HPA 2015: ATSC 3.0 Prototypes Expected in 2016

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—Prototype ATSC 3.0 receivers may appear as early as next year, according to Skip Pizzi of the National Association of Broadcasters. Pizzi was among the executives on the annual broadcast panel at Hollywood Post Alliance Tech Retreat this week.

“A number of key requirements are being fulfilled,” he said. “The target is to get a candidate standard out later this year. Prototypes might start showing up in 2016.”

ATSC 3.0 represents a redesigned method of delivering television signals over the air. The Advanced Television Systems Committee group assigned to develop it was formed in 2011, a little more than a year after the Federal Communications Commission proposed auctioning off up to 40 percent of the broadcast TV spectrum for wireless broadband. That initiative is on track to take place in 2016 and will leave an unknown amount of spectrum for broadcasting.

Technically, broadcasters are stuck with the current ATSC standard until the FCC says otherwise, and the agency has given no indications it will do so. Mark Aitken of Sinclair said broadcasters have to push for it.

“The FCC has claimed a level of indifference with respect to the standard,” he said. “They have said they’re not going to hold off their auction off for it to happen. There’s a massive collective effort within broadcast community... We’ve had breakthroughs within ATSC, and can bring portions of the standard to [Capitol] Hill,” where lawmakers are working on a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

“The rules will change, but broadcasters will have to come together to bring opportunities to consumers that are not available today. If you want a true competitor to AT&T and Verizon, this is an opportunity for broadcasters to come forth and be a true competitor in wireless services.”

Richard Friedel of Fox said it would behoove the FCC to adopt ATSC 3.0.

“This allows spectrum-sharing, which is one of the FCC’s auction criteria,” he said. “I think it’s to the FCC’s advantage to use this. It allows broadcasters to get rid of more spectrum.”

Over-the-air throughput would be 30 percent better than the current ATSC format, Pizzi said. “We would move from 19.3 Mbps up to 25 Mbps range or higher” in a 6 MHz channel.

The standard covers 4KTV using high efficiency video coding—HEVC—algorithms, and possibly 22.2-channel audio. Audio codecs have been submitted by Dolby, DTS and the MPEG-H Audio Alliance of Fraunhofer, Technicolor and Qualcomm.

Pizzi said one goal of ATSC 3.0 is to send a one signal that adapts to different types of content and reception conditions, from TVs in the home to smartphones to in-vehicle video systems. Another is to appeal to the international market, which would enable more uniform development of both transmission and receiver equipment.

As the market stands, there are zero receivers for ATSC 3.0, which departs entirely from the current standard. Aitken said to build services people want, then they will come. And rather than waiting for chipsets to be integrated into TV sets, thumb drive-sized adapters similar to Chromecast units could be subsidized by broadcasters and distributed on a market-by-market basis.

There’s also a conceptual philosophical view that needs to be brought to the table, and that’s convergence,” Aitken said. “3.0 is a convergence technology, where you have HTML 5 and IP coming together. At the center of this will be MPEG Media Transport, the MPEG standard that succeeds MPEG-2.

“It’s about taking content across multiple physical platforms and bringing them together for the viewer. It brings ability for broadcasters to compete with targeted personalized advertising opportunities.”

Mario Vecchi of PBS said the industry had to take a macro approach, as well.

“The evolution from 1.0 to 3.0 and the spectrum auction has to be looked at in the context of where is our business going in the future. We need to understand what the consumer wants in terms of formats and distribution methods, and then put this in the context of that new world and what’s happening with the auction, with WiFi, fiber-to-the-home... And how do we respond? To focus on one particular issue in isolation isn’t appropriate.”