at all.
A new deal between Pearl TV and chipmaker MediaTek could help bring ATSC 3.0 to cheaper TVs by speeding up development, but Schelle said that won’t happen until next year at the earliest.
“I think the hockey stick environment starts in 2023, and it really increases in 2024, and we think by 2025 it will be very difficult to buy a TV without NextGen,” he said.
What about ATSC 3.0 external tuners?
Instead of buying a new ATSC 3.0 compliant TV, you’ll need an external tuner to take advantage of the new broadcast standard, but they aren’t cheap either.
At this time, the most economical option is SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun Flex 4K, which costs $ 200 and doesn’t connect directly to your TV. Instead, it streams video over Wi-Fi to the HDHomeRun app on streaming hardware like Roku players and Amazon Fire TV devices.
This week, Nuvvyo also announced a ATSC 3.0 version of your Tablo Quad HDMI Wireless DVR coming this spring; but at $ 300, it is $ 100 more expensive than ATSC version 1.0. Unlike Tablo’s existing HDMI models, it also can’t stream video to other devices in the house due to technical complexities, although Nuvyyo says it could add that capability in the future.
Nuvvyo CEO Grant Hall said he doesn’t want to discourage cable cutters from buying Tablo’s ATSC 1.0 DVRs. The company is releasing an ATSC 3.0 model largely to satisfy some early adopters and gain first-hand experience with the technology as it emerges.
“We weren’t feeling too hot to have a product on the market,” Hall said. “It was more from a position of thought leadership.”
As for cheaper hardware, similar to the cheap converter boxes that helped usher in the transition to digital television More than a decade ago, Pearl TV’s Anne Schelle said there is another year to go as well. When they arrive, she expects them to cost less than $ 60.
“One of the problems that plagues us is not so much the ability to enable them, but the problems of the supply chain,” he said. “We are predicting that they will be released in 2023.”
Waiting for more features
If you choose an ATSC 3.0-compliant TV or tuner, don’t expect to get 4K HDR video or Dolby Atmos audio right out of the box. Those features depend on the support of broadcast television networks, which have so far only broadcast occasional events in 4K HDR. Even with more 4K HDR content available, broadcasters will have to make additional investments in their own infrastructure to support it, Schelle said.
For now, early adopters will reap some more modest benefits. Options to enhance dialogue and level the volume are available with any ATSC 3.0 broadcast, and stations also have the ability to enable 1080p video support as an upgrade from 1080i (interlaced) or 720p.
As for interactive components, such as on-demand news clips or live weather indicators, Schelle said about 20 stations have started to dabble in these kinds of features. Still, he said this will be a year of experimentation as broadcasters figure out what works with viewers.
“Right now, we’re getting what we call the basic set of features to start with, and over time they get updated,” Schelle said.
ATSC 3.0 also has some ability to improve reception, as broadcasters can decide whether to increase signal strength at the expense of capacity. In theory, that would allow a station to reduce video quality so that content can more easily reach viewers.
But again, that kind of benefit may not be immediately realized, as broadcasters still have to conserve bandwidth for their current ATSC 1.0 broadcasts. (More on that below).
“Because ATSC 1.0 takes up less of the overall spectrum availability in a market, you can dedicate more and more to a 3.0 signal, which may allow you to make the signal stronger or send more data,” said ATSC President Madeleine Noland.
No rush to upgrade
One important thing to note is that ATSC 3.0 is not a mandatory upgrade like the analog-to-digital transition was. Even in markets with ATSC 3.0 stations, broadcasters continue to broadcast their channels in the current ATSC 1.0 standard, so you can continue to use your existing TV tuner or wireless DVR without any hassle. That is not going to change for many years.
For one thing, the FCC currently requires stations to simultaneously broadcast their main channels on both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 through February 2023, and the commission could decide to extend that deadline even further. With 15 percent of US households Currently watching over-the-air television with the current standard, broadcasters are also wary of scaring away viewers with new hardware requirements.
“There is nothing more important to the announcer than their audience, and they are not going to do something that will disenfranchise them,” Noland said.
My advice, then, is similar to a year ago: If you’re already planning to buy a new TV or TV over the air, and an ATSC 3.0 model fits your budget, there is little harm in future tests. . But don’t go out of your way to upgrade to a standard that’s still in its infancy. Your current over-the-air TV setup will continue to be viable for years to come.
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