ATSC 3.0

You may have heard about this Next Gen TV product and wondered what it means. Well, Next Gen TV is the marketing term being used for ATSC 3.0, the latest standard for over-the-air (OTA) TV broadcasts recently approved by the FCC. The predecessor to ATSC 3.0 currently be used throughout North America, ATSC 1.0, is based on MPEG-2 video compression and transport with 8-VSB modulation. With all the technical innovations since it was created, ATSC 1.0 has become a one trick pony that is pretty good for broadcasting HDTV content. Meanwhile, Internet protocol (IP)-based ATSC 3.0 supports the advanced compression schemes necessary for ultra-HDTV, aka 4KTV, with high dynamic range (HDR).

Being IP-based, ATSC 3.0 enables broadcasting of Internet-like services such as video-on-demand (VOD) to TVs and mobile phones, tablets, and other mobile devices with advertising targeted for the specific viewer.

In case you were wondering, there was an ATSC 2.0, but it was never released because its primary driver was 3D content delivery. When the ATSC saw interest in 3D was destined to be short-lived, they leapfrogged into developing ATSC 3.0.

South Korea, home to some of the largest manufacturers of consumer electronics in the world, was first to deploy ATSC 3.0 for the 4KTV OTA telecast of the 2018 Winter Olympics. The FCC ruled broadcasters could begin rolling out ATSC 3.0 in early March on a "market-driven, voluntary basis". However, without granting additional channels for ATSC 3.0 the FCC mandated ATSC 1.0 signals remain on the air for at least five years. Without specifics for channel space worked out, several ATSC 3.0 trials are already underway in Dallas, Phoenix, Baltimore-Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore., Cleveland and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Because ATSC 3.0 is incompatible with ATSC 1.0, the presumption is the TVs used for the Olympics and the trials are special ATSC 3.0 prototypes.

ATSC 3.0 has its detractors, with site non-compatibility with legacy TVs and privacy as key issues. Being incompatible with ATSC 1.0 means customers will need a new TV or some type of ATSC 1.0 to 3.0 adapter/converter to receive ATSC 3.0 signals. Without government funding for the transition from ATSC 1.0 to 3.0, broadcasters are optimistic customers will see the value in ATSC 3.0 while continuing to transmit ATSC 1.0 in parallel for five years. The privacy concerns arise from the broadcasters being able to recognize what programs are watched by specific customers for advertising.

Cable operators re-transmitting ATSC 3.0 broadcast signals over their networks have many questions yet to be answered, such as:

  1. Can the ATSC 3.0 signals be transcoded to ATSC 1.0 so customers can continue using their ATSC 1.0 TV?
  2. Will distribution of ATSC 1.0 and 3.0 signal be required, and for how long?
  3. Will the IP-based ATSC 3.0 be another source of IP content that accelerates the transition from quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) to IPTV distribution of TV content?

We do know ATSC 3.0 is coming, so we need to get ready to embrace it!


Darrell Severns has been working on the technical side of the broadband cable industry since 1975 as a technician, staff and field engineer, operations manager, and technical trainer. He has been sharing his knowledge and experiences in the development of NCTI lessons since 2007.

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Photo courtesy of TVTechnology 5/7/2018