ATSC Begins Work on Standard for Mobile and Handheld DTV

April 13, 2007
Not too long ago, many broadcasters were concerned the U.S. standard for terrestrial digital TV broadcasting would not be adequate for conventional fixed TV reception. Those concerns have been answered with fifth-generation ATSC receivers that allow perfect DTV reception under conditions that make analog TV unwatchable, leading to a resurgence of interest in over-the-air TV reception. Now broadcasters are seeing services like Qualcomm's MediaFLO and Crown Castle's Modeo offering TV on cell phones. Portable analog TV receivers have been available for many years, starting with the Sony Watchman that used a small CRT to offer handheld black-and-white TV reception. However, while there were promising prototypes, I didn't find any finished handheld TV sets for ATSC TV at CES in January.

Will TV broadcasters end up as dependent on wireless providers for distribution to portable and mobile devices tomorrow as they are on cable and satellite providers for distribution to home TV sets today? Monday's announcement from Advanced Television Systems Committee offers hope that won't happen.

ATSC has set an aggressive timetable for developing a standard that will enable broadcasters to deliver programs and data to mobile and handheld devices using their DTV broadcast signal while continuing to offer programming, including HDTV, to existing DTV receivers. The new standard, referred to as ATSC-M/H, will support free (advertiser supported) TV, subscription TV, and interactive services in real time as well as non-real-time content for playback later. Data applications could include navigation and traffic information services for in-vehicle use.

ATSC President Mark Richer said, "The ATSC-M/H standard will facilitate broadcaster's use of their DTV broadcast channels to small handheld receivers, laptop computers and vehicles moving at a high rate of speed. ATSC-M/H will be backwards compatible, allowing operation of existing ATSC services in the same RF channel without an adverse impact on existing receiving equipment."

Glenn Reitmeier, chair of the ATSC board of directors and vice president of Technology Standards, Policy and Strategy for NBC, said, "Development of a standard for mobile and handheld services is a major priority of the ATSC's strategic plan. We encourage participation in our standards development process and welcome technical proposals for consideration by our Technology and Standards Group."

Consumer electronics manufacturer Samsung and transmitter and test equipment manufacturer Rohde & Schwarz have submitted their A-VSB technology to ATSC as a proposed standard. Zenith (part of LG Electronics) and transmitter manufacturer Harris Corp. recently announced a competing technology, MPH, and will be demonstrating it at NAB 2007 next week. Zenith and Harris have not indicated whether they will submit their technology to ATSC. ATSC's announcement that it will develop a mobile and handheld standard offers hope U.S. TV broadcasters will be able to avoid a situation like the AM stereo debacle, where two incompatible AM stereo technologies battled it out in the marketplace and neither succeeded. While some AM stereo receivers were sold--I had one in my 1987 Toyota Celica--it would be hard to find one today.

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