A new era of free-TV is coming up and promises to bring 4K TV over the air to the phone. The FCC started switching to this new format called ATSC 3.0 on March 5, 2018.
Wait a minute. If we started to migrate to ATSC 3.0 a year ago, why does not anyone talk about it? Why can not we watch TV on our phones? Why is my local news station not available in 4K?
What is ATSC 3.0 and how is it unique?
When ATSC 1.0 (digital television) was announced 25 years ago, it served as a replacement for analog TV signals. and it started the HDTV revolution. Now the Advanced Television Systems Committee is adopting ATSC 3.0, a new broadcast standard that promises to bring 4K into mainstream and bring Free TV to our phones and cars.
This is the first major update to broadcast television for 25 years. The Advanced Television Systems Committee planned to migrate to ATSC 2.0 in 2010 or 2011, but the project became obsolete during development and was therefore discarded. Therefore, we are skipped directly from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0.
As you can imagine, ATSC 3.0 is designed to bring broadcast TV to the present. The format supports 4K, 3D, UHD and high quality audio, which will hopefully help replace 4K HDTV. Like traditional broadcast TV, ATSC 3.0 works wirelessly, but it also works with Internet connections (including cellular connections such as 5G) to create a broadcast / broadband hybrid stream.
ATSC 3.0 uses OFDM, QAM, and QPSK encoding methods that provide much more flexibility than the 8VBS fixed encoding method used by ATSC 1.0. Do you know how Netflix reduces your video quality when your internet connection is slow or weak? Yes, these coding methods are supposed to mimic this process. If your TV or phone has a poor connection to an ATSC 3.0 broadcast source, the quality of the video will be reduced, but it will continue to run smoothly.
This latest standard also uses a new form of ghost suppression technology that essentially prevents two TV transmissions from interfering with each other. In this way, broadcasters in a small area can use multiple transmission sources (television towers) to ensure the range that telephones and cars need to receive a stable signal.
ATSC 3.0 uses the Internet for targeted content
The Advanced The Television Committee has big plans for ATSC 3.0. However, many of these new ideas require a little bit of help from the internet as they all go back to a well-known concept – targeted content. Broadcast TV is a one way signal. For targeted content to work, broadcasters need a two-way signal. The internet just fits.
At the moment, broadcasters are relying on third parties like Nielsen to determine who is watching which channels. Broadcasters use these surveys to formulate schedules and optimize ad revenue. Once ATSC 3.0 has been fully adopted, broadcasters know a lot more about their viewers. Without the help of companies like Nielsen, the stations know how old you are, where you are, when you watch TV and what you see on TV.
As you've probably guessed, all ads broadcast on ATSC 3.0 are aimed at individuals. Over-the-air broadcasts are broad and non-specific, so targeted ads are processed by the ATSC 3.0's Internet backbone. It's a bit strange, but it follows the format of websites like YouTube and Hulu. If you are a young woman, there are no catheter displays during local news. If you are an old man, prepare for more catheter displays.
The Advanced Television Systems Committee did not announce how non-Internet-enabled ads work, and there's a chance that you block ATSC 3.0 ads with a device like a PiHole. As broadcasters do not yet use ATSC 3.0, it's impossible to know how things will work.
Internet integration also allows tailor made emergency signals, which means that alerts against natural disasters and evacuation routes are much more effective. This change is especially helpful for people during a blackout or evacuation, as distress signals can be sent directly to phones.
Need to buy a new phone or TV?
Back when we switched from analog TV to ATSC 1.0, the FCC bought converter boxes for consumers. It would be grossly irresponsible to keep television that can not afford converter away from television because it would actually lead to a class-based information blackout.
But that was 25 years ago. Most users now receive their information over the Internet, so the FCC does not give away ATSC 3.0 recipients. You will not get a free 4K TV until you buy an ATSC 3.0 receiver for your TV or a phone that can receive ATSC 3.0 signals.
Fortunately, the FCC has prescribed the main broadcast content (such as news and TV channels) government-sponsored television) for five years simultaneously in both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 while consumers are transitioning. This five-year simulcast plan began on March 5, 2018. My goodness, exactly a year ago. Why do not we just have ATSC 3.0 on our TVs and phones?
You will receive ATSC 3.0 … Eventually
ATSC 3.0 will not be known nationwide this year, but it is clear that the Advanced Television Systems Committee and the FCC are ready to make the switch. The basics of ATSC 3.0 have been finalized and the format has been approved by the FCC since 5 March 2018. It only has to be implemented by the broadcasters.
The Advanced Television Systems Committee will be presenting ATSC 3.0 at NAB 2019 in NAB 2019 April. At this conference, broadcasters learn how to upgrade to ATSC 3.0 and how the ATSC 3.0 emergency broadcasting system works. It is to be hoped that this conference will encourage broadcasters to launch ATSC 3.0 next year so that the format can get going immediately.
It's good to know that some broadcasters are ahead of the game. Pearl TV and ATEME TITAN are currently conducting real-world testing with ATSC 3.0 in Phoenix. Residents of Phoenix who happen to have an ATSC 3.0 receiver may be able to receive a signal immediately.
But when does ATSC 3.0 come to cell phones? Well, that's up to the phone manufacturers. At CES 2019, Sinclair Broadcast Group unveiled its new system-on-a-chip, which supports ATSC 3.0. Sinclair offered to give the chip to manufacturers for free, but no one has taken the bait yet. It seems like everyone is concentrating on 5G. Speaking of 5G, does not that make the need for ATSC 3.0?
Does 5G eliminate the need for ATSC 3.0?
Well, all of that sounds super cool, but we have to talk about the elephant's room. You probably have 5G before you have ATSC 3.0, and 5G already promises to bring 4K videos to your phone without any hassles. If 5G comes by, will it make sense to watch TV on your phone? And do not streaming sticks like Chromecast already make the need for free TV in your home? Is ATSC 3.0 the last breath of a dying medium?
Consider this. Broadcast TV has its advantages, and these benefits do not always exist on the Internet. While the Internet is a landscape of undisguised confusion, broadcast TV is a regulated medium focused solely on education, clean entertainment and information. While the Internet hosts an infinite amount of content that fights for your attention, broadcast TV is like a lazy river full of sports, reenactments and children's shows.