The new digital television standard ATSC 3.0 (also known as NextGen TV) promises to dramatically improve the U.S. broadcast television viewing experience with features such as 4K High Dynamic Range (HDR) video, Dolby Atmos audio, interactive apps and program guides. – all this was delivered free of charge through the usual broadcast channels.
But even though these capabilities are built into the ATSC 3.0 standard, 4K broadcasts have so far been limited to experimentation and technology demonstrations, and no ultra-high-definition program has reached a household equipped with an antenna and an ATSC 3.0-compatible TV.
ATSC 3.0 broadcast began in the US in 2018 and has since expanded to 69 markets, with 60% of US viewers now able to tune in to programs on best 4k tvs using inexpensive TV antenna. But while that may seem like an impressive growth curve for a relatively new format, broadcast industry insiders actually think the transition to ATSC 3.0 has stalled.
The situation is so serious that the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in January asked the FCC to create a task force dedicated to accelerating the transition to ATSC 3.0. The organization then issued a press release at last month’s NAB trade show in Las Vegas, announcing that the show would be “in the spotlight” on ATSC 3.0 and that numerous conferences and technical sessions would focus on the new TV broadcast standard.
NAB also served as a launch pad for the Future of Television initiative, which FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworth announced on the show. This NAB-led initiative, likely created in response to the organization’s January filing with the FCC, creates three working groups dealing with hardware, technical and regulatory issues, respectively, and “will involve a wide range of stakeholders,” according to NAB. announcement.
Why the future of television is on pause
If you asked broadcasters why the transition to ATSC 3.0 has stalled and why the full potential of the standard is not currently being used, they would most likely answer you that they are being hindered by the FCC’s requirement that stations simulcast programs in the existing ATSC digital format. 1.0. standard for five years after upgrading to ATSC 3.0.
The reason for this requirement is that televisions equipped with ATSC 1.0 tuners cannot receive ATSC 3.0 transmissions—if ATSC 3.0 were the only option, most viewers would not be able to tune into broadcast television at all. Spectrum for broadcasting in both the old and new digital television format puts limits on the station’s allocated bandwidth, meaning that ATSC 3.0’s new fancy features – most notably 4K resolution, which is more bandwidth than regular HD – are not used.
This mandatory five-year grace period was supposed to allow TV manufacturers to add ATSC 3.0 tuning capability to new TVs they sell. Some companies, such as Sony and, more recently, Hisense, have been vigilant about bringing this feature to new TVs. but in general kit makers slow to add ATSC 3.0 tuners to newer models, with brands like LG and Samsung reserving the feature only for their more expensive TVs, and TCL and Vizio neglecting to provide next-gen TV tuners in any of their offerings.
Part of this dilemma can be solved by using external ATSC 3.0 tuners that connect to the TV’s HDMI input. And although they have recently become available in limited quantities, their price of about $250 is higher than most viewers would find acceptable. Cheaper ATSC 3.0 tuners in the $75 range that plug into a TV’s USB port have also been announced but have yet to materialize.
TV on FAST track
While ATSC 3.0 isn’t handling its current chicken-and-egg situation, viewers are used to watching programs in 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos through the best streaming services. And while services offering these premium features can be expensive, popular streaming platforms also provide FAST (Ad-supported Free Streaming Television) options that stream sitcoms, reality shows, news, movies, and many other examples of programming that viewers expect to see. , when tuning the over-the-air TV channels.
Two examples of FAST: The Roku Channel and Amazon free, none of which require a subscription to watch the thousands of shows and movies and the hundreds of live TV channels they contain, all presented in a familiar cable television programming grid. There are also apps like Pluto and Tubi that can be used on multiple platforms, including many of the best smart tvs.
As FAST grows in popularity and viewers become accustomed to using it for free-to-air television, broadcast television may become increasingly irrelevant. No wonder the NAB writes urgent letters to the FCC. If the future of television includes free-to-air broadcasting, the transition to ATSC 3.0 must be accelerated. And if it doesn’t, streaming platforms will eat up broadcasters’ lunch and it won’t matter anymore if any new TV you buy comes with a next generation digital tuner as long as it has Wi-Fi.