ATSC 3.0 Takes The Next Step

The next big thing in television transmission standards — ATSC 3.0 — is about to take the next step towards deployment. If all goes on schedule, a single, comprehensive Candidate Standard for over-the-air delivery could be completed by 2016. It's been two decades since the last version was approved.

Indeed, when the current standard, ATSC 1.0, was developed, the Internet was far away on the horizon. Broadband connections were a rarity. Non-smart analog cell phones and two-way pocket pagers dominated. A lot has changed in a short time.

James Kutzner, senior director of advanced technology for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and chairman of the ATSC's Technology Group 3 (commonly called TG-3), which is responsible for developing the ATSC 3.0 standard.

(ATSC spokesman Dave Arland said the work of the TG-3 will be shared with the Future of Broadcast TV Group, a global consortium of 50 organizations on five continents that hopes to create a worldwide TV broadcast system.)

At a recent Hollywood Post Alliance technology retreat in Indian Wells, CA, he said the new standard will not be locked into a single mode of operation.

Arland said the team is actually working on ATSC 2.0 and 3.0 in parallel, and that the group expects to advance ATSC 2.0 to advance to Candidate Standard by the end of April

Fully compatible with today's DTV transmission system, the emerging ATSC 2.0 will enable new functionality like non-real time transmission, advanced video compression, enhanced service guides, audience measurement and conditional access. The new and improved ATSC standard will also provide interactive capability by creating connections between live TV and Internet content, as well as live TV and non real-time content; via triggers and objects in the broadcast stream.

Meanwhile, the ATSC 3.0 planning team is viewing the future new standard from three directions, Kutzner said. They include increased flexibility and efficiency, a reconsideration of the physical layer and integration with other delivery technologies. The standard, which is being designed to last for decades to come, needs to accommodate Internet-connected television receivers, immersive content and personalization.

Version 3.0 is not expected to be backwards-compatible with current transmission systems, so it could be expensive for the industry to implement.

"The parameters of the [ATSC 3.0] system have not yet been established, and any cost estimates at this point are premature," Arland said.

What's certain is that the new standard is designed to be flexible, scalable and incorporate a wide use of spectrum, mobile technologies, 4K, 3-D and multiscreen viewing on hybrid devices that can be located anywhere. Other considerations are enhanced and immersive audio, accessibility, advanced emergency alerting, interactivity, advertising and creating a common world standard.

A specialist group within the Advanced Television Systems Committee is putting out a call for proposals just on the physical layer, according to Skip Pizzi, an NAB technologist. Those proposals will be due later this year, with evaluation taking place through mid-2014.

The likely timetable is that work would be completed on the ATSC 3.0 Candidate Standard by the end of 2016, when it would face a vote by the ATSC membership.