Since their introduction in the 1990s, Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standards have become an integral part of the broadcast industry. However, while ATSC no doubt revolutionized the broadcast industry, over time ATSC 1.0 became outdated and unable to keep up with an increasingly mobile society. As a result, the industry is continuing to look at the implementation of ATSC 3.0.
ATSC 3.0 is the world’s first Internet-Protocol (IP)-based television standard. It promises resolutions up to Ultra HD 4K TV, high dynamic range, refresh rates up to 120Hz and better reception at home, as well as on mobile devices. It’s little wonder that its introduction looks set to shake up the broadcast industry in the United States.
WHAT ARE THE STANDARDS?
The introduction of ATSC standards in the early 1990s metamorphosized broadcasting with ATSC 1.0 unveiling digital television, which would serve as a replacement for analog TV signals. This began the HDTV revolution and without it it’s likely we wouldn’t have viable over-the-air programming today. However, over time this standard has become outdated, not least because almost 30 years ago nobody could have predicted how mobile the world would become, something that is reflected by the fact ATSC 1.0 was built on a standard that is incompatible with mobile.
Therefore, in the first major update to broadcasting standards in 25 years, ATSC 3.0 was approved by the Federal Communications Commission as the next generation of broadcast standard on a voluntary, market-driven basis back in November 2017. Initially, there had been plans for ATSC 2.0, however, the project became outdated during development and ATSC 3.0 was created in its place.
ATSC 3.0 features a scalable encoding standard SHVC (Scalable HEVC) to enable convergence between broadcast and broadband. Overall, compression is about exploiting redundancies to transmit less data than there was originally. In video compression, redundancies are areas that are similar to what has been previously coded. Those similar areas, called “reference areas,” may be in previously sent pictures (temporal redundancies) or be areas already coded in the same picture (spatial redundancies).
A compression scheme is said to be scalable or layered if those redundancies are in an already compressed stream of the same content. In such a case, the stream that is already compressed is called a base layer of a scalable stream.
Once a scalable encoder finds a similar area in a base layer, it computes the difference between this reference and the corresponding area in the picture to be encoded. This difference is simplified and sent to the receiver as a part of an enhancement layer of the scalable stream. To decode this enhancement layer, the receiver needs to first decode the base layer, which can therefore be used as a reference. Then a decoding device will be able to decode the enhancement layer.
This base/enhanced layer approach is at the heart of ATSC 3.0 video processing: the base layers are broadcast over the air, while enhancement layers are streamed over the internet. Standard digital television receivers are able to decode the base layer, offering a standard viewer experience. Hybrid receivers, on the other hand, receive and decode at all the layers: base layers broadcast over the air and the enhancement layer over IP. In doing so, they offer the best possible video experience.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM ATSC 3.0?
ATSC 3.0 promises to revolutionize the broadcast industry all over again. Unlike 1.0, it’s scalable, mobile and offers more channels. The standard supports 4K, 3D, UHD and high-quality audio, which will hopefully help 4K supersede HDTV. Like traditional broadcast TV, ATSC 3.0 works over the air, but in an increasingly mobile world, it takes advantage of the fact people have good data signals at home and works in tandem with internet connections (including mobile connections, like 5G).
In the U.S., research suggests 33 million people would cancel their subscriptions to cable and satellite TV in 2018. For broadcasters, ATSC 3.0 may help them stay viable and combat this problem, either helping them create new revenue streams or allowing them to create more attractive packages to retain subscribers. For instance, the new standard will allow broadcasters to branch out and create new sub-channels, which could be used for local news or special interest channels. According to a recent study, 89% of adults across the U.S., U.K., Hong Kong, Mexico and Spain would be interested in content that is aimed at their personal interests when watching traditional TV channels. In addition, 68% would be interested in content aimed at their local area. Therefore, the greater choice of channels and content ATSC 3.0 will afford will surely be welcomed by viewers and help broadcasters create a more attractive proposition.
It will also be possible for broadcasters to create targeted content as the IP-based standard allows for a two-way signal, something that wasn’t possible with digital transmission. With ATSC 1.0, broadcasters are reliant on third parties, such as Nielsen, to find out who is watching what, which then informs how broadcasters schedule programs and provides insights into ways to increase revenue.
ATSC 3.0 will cut out the middle man and allow broadcasters to gather information about viewers themselves, enabling them to access details such as the location and age of viewers, as well as what they are watching and when they are watching it.
This means if viewers are connected to the internet, broadcasters will be able to tailor ads to the individual. According to research by Paywizard, most U.S. broadcasters are currently failing to use data to drive customer engagement. As ATSC 3.0 will give broadcasters easier access to information on their customers, it may be possible for them to overcome this obstacle and use data to both engage new and existing customers and create a better customer experience.
For the viewer, there are also a number of benefits to ATSC 3.0. Broadcasters will be able to offer more advanced services allowing consumers to benefit from higher frame rates and more immersive experiences, which the viewer can customize to their needs. Additionally, it will allow them to stream over-the-top subscription services on mobile devices without reaching into a consumer’s wireless data plan.
Furthermore, ATSC 3.0 will allow for emergency signals that will switch on televisions remotely and enable natural disaster warnings and evacuation routes to be much more effective. This will be particularly helpful for people during a blackout or evacuation because emergency signals can be sent directly to phones.
Ultimately, despite being a voluntary standard, at least for the time being, it is likely the majority of broadcasters in the U.S. will adopt ATSC 3.0 over the next five years as it can empower broadcasters to create a more viable proposition that improves the user experience and stems the tide of cord cutting.
Fred Ramsey is sales director North America for ATEME.
For a comprehensive source of TV Technology’s ATSC 3.0 coverage, see our ATSC3 silo.