Take a walk down memory lane and you might remember watching television at a grandparent’s house. The picture was a tad fuzzy and sometimes it would look as bad as a snowstorm in Kansas.
If you were lucky enough, they had a knob near the TV set that would rotate the outdoor antenna and improve the picture. If they didn’t, you probably flipped the channel.
Over-the-air television has come along way since then, now capable of delivering high definition content that actually looks better than the compressed signal cable companies deliver.
But in a world now dominated by mobile devices and second screens, and the advent of 4K content, the current over-the-air standard is quickly becoming outdated. Some would argue it already is outdated.
Even while companies like Mohu are marketing cutting-edge, hip looking antennas and antenna sales have been increasing rapidly the last few years, many people still view the idea of getting TV via an antenna as antiquated. That’s part of the reason people shell over $10 or more every month to a cable company for local channels they could get for free if they had an antenna. But all that could be changing very soon.
In October, the Advanced Television Systems Committee adopted a candidate standard for the next-generation broadcasting system called ATSC 3.0. And its capable of some pretty impressive tasks, including broadcasting 4K content without the use of an outdoor antenna.
“With ATSC 3.0, broadcasting may enjoy a renaissance — new services, truly ubiquitous reception and, because it’s IP-based, integration with the world of the Internet,” writes Harry Jessell, editor of TVNewsCheck.com. “Who doesn’t enjoy a good come-back tale?”
What about ATSC 2.0?
Broadcasters today air content using ATSC 1.0, a standard that was adopted by the FCC in 1996. Over the years, broadcasters added on new technology to that standard, allowing for high definition content. Most people are familiar with the digital conversion of 2009, which solidified the most up to date version of 1.0.
Since then, broadcasters have been working toward ATSC 2.0, a backwards compatible standard that’s going to allow over the air TV viewers to store and watch video on demand in non-real time, and also call up graphics and data.
While ATSC 2.0 is a big step forward for broadcasters, it’s likely considered behind what consumers are going to be looking for in terms of TV technology (e.g 4K, second screens, etc.).
So, at the same time, broadcasters are developing ATSC 3.0, building off the work in 2.0. ATSC 2.0 will likely never make it over airwaves as a standalone standard, but ATSC 3.0 will certainly contain elements from that enhanced standard.
ATSC 3.o Set to Change TV Forever
Here are some reasons why ATSC 3.0 is going to revolutionize over-the-air TV.
4K — and perhaps 8K — reception
For the past year, television manufacturers have aired commercials for their newest 4K-capable sets. They call it ultra high definition. Samsung says it “redefines the viewing experience with… revealing brilliant colors and details you never knew were there.”
That’s because those details likely aren’t there. There is very little 4K content available today and absolutely zero “ultra high definition” content being broadcast over the air or piped out through cable or satellite providers. In other words, no live sports, which is the primary reason the general consuming public would want 4K.
But ATSC 3.0 looks to change that. Being that the standard is IP-based and is going to use the latest-generation video coding technology, the over-the-air standard is going to be able to deliver 4K support from the beginning and 8K support later through extensibility, according to Rich Chernock, chairman of the ATSC 3.0 committee. Yes, 8K. That’s four times the resolution of today’s high definition resolution.
As soon as your local Fox station is delivering Sunday afternoon football games in stunning ultra high definition (most production crews are already shooting with 4K cameras for archives and special replays), it’s going to be difficult not to begin watching the over-the-air broadcast.
The antenna can be tiny
With a big enough antenna installed high enough on your roof, you can pull TV signals from more than 60 miles away.
The problem is, the average person doesn’t want to install an outdoor antenna and snake cable to all of the television sets in their house. ATSC 3.0 changes that.
While logistics of the antenna aren’t finalized by any means, industry leaders have floated the idea of a small antenna that would plug into the back of a television either through an HDMI or USB port. Wouldn’t that be convenient?
It’s much easier to sell a consumer on a gadget that you plug into a port and automatically receive local channels for free after tuning the TV than convincing them to buy an antenna, find the perfect position for it and hide the cords.
It can broadcast to smartphones, tablets
Everyone loves the convenience of watching content on a smartphone, but no one likes data charges. ATSC 3.0 has the capability of broadcasting to smartphones and tablets while people are on-the-go. And more importantly, broadcasting for free, without any data charges.
This is huge.
There have been way too many half-baked ideas on how to watch live television without incurring data charges. ATSC 3.0 fixes this.
Of course, it would perhaps require smartphone manufacturers to get on board and allow their device to broadcast the over-the-air TV signal, something they haven’t done with FM radio chips.
It works with the Internet
Today, TV broadcasters can encourage you to use a second screen, i.e., an iPad, to interact with them. A local news show, for example, may direct you to go to their website on your tablet while watching the 6 p.m. news and vote on an issue. Later in the hour, they might report the results of that poll.
Sure, that’s interactive, but wouldn’t it better if they just asked the poll question and you could use your remote to submit an answer and watch results roll in live?
ATSC 3.0 is capable of pulling that off.
Because it’s IP-based, it allows a two-way conversation between the broadcaster and the viewer (as long as the viewer has Internet access in their home).
While the polling example seems basic, imagine the news coverage during election seasons. The station could show real-time results on how viewers feel about local, state and national issues.
It could also allow broadcasters to offer viewers the chance to customize the type of news they want delivered and watch on-demand video.
The future is bright
All of these examples just scrape the surface of what ATSC 3.0 is capable of delivering.
One of the problems with Apple TV, for instance, is that you can’t watch local channels. And live TV, for the most part, is only available if you have a cable subscription.
If ATSC 3.0 takes off, wouldn’t it be great to have an app on your TV or Apple TV (or Roku, PS4, etc.) that allowed you to pull up the live feed of your local channels, DVR programs to the cloud and interact with the content?
ATSC 3.0 officials have said they’re shooting to launch the standard in 2017.
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