INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—Did you hear
the one about a bunch of broadcasters walking into a golf resort full of
Hollywood production types?
“If you bring it,” they said, referring to content, “We will come. With ATSC
The preceding anecdote was based on the true story of this week’s ATSC seminar
at the Hollywood Post Alliance Retreat, held annually in Coachella Valley. ATSC
3.0, colloquially known as the “next-generation” broadcast transmission
standard, is rounding the final corner of development and could be completed as
soon as the second quarter of this year,
according to Madeleine Noland of LG. Noland, whose work on 3.0 earned her the
Bernard J. Lechner Award, highest accolade of the Advanced Television Systems
Committee, said the standard is 80 to 85
percent complete. The seminar came just four days before the Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on voluntary deployment of the standard at the Feb. 23 open meeting. (See the component standards comprising ATSC 3.0 in the pop-out sidebar below.)
Noland opened the Monday afternoon seminar with a litany of
characteristics—Ultra HD support,
name your frame rate up to 120 fps, high dynamic range, wide color gamut, object audio, personalization and scalability
a la one person gets 24 Mbps or a million. It makes no
difference. ATSC 3.0, she and several panelists emphasized, redefines
broadcasting the way jet propulsion redefined travel.
“Today’s system is designed with certain planning factors,” said Winston
Caldwell, vice president of spectrum engineering in the Fox Networks Advanced
Engineering Group. “The expectation was that people put Yagis on their
rooftops, and the network’s designed to hit that antenna. Now, it doesn’t have
to be like that. You can simply configure the system to deploy that network and
give people an experience unlike they’ve had before with broadcast television.
Think about the reliability of the cellular network. I tend to get frustrated
with that. This is megawatts of power. The network can be configured to give
you something no one has given you before.”
3.0’s capabilities leapfrog previous methodologies in that it supports
interactivity versus push transmission only, but perhaps more radically, ATSC
3.0 combines broadcasting and broadband.
Among other implications, that means channel surfers can move between
over-the-air and over-the-top platforms like Netflix without jumping through a
bunch of interface hoops.
That type of functionality—as well as ATSC 3.0 itself—requires a new
generation of receivers, since the
standard is not backward compatible with the one currently feeding TVs and
cable headends across the country. This presents the old chicken-and-egg dilemma that HDTV had to get over, which is; what comes
first, the content or the receivers? After HDTV finally drove a massive wave of
new TV sales, a similar expectation for 3DTV hit the ground like a bag of wet
TV manufacturers are taking a different approach with 3.0, which also supports mobile reception. LG, for example,
introduced a gateway
device at last year’s NAB Show that decodes ATSC 3.0 signals and
redistributes them via Wi-Fi through an app.
LG also introduced its first
ATSC 3.0 4KTV at CES earlier this year in preparation for the deployment
of 3.0 in South Korea this year. (South Korea officially
adopted ATSC 3.0 last July, according to the Yonhap News agency.)
Noland and Caldwell were joined by Dave Siegler of Cox Media Group, Nandhu
Nandhakumar of LG and Steve Koenig of the Consumer Technology Association for
the first panel of the day on ATSC 3.0 distribution
Siegler said Cox is “really interested in better pictures, immersive audio,
dynamic ad insertion and advanced emergency alerting.”
Nandhakumar said LG is focused on “important consumer-facing features,” such as
3.0’s ability to reach further into buildings and support mobile reception.
With regard to creating consumer awareness, his response was simple: side-by-side demos with 1.0 transmissions.
Koenig noted that “TV is something very different today… [it’s] diffusion of
content engagement across screens.” TV viewing
on what old-timers call “TV” is decreasing, he said, from 61 percent in 2011 to 51
SINGLE FREQUENCY NETWORKS
Caldwell took an audience question on single frequency networks and whether
or not broadcasters would be willing to invest in multiple towers the way
cellular service providers have. Single
frequency networks, or “SFNs,” comprise multiple transmitter sites
simultaneously slinging a signal over a single frequency. SFNs allow for
saturation in a coverage area.
“When you put in another tower site, you expand the [bit] pipe,” Caldwell said.
“It’s a real key to the efficiency of the system.”
“With regard to cost, we see the key
to that just cooperation, as we move into the future, hopefully the broadcast
industry can cooperate more. A single
tower can host several broadcasters at once a key way to offset costs... with regard to SFNs, we’re
talking about four towers, maybe 10, not hundreds of towers,” he said.
Mark Corl of Triveni Digital led a second panel on interactivity
featuring Guy Hadland of UniSoft Corp.
Joe Winograd of Verance Azita Manson of OpenZnet and Pete Van Peenen of Pearl
Hadland described how Unisoft provided data delivery and interactive
applications for the OCAP cable standard, which is still in use in 14 million
Charter homes. He said Unisoft now has a working data delivery system for ATSC 3.0.
Manson, whose company led an ATSC
3.0 app authoring project for the National Association of Broadcasters,
said some new apps will appear at
the upcoming 2017 NAB Show,
including one for interactive advertising
Hadland noted that, “Comcast Spotlight has been selling enhanced interactive
ads for about three years. It’s one of the first things broadcasters can do.”
Van Peenen noted that the opt-in structure isn’t part of the 3.0 standard, “but
from Pearl’s perspective, it would be opt-in,” to keep from peeving viewers,
“but we don’t want people to have to opt in every time they change the
Winograd talked about HbbTV as
an object lesson. HbbTV is a hybrid broadcast-broadband
service in Europe. He said by “layering on top of OTA services an entry point
into OTT, the broadcaster doesn’t lose a viewer when they change channels.”
He gave some examples of widely deployed HbbTV features, including real-time, customized
content such as live, in-play soccer league stats, or viewer participation
events. An addressable advertising
feature “has gained a lot of traction in Germany,” he said, where 320
million “switch-in” ads per month are to delivered 26 million viewers over 10
million sets. These are overlays that occur during the program segment just
when a viewer tunes into that program, hence, “switch-in.”
A third and final panel featuring NAB’s Skip Pizzi; Steve Bartkowicz of NBCU,
Thad Beier of Dolby Labs, Howard Lukk of SMPTE, and David McElhatten of Fox
Networks Group, addressed ATSC 3.0
content production, for which Siegler earlier urged producers in the audience to have “an open mind.”
Pizzi addressed some key differences in producing audio for ATSC 3.0, which
supports the type of technology that make it sound like raindrops are falling
all around a listener. This object, or immersive
audio technology, can place discrete sounds throughout a defined
three-dimensional space. Immersive audio involves 12-plus channels, or
“N”objects,” he said. Among other things, Pizzi recommended producing in immersive
and downmixing to 5.1 or stereo.
Lukk talked about the advanced video
features enabled by ATSC 3.0—multiple frame rates, aspect rations,
resolutions, 10-bit color for high dynamic range, and how some of these lend
themselves more readily to episodic TV versus live broadcasting. High frame rate, he noted, tanked in
traditional cinematic story-telling, and might be more effective as a plot device much the way
black-and-white and color were used in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Beier addressed high dynamic range,
and said the first order of doing it is to “shoot well, first of all.” He noted
HDR is not just for brightness, but for blacks as well.
“We think doing HDR
first makes the best product. Mapping from HDR to SDR is better than an SDR
version done by hand,” he said.
Finally, McElhatten said the killer 3.0 app is personalization, particularly for sports.
“At Fox, we do more than 11,000 sporting events a year, more than 8,000, highly
regional. I’ve tried to do enhancement on drama, but it’s very hard,” he said.
McElhatten showed screengrabs of “live
biometrics,” analytical data and other information on drive Dale Earnhardt in a
He also showed an example of a live
multiscreen portal using the multiple content channels NBC employed in the
2012 London Olympics.
“There were eight channels that NBC owned that were running Olympic content,”
he said. The idea of the portal is that a broadcaster can show all of their
channels in small windows on a single screen, so a viewer could pick and choose
among ongoing live events.
Also see where ATSC 3.0 was last year
Feb. 16, 2016
2016: ATSC 3.0 Update”
Over-the-air TV is on its way to resembling a more robust version of the
Internet with the realization of ATSC 3.0.
And then go ahead and check out our ATSC 3.0 silo for more TV
Technology coverage, and please feel free
to drop us a line with any questions you may have about the standard.