ATSC poised to adopt mobile DTV standard

If all goes as expected, the Advanced Television Systems Committee will elevate its proposed mobile DTV standard to the status of a full-fledged ATSC standard, following a membership balloting process that closes tonight.

Both ATSC president Mark Richer and Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC) executive director Anne Schelle expressed confidence that the membership would vote to adopt ATSC Mobile DTV Standard A/153.

The process has been particularly efficient and effective because standardizing mobile DTV has had two advantages: pressure and cooperation, Richer says.

“People produce under pressure,” he says. “There’s also been an incredible level of cooperation among all people involved. It’s been very satisfying to see how quickly it has gotten done.”

Adoption of the standard is likely to be remembered as a significant moment in broadcast history, says Jim Ocon, Gray Television VP of technology. Gray, which launched a mobile DTV trial at WOWT-TV in Omaha, NE, has plans to roll out the service at its stations in Lincoln, NE, and Lexington, KY.

“This is obviously a sea change moment for the broadcast industry,” he says. “Those who have worked tirelessly on this are anticipating a change in the industry. Mobile DTV is a mechanism that will let broadcasters stand on their own and level the playing field.”

For Jay Adrick, vice president of broadcast technology at Harris, adoption of the standard is the culmination of four years of work. “A little over the last two years has been out in the open as an ATSC activity,” says Adrick. “Prior to that was with our partner LG, doing some of the development and testing that never got out in the public – with the exception of three years ago at NAB and CES,” he says.

Harris, which played a pioneering role in mobile DTV and was a driving force behind the standardization process, quietly went on-air with a working mobile digital television system at WBNS in Columbus, OH, before ever making public its vision for what the company called MPH (Mobile, Handheld, Pedestrian) in-band mobile DTV.

The 800-page document laying out the standard does not diverge from the proposed standard in the RF layer, Schelle says. Some differences exist in the upper layers of the standard, however, that relate to support for interactivity and sampling rate, according to Ocon. “The changes are more in the higher level management and interactive areas, and that’s not a surprise,” Richer confirms.

Interest in offering mobile DTV service remains strong among broadcasters, says Schelle. Currently, there are about 30 mobile DTV channels on-air, and the industry is on track to meet its goal of 70 stations delivering mobile DTV signals by year’s end, she says.

Schelle expects broader adoption to pick up speed as consumer mobile DTV devices hit the mainstream in early 2010, she says, adding that a limited range of mobile DTV receivers, such as PC-connected receivers, should be on the market for the 2009 holiday shopping season.

Looking beyond the actual balloting, Adrick sees standardization of mobile DTV as an avenue for broadcasters to tap into their most valuable resource, namely wireless communications. “They’ve had this resource from the beginning, and it was very important,” he says. “But once cable and satellite came along, delivery via wireless was not nearly as important. Mobile exploits the wireless capabilities. It’s all about being wireless – something cable and satellite cannot replicate.”

A formal announcement of adoption of the standard is planned by the ATSC, OMVC, NAB and other stakeholders for Oct. 16 in Washington, DC.

For vendors like Harris, the next step is final integration of the standard. Next week, the company will host a gathering of its mobile DTV partners, including representatives from LG Electronics and Roundbox, at the Harris Broadcast headquarters in Mason, OH. Together they will do a final integration of the balloted standard of code, says Adrick. “Then we’ll issue reference streams to manufacturers so they can make sure their receivers are up and fully functional,” he says.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.